Trends of a World Series Champion, Volume III

For the last two Octobers, I’ve looked at the trends of past World Series champions, and how each team in that year’s MLB postseason field compared to the trends that a typical World Series-winning team fits.

(2015: Trends of a World Series Champion)
(2016: Trends of a World Series Champion, Revisited)

As we enter the 2017 postseason, starting with the AL Wild Card game tonight, let’s look at the 10 teams in this year’s postseason and how they stack up to the trends of a World Series champion.

 

Trend:  Team batting average of .250 or better
Within the trend:  Astros (.282), Rockies (.273), Nationals (.266), Indians (.263), Yankees (.262), Twins (.260), Red Sox (.258), Cubs (.255), Diamondbacks (.254)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.249)

Trend:  Number of offensive starters hitting .290 or better (min. 50 games)
Within the trend:  Astros (5), Rockies (5), Nationals (4), Indians (3), Diamondbacks (3), Dodgers (2), Cubs (2), Red Sox (2), Twins (2)
Outside the trend:  Yankees (1)

Trend:  Team ERA of 4.00 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (3.30), Dodgers (3.38), Diamondbacks (3.66), Red Sox (3.70), Yankees (3.72), Nationals (3.88), Cubs (3.95)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.12), Rockies (4.51), Twins (4.57)

Trend:  Starting rotation ERA of 4.25 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (3.39), Indians (3.52), Diamondbacks (3.61), Nationals (3.63), Yankees (3.98), Astros (4.03), Cubs (4.05), Red Sox (4.06)
Outside the trend:  Rockies (4.59), Twins (4.73)

Trend:  Bullpen ERA of 3.92 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (2.89), Red Sox (3.15), Dodgers (3.38), Yankees (3.44), Diamondbacks (3.78), Cubs (3.80)
Outside the trend:  Astros (4.27), Rockies (4.40), Twins (4.40), Nationals (4.41)

Trend:  Home winning percentage of .550 or better
Within the trend:  Dodgers (.704), Diamondbacks (.642), Yankees (.630), Indians (.605), Astros (.593), Cubs (.593), Red Sox (.593), Nationals (.580), Rockies (.568)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.506)

Trend:  Away winning percentage of .520 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.654), Astros (.654), Nationals (.617), Dodgers (.580), Red Sox (.556), Cubs (.543), Twins (.543)
Outside the trend:  Diamondbacks (.506), Rockies (.506), Twins (.494)

Trend:  Win percentage after Sept. 1 of .500 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (.867), Astros (.724), Yankees (.690), Cubs (.655), Red Sox (.607), Diamondbacks (.607), Nationals (.552), Rockies (.517), Twins (.517)
Outside the trend:  Dodgers (.433)

Trend:  Win percentage in one-run games
Within the trend:  Cubs (.605), Rockies (.600), Astros (.594), Nationals (.588), Indians (.571), Dodgers (.568), Diamondbacks (.558), Red Sox (.537)
Outside the trend:  Twins (.455), Yankees (.409)

Trend:  Baseball-Reference.com Simple Rating System of 0.2 or better
Within the trend:  Indians (1.5), Yankees (1.3), Astros (1.2), Dodgers (0.9), Red Sox (0.8), Diamondbacks (0.8), Nationals (0.6), Cubs (0.6), Rockies (0.3), Twins (0.2)
Outside the trend:  none

 

Here are how many trends of a World Series champion each playoff team fit:

Indians 10
Cubs 10
Red Sox 10
Nationals 9
Diamondbacks 9
Dodgers 8
Astros 8
Yankees 7
Rockies 6
Twins 5

By this analysis, the Indians, Cubs and Red Sox would be World Series co-favorites, and each certainly have a very strong team with a great chance at hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

But only eight of the 22 World Series winners in the Wild Card era (since 1995) have fit all 10 criteria, so those who have missed in a category or two still have a great statistical shot at winning the World Series.

18 of the last 22 champions have fit eight or more criteria, and 21 of those 22 have fit at least seven (the 2006 Cardinals, with just three, are the huge outlier.)

More recently, the 10 champions since that 2006 Cardinals team have all fit eight or more criteria, and four of the last seven have fit all 10.

