It will be, no matter the outcome, a historic World Series, because whichever team wins, there will be black-and-white footage shown before the champagne has dried.
The Chicago Cubs, as we all know, haven’t won the World Series since 1908, a season in which they hit 19 home runs all season. That team has a seemingly mythical characters, such as Three Finger Brown, Orval Overall and Tinker to Evers to Chance.
And then there are the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won the World Series since 1948, the second-longest current championship drought in baseball. That team had Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden in the rotation, and — this seems impossible today — those Indians had Lou Boudreau as a player/manager, a role he had for 10 years, winning the American League MVP as a shortstop in 1948.
It’s 1908 versus 1948. It’s about ending a drought. It’s about two teams with great stories to tell. This will be fabulous.
Here are five questions.
How good is the Indians’ bullpen?
It is terrific and, more importantly, it is different than any other bullpen. Tribe relievers posted a 1.64 ERA in eight postseason games. In Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, the Indians became the only team in history to win a postseason game in which no pitcher went as many as two innings. In the clinching Game 5, the Indians became the only team in postseason history to throw a shutout in a game in which the starter didn’t pitch five innings.
The incredible Andrew Miller starred again in Game 5, as he did through the whole postseason, posting this line: 11⅔ innings pitched, 5 hits, 0 runs, 21 strikeouts, 2 walks. No pitcher — starter or reliever — struck out more batters in his first nine innings of any postseason than Miller’s 20 this year. He was the first reliever ever to strike out five batters in back-to-back appearances in the postseason. In the ALCS against Toronto, Miller struck out 56 percent of the batters he faced; no one in postseason history has had a strikeout rate like that. But what makes him so great — and the Indians so dangerous — is the way he is used. In Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Red Sox, he was summoned in the fifth inning and pitched in three different innings. In the crucial Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, instead of handing the ball to closer Cody Allen, Miller pitched the final 1⅓ innings for the save. In the clinching Game 5 of the ALCS, he pitched 2⅔ scoreless innings and brought the game to Allen, who also has been brilliant in this postseason.
The record for most innings by a reliever in one postseason is 18⅔ by Frankie Rodriguez with the 2002 Angels and Tug McGraw with the 1973 Mets. Miller is going to break that record — and a few others — in the World Series.
How set up is the Cubs’ rotation?
It is in good shape. By winning the final three games of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, the Cubs not only get some rest before the World Series, but they have their starters aligned relatively well. Most important, Jon Lester will start Game 1. He has a 0.86 ERA in this postseason, including a marvelous performance in the crucial Game 5 of the NLCS in Los Angeles, going seven innings and allowing just one run. He now has a 2.50 career ERA in 17 postseason starts.
Jake Arrieta likely will start Game 2, but he labored in September (4.40 ERA) and in two starts in this postseason (4.91 ERA). But Arrieta in Game 2 will allow the Cubs to push Kyle Hendricks back to Game 3 at home, where he posted a 1.32 ERA this season. Hendricks, who led the NL in ERA in 2016, was sensational in the clinching Game 6 at Wrigley, allowing two hits and no runs in 7⅓ innings.
What is the status of the Indians’ rotation?
Somehow, the Indians made it this far without any contribution in the postseason from Carlos Carrasco (broken pinky) or Danny Salazar (tightness in his forearm), making them the first team since the 1970 Reds to go to the World Series with zero playoff appearances from two pitchers who started at least 25 games with an ERA under 4.00 during the regular season. But now, there’s a chance Salazar will be ready for the World Series. He hasn’t pitched since Sept. 9, so there will be rust, but he still will be a boost to the rotation. His stuff, when right, is spectacular. Closer Allen said Salazar “is the most gifted pitcher I’ve ever been around.”
Trevor Bauer, who sliced his right pinky in a drone accident on Oct. 14 and bled all over the mound in his start in Game 3 of the ALCS, said he will be able to pitch as often as possible in the World Series. We’ll see about that. It’s possible we’ll see Ryan Merritt, whose 4⅓ scoreless innings in Game 5 — the second start and fifth appearance of his major league career — were stunning. There are uncertainties in the Cleveland rotation, but it’s certain that Corey Kluber will start Game 1, and surely he will be ready to try going on short rest again in this series. In 18⅓ innings in this postseason, Kluber has a 0.98 ERA. His breaking ball is from hell. Josh Tomlin likely will start Game 2. After that, it’s up in the air, but it has been for the whole postseason — and here are the Indians, in the World Series.
What are we to make of the Cubs’ offense?
No worries now. Still, like every other team in the major leagues in this all-or-nothing era of baseball, the Cubs’ lineup can be pitched to, if a really good pitcher locates well. In the NLCS against the Dodgers, the Cubs averaged 7.75 runs and had 21 extra-base hits in the four victories, including pounding Clayton Kershaw in the clinching Game 6, a 5-0 shutout.
But the Cubs were shut out (with only one extra base hit) in their two losses, the first time they had been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. It took a bunt single by cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist leading off the fourth inning of Game 4 to get the Cubs going, and it took a couple of cheap hits in Game 5 to keep it going.
But now, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are out of their funks, NLCS co-MVP Javier Baez (13 hits in this postseason) has arrived and Willson Contreras is swinging so well that the Cubs look like the team that scored the second-most runs in the NL this year. Ten different Cubs, including all three catchers (the first time ever to have three catchers hit home runs in one postseason), have hit home runs in this postseason. And only hours before Game 6 of the NLCS, Cubs president Theo Epstein said there is at least a chance that Kyle Schwarber, who tore ligaments in left knee in the third game of the season and hasn’t played since, might be ready to play in the World Series. If so, it would be as a designated hitter or a bat off the bench. It is intriguing.
What about the managers?
The Indians’ Terry “Tito” Francona has been masterful in this postseason. He has known exactly when to take his starter out, what reliever to bring in and when to take that reliever out. He did a great job this season of getting run production, despite not having his best outfielder, Michael Brantley, for most of the season and having to mix and match at several positions. Should Francona win the World Series, it would be his third ring, and it would mean a spot in the Hall of Fame — because he would have ended an 86-year drought in Boston and a 67-year drought in Cleveland.
But Francona might be on his way to the Hall anyway, with his three pennants, 1,381 wins and a .533 winning percentage, plus an 8-0 record in the World Series. Francona’s secret is his communication skills — his touch and feel with people, especially his players. Every player has a button, and Francona always knows where it is and when to push it. In spring training every year, he calls his players into his office, one by one, to talk. In the case of Bauer, who has had some communication issues, he called him in all the time, just to talk. Apparently, it worked. Francona will jump on a player privately if he gets out of line, but he also is one of the best at making players comfortable and relaxed so they can play their best.
The Cubs’ Joe Maddon is an expert at that, as well. He once pulled a bunch of his Rays players out of the batting cage and took them in the clubhouse to watch a magician work, another case of Maddon valuing time away from the game as good, not bad. His calm hand and great communication skills are two reasons the Cubs have been able to handle the pressures that comes with extraordinarily high expectations from the first day of spring training.
And no one is going to outfox Maddon in the running of a game. He and Francona have managed against each other 133 times in their careers; Maddon has a 69-64 advantage, including 5-3 in the postseason. Now they’ll get four, five, six or seven more shots at it.
The pick: Cubs in seven.