2016 World Series Preview: The Series to End All Droughts

Someone will win the World Series this year that hasn’t won it in a very long time.

If you are 68 or younger, whichever team wins the World Series in the next week will do so for the first time in your lifetime.

The unique 112th edition of the World Series matches the two franchises with the longest championship droughts in MLB, and two of the three longest in major North American professional sports (along with the Arizona Cardinals).  The Cleveland Indians are seeking their first title since 1948, in their first Fall Classic appearance since 1997, while the Chicago Cubs have waited even longer, as they seek their first championship since 1908, after winning their first pennant since 1945.  This series will set a record for the longest combined championship drought (176 years), breaking the previous record, which also involved a Chicago team (the 2005 White Sox and Astros), by 44 years.

The Cubs reached the World Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, winning three straight to overcome a 2-1 series deficit and win in six games.  The Cubs previously defeated the San Francisco Giants in the best-of-five NLDS, 3-1.

As strong as the Cubs have played, the Indians have been even more impressive on their way to the AL Pennant.  After sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, the Tribe took a 3-0 series lead against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS before winning in five games.

Here is a look at how the two teams match up:

Pitching

Two the best pitching staffs in baseball are meeting in the World Series, as it should be.

The Cubs led MLB with a 3.15 team ERA in the regular season, and have been even better in the postseason, with a 2.93 mark, and a 2.89 clip in the NLCS.

The Cubs rotation features two of the three top contenders for the NL Cy Young Award in Game 1 starter Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA, NLCS co-MVP) and Game 3 starter Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA [led NL], winner of NLCS Game 6), as well as 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA), who will start Game 2, and postseason veteran and Game 4 starter John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA).  In the event of a seven-game series, it is likely that Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks would pitch games five through seven, respectively.

The Cubs relief corps has a respectable 3.56 ERA, led by closer Aroldis Chapman (36/39 saves, 1.55 ERA), while supplemental bullpen arms Carl Edwards (0.00 ERA in 3.2 postseason IP) and Travis Wood (1.93 ERA in 4.2 postseason IP) have both been solid in the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Indians bullpen (3.45 ERA in regular season, 1.67 in postseason)  has been unfathomably good throughout the postseason thus far.  The unit is anchored by ALCS MVP Andrew Miller (0.00 ERA in 11.2 postseason IP), who has acted as a sort of utility reliever, coming into various situations when manager Terry Francona called upon him.  Closer Cody Allen (0.00 ERA in 5.2 postseason IP, five postseason saves) has also been strong.

That bullpen is what has carried Cleveland, as their rotation (4.08 ERA in regular season) has had its share of attrition issues.  Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA) is a legitimate ace who may win his second AL Cy Young Award this year, but beyond him the Indians struggle to match up against the strong Cubs rotation.  Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA), who only lasted 0.2 innings in his Game 3 ALCS start because of a vicious cut finger, will start Game 2, and Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA) Game 3.

A wild card for the Tribe is Danny Salazar, who hasn’t pitched since September 9 due to a forearm injury, but is on the roster and may start Game 4 (or Game 5 if they bring Kluber back on short rest), while rookie Ryan Merritt (4.1 scoreless innings in ALCS Game 5) is the other likely option.

The Indians have collectively pitched to a 1.77 postseason ERA, after a commendable 3.84 mark in the regular season.

Offense

The Cubs potent offense was second in the NL in runs (808), fifth in homers (199), first in OBP (.343), and second in OPS (.772).  The Indians, by comparison, were second in the AL in runs (777), second in doubles (308), third in batting average (.262), and first in steals (134).

Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI) and Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI) led the Cubs offense all year, and after Rizzo had a slow start to the NLCS, he still ended the series with good numbers (.320 BA, 2 HR, 5 RBI), as did series MVP Javier Baez (.318 BA, 5 RBI, 2 SB).  The postseason has seen struggles from and Jason Heyward (.071 BA in postseason), although he is not in the Cubs’ Game 1 lineup, replaced in right field by Chris Coghlan (.252 BA, 16 RBI in 48 games).

Like the Indians with Salazar, the Cubs have their own wild card–Kyle Schwarber.  Schwarber, who hit five home runs for the Cubs in nine playoff games in 2015, tore two knee ligaments on April 7th and has not played a major league game since.  He was cleared by doctors on October 17th to hit and run, although he will not play the field, serving as DH for the games in Cleveland and a pinch-hitting option for the games at Wrigley Field.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is not holding Schwarber back, inserting him as the 5-spot hitter in the Game 1 lineup, even though Schwarber was 1-for-6 with a walk in the two Arizona Fall League games that served as his de facto rehab assignment.  Whether Schwarber can hit MLB pitching–and World Series-caliber pitching at that–could be a big key for the Cubs in this series.

The Indians lineup is led by Mike Napoli (.239 BA, 34 HR, 101 RBI), Carlos Santana (.259 BA, 34 HR, 87 RBI), and young-gun Francisco Lindor (.301 BA, 15 HR, 78 RBI).  Jason Kipnis (.275 BA, 23 HR, 82 RBI) is another one of the team’s offensive leaders, although his bat was cold in the ALCS (.053 BA in series, 1 HR).  Lindor has performed well in the playoffs (.345 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI), as has Lonnie Chisenhall (.269 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI).

Other Factors

Both managers in this series have had excellent careers, and are two of the absolute best in the business.  Indians manager Terry Francona helped end the Red Sox 86-year curse in 2004, and won another title there in 2007, making this his third World Series appearance.  Francona took over the Indians in 2013.

Cubs skipper Joe Maddon took the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 World Series, losing to the Phillies, and was always known for getting the most of his players in Tampa.  That still holds true in Chicago, although he now has a much more talented roster than any Rays team he managed.  Maddon took over the Cubs before the 2015 season.

These two managers have combined for four Manager of the Year awards (Maddon 3, Francona 1), and become the 16th and 17th managers in major league history to take multiple franchises to the World Series.

The Indians have home-field advantage in the Series (all because a Giant gave up a homer to a Royal in an “exhibition game” on July 12, but I digress).  With both fan bases so hungry for a championship, each and every game should be an incredible atmosphere, as it should be in the Fall Classic.

That said, with a team trying to end a drought involved in a World Series, I might would say that hungry team and that fan base could get some small advantage as a result.  But in this series, with respective title droughts of 68 and 108 years, there is no such advantage.

For what it’s worth, looking at my “Trends of a World Champion” categories, the Cubs have an advantage in five of them, while the Indians do in four, and one is a tie.

Prediction

The Cubs offense has produced better in the playoffs (4.8 runs per game, and 3.4 runs per game for Cleveland), and while the Indians battered rotation would be sufficient to get through a regular season, they are not up to the Cubs standard, while the Indians bullpen, even as good as they are, is unlikely to stay so incredibly hot for between four and seven more games.

The Cubs will win the series, 4-2.

 

World Series Schedule (all games on FOX, at 8:08 pm ET unless otherwise noted)
Game 1:  Tuesday, October 25

Game 2:  Wednesday, October 26
Game 3:  Friday, October 28
Game 4:  Saturday, October 29
Game 5:  Sunday, October 30, 8:15 pm ET (if necessary)
Game 6:  Tuesday, November 1 (if necessary)
Game 7:  Wednesday, November 2 (if necessary)

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