That said, seven of the 10 playoff teams, including all six that have already advanced to the League Division Series, fit eight or more criteria and fit the trend to win the World Series.

Though the shoe fits some better than others, the race is absolutely wide open as the playoffs begin.

 

 

Using these trends (and homefield to break ties where applicable), here is how the playoffs would play out–with the very World Series matchup and outcome I predicted in March:

AL Wild Card: Yankees def. Twins
NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks def. Rockies
AL Division Series: Indians def. Yankees, Red Sox def. Astros
NL Division Series: Diamondbacks def. Dodgers, Cubs def. Nationals
AL Championship Series: Indians def. Red Sox
NL Championship Series: Cubs def. Diamondbacks
World Series: Indians def. Cubs

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Fast Five: Greatest Moments of 2016 MLB Postseason

It’s baseball season.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for a few teams on Monday, and most report today.  All of them have one goal in mind:  playing (and winning) in October.

Sure, the 2017 postseason is a long way off, and while many (including me) will try to predict who will reach the playoffs, there are always surprise teams, especially in baseball.

Whoever makes the playoffs will have a tough act to follow, after so many great moments in the 2016 postseason, culminating with the first Chicago Cubs World Series title in 108 years.

As we look ahead to the 2017 season, here’s a look back on the best moments from last October (and early November):

5.  The Cubs comeback to win NLDS

After the Cubs led the best-of-5 NLDS 2-0, the San Francisco Giants came back to win Game 3 in extra innings and stay alive.

In Game 4, the Cubs trailed 5-2 after eight innings, and Giants starter Matt Moore looked unstoppable.  However, Moore due to a high pitch count Moore had to come out after the eighth, handing the game over to the shaky Giants bullpen.  A pair of Giants relievers allowed four Cubs to score, including a game-tying 2-RBI single by Willson Contreras and a go-ahead RBI single by Javier Baez.

When Aroldis Chapman got the save, the Cubs had completed the largest ninth-inning comeback in a series-clinching game in MLB history, and ended the Giants run of “even year” dominance (they won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014).


4.  Two Blue Jays walkoff clinchers

The Toronto Blue Jays reached the ALCS, doing so on the strength of walk-off wins to clinch both the AL Wild Card Game and the ALDS.

In the Wild Card Game, with lights-out Orioles closer Zach Britton still in the bullpen in the 11th inning, Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run homer off Ubaldo Jimenez, giving the Blue Jays a 5-2 win to advance to the ALDS.

In Game 3 of the ALDS, with Toronto leading the series 2-0, a Russell Martin grounder seemed poised to send the 6-6 game to the 11th.  But after a bad throw pulled Texas Rangers 1B Mitch Moreland off the base, Josh Donaldson broke for the plate, beating the throw to score, winning the game and the series.

This play had some additional procedural drama, as the Rangers appealed that there had been obstruction at second base on Encarnacion.  When the play was reviewed and upheld, the top-seeded Rangers had been swept, and the Blue Jays were in their second straight ALCS.


3.  Indians shutout wins pennant

The Cleveland Indians progressed through the playoffs on the strength of their incredible pitching.  After ousting the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS to end David Ortiz’s career, the Indians took a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against Toronto.

The Blue Jays won Game 4, and many favored Toronto to win Game 5, as Cleveland turned to rookie Ryan Merritt, who had just one regular season start.

Merritt, who inherited a 1-0 lead after a run scored on an error in the top of the first, went 4.2 scoreless innings (falling one out short of qualifying for the win), and the Indians bullpen finished the job (one inning by Bryan Shaw, 2.2 innings by Andrew Miller, one inning by Cody Allen).

All told, it was a six-hit shutout of a potent Blue Jays lineup, as Cleveland clinched their first pennant in 19 years.  They would eventually fall just short in the World Series, and enter 2017 seeking their first title since 1948.


2.  Kershaw saves Game 5

The winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals was the longest nine-inning game in MLB postseason history–and was well worth the time investment to watch.

Starters Max Scherzer (WAS) and Rich Hill (LAD) both pitched well, allowing a single run.  Scherzer’s run was a game-tying homer in the seventh by Joc Pederson.

