After 162 games, two Wild Card games, and six playoff series, only two teams remain. The Chicago Cubs, whose tortured fans probably still can’t believe it’s happening, and the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are just waiting for the other shoe to drop, meet in the best-of-seven to decide who is the best team in MLB. Pete Hodges presents our 2016 World Series preview with some of the most important aspects of the series worth looking out for.
The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs will face off in what will be a historic World Series one way or another. Cleveland has not been in the Fall Classic since 1997 and last won a championship in 1948. Meanwhile, the Loveable Losers have been held out of the World Series since 1945 and haven’t won it all since 1908, which was before Wrigley Field opened (1920). One cursed fan base will rejoice while the other will face another long, bitter winter of suffering and what ifs.
How Did They Get Here?
The Cleveland Indians won the AL Central running away, despite being grouped with the 2015 World Series Champions and the powerhouse Detroit Tigers. Even after losing starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, Cleveland kept on chugging along with rookie hurler Mike Clevinger making significant contributions in the rotation down the stretch. The Indians were rebuffed by Jonathan Lucroy when the veteran executed his no-trade clause, and ended up using assets to acquire lefty reliever Andrew Miller instead.
In the playoffs, Cleveland swept aside the favored Boston Red Sox in the ALDS in three games, relying upon a bullpen that manager Terry Francona used masterfully. The Indians were able to top the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS, relying heavily on the bullpen because of a non-baseball injury to starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. Miller took home the MVP honors despite coming in mainly as a middle reliever, showing the unique nature of his contributions.
The Chicago Cubs thundered their way through the season as the best team in baseball. With one of the – if not THE– best rotations in baseball, paired with one of the best lineups in the game, many assumed they would finally make it to the World Series. Their deadline acquisition of Miller’s former teammate, Aroldis Chapman, locked down the back end of the bullpen.
In the NLDS, the Cubs played four hard-fought games with the San Francisco Giants, finally overcoming the habitual champions with a four-run ninth inning in Game 4. In the NLCS, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the North Siders to six games, but the Cubs passed the ultimate test by putting up five runs on Clayton Kershaw in the final game.
How each team handles the designated hitter – or lack thereof in Chicago – will have an effect on both teams. Kyle Schwarber, who was thought to have been lost for the season with a torn ACL, is actually rejoining the team:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 24, 2016
This gives the Cubs a legitimate option for the DH spot as well as a solid option for the pinch hitter role. Another option it opens is a Jason Heyward replacement, should he continue to struggle at the plate when the series moves back to Chicago. Manager Joe Maddon has stuck by him, but Chris Coghlan isn’t much of an option as a replacement. With Schwarber back in the fold, Maddon can slide Ben Zobrist into right field and Schwarber in left when the series shifts back to Chicago, if Heyward struggles in Cleveland and Schwarber demonstrates that he is healthy enough to take the field. That also gives them a fantastic glove and speed off the bench.
The Indians have announced their roster and while it has largely remained unchanged from the ALCS, Danny Salazar has been added in place of long reliever Cody Anderson. Salazar has not pitched since September 9 and is returning from a right forearm strain. The starter’s curveball was causing him discomfort during his rehab, so he and pitching coach Mickey Callaway opted to ditch it and go with just his fastball, changeup, and slider. Right now the rotation is set for the first three games with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin pitching; Game Four’s starter has yet to be determined. Salazar could be lethal out of the bullpen with his 10.55 K/9, or he could be a godsend if the Indians need a solid start in Game Four and he can stay healthy.
He’s Heating Up
Anthony Rizzo’s postseason OPS was .277 following Game 3 of the NLCS and the Cubs were down two games to one, heading to Los Angeles. Maybe something clicked on the flight, or maybe he just had a nice nap, because since then the slugging first baseman has lifted his postseason OPS to .720 and the Cubs won three of four games. Rizzo’s hot streak came at just the right time, as Cleveland is flush with right-handed pitching. A full 24 of his 32 home runs this season came against righties and none of Cleveland’s starters are lefties. Only Andrew Miller is a southpaw.
Miller Going Multiples In Chicago
Terry Francona rode his bullpen to the World Series and he’ll have to do it again if he wants his third ring. The way he did this was by having Miller pitch more than one inning, sometimes more than two. This could become an issue in Chicago, where the pitcher has to hit. This author has faith in Francona’s ability to use the double switch and to best utilize the roster construction of the Indians. You see, Cleveland has two players that are built for a series like this in Jose Ramirez and Michael Martinez. Ramirez can play any corner position, and second base in a pinch. Martinez, on the other hand, can play any position, save catcher. With Miller’s ability to go multiple innings, along with Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Cody Allen, the simple American League manager will be just fine.