That only began the wild seventh–after Scherzer was relieved, Carlos Ruiz gave the Dodgers a lead with an RBI single, and Justin Turner stretched it to 4-1 with a 2-RBI double.  In the bottom half, Chris Heisey hit a 2-run pinch-hit homer to make it 4-3.

After the homer, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen entered with no outs in the seventh.  He stranded the bases loaded in the seventh, and another runner in the eighth.

With two on and one out in the ninth, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw entered the game on one day rest.

Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop up, then struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game, earning his first major league save to clinch a postseason series (and his first save at any level since 2006 in rookie ball).


1.  Cubs win first World Series since 1908 in Game 7 for the ages

After six thrilling games, the 112th World Series between the Indians and Cubs was tied at 3-3.  The Indians had led the Series 3-1, but the Cubs had come back to force Game 7.

Before Game 7, I called it baseball’s “game of the century” thus far, fully expecting that it would not live up to that lofty level of hype.  And yet, the game far surpassed it, legitimately becoming the greatest baseball game played in the 21st century.

Game 7 had everything.  Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run, and Javier Baez and David Ross added solo homers for the Cubs, with Ross’s coming in the final at-bat of his career.  Cubs starter Jon Lester came in in relief, giving up one earned run in three innings.

The Cubs committed three errors, and two Indians scored on a wild pitch, the first such play in a World Series game since 1911.  Cubs leads of 5-1 and 6-3 evaporated almost instantly in the eighth, with Rajai Davis tying the game with a 2-run homer.

It became the first Game 7 to go to extra innings since 1997 (which the Indians lost to the Florida Marlins), and that was put on hold for 17 minutes by a passing shower (the first World Series rain delay since 2008).

Ben Zobrist’s RBI double put the Cubs ahead, and Miguel Montero added an RBI that turned out to be a big insurance run.  In the bottom of the 10th, Davis singled to pull to within 8-7, before Mike Montgomery came in to pitch and took just two pitches to record his first professional save, a final out that will be replayed forever.

A story that many veteran writers called the best story they had ever covered–the Cubs finally winning the World Series–was an appropriate end to an insane 2016 MLB postseason.  After Cubs fans waited 108 years,

Fast Five: 2016 Year in Review

*Editor’s Note:  This post was originally scheduled to be published on December 31, but due to personal sickness was delayed until now. 

 

2016 was a crazy year in sports.  From exceptional and historic championship events, to the good and bad of the Olympic Games, to saying goodbye to several big names who retired or passed away.

From the best events of the year to the biggest stories, here is a look back at the year that was in 2016:

Best Events of 2016

5.  Jul. 14-17:  Henrik Stenson wins The Open Championship

The Open at Royal Troon began on Thursday with Phil Mickelson getting hot on the back nine, and eventually facing a putt for a 62, which would have been a record for any major championship.  The putt somehow stayed out of the hole, and Mickelson shot 63, becoming the 28th to do so in a major championship.


Swede Henrik Stenson shot 65 on Friday to pull within one of Mickelson, setting the stage for a fantastic weekend duel.  Stenson shot 68 Saturday to Mickelson’s 70, giving Stenson a one-shot lead entering the final round.

In the final round, Stenson and Mickelson went back and forth, and Mickelson ended the Open with a bogey-free 65, finishing 17-under par with the best 72 holes he had ever played in a major and 11 shots clear of third place J.B. Holmes.  There was only one problem for Lefty:  Stenson shot 63, joining Johnny Miller as the only players to shoot the mark in the final round to win a major.  Stenson took the lead for good on the 14th hole, birdieing four of the last five holes and 10 in the round to win his first major, beating Mickelson in an Open duel reminiscent of 1977’s “Duel in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.

4.  Jan. 11:  Alabama 45, Clemson 40 (NCAA Football, National Championship Game)

As the clear two best teams in the country fought for the national title, they produced a game that many compared to the legendary USC-Texas Rose Bowl in 2006.  The two teams traded the lead throughout the first three quarters, with Alabama getting two rushing touchdowns from Heisman winner Derrick Henry, and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finding former walk-on Hunter Renfrow for two touchdowns.

After Alabama tied the score at 24-24 with 10:34 to go, coach Nick Saban made one of the gutsiest calls of his career, calling for the onside kick, which the Crimson Tide recovered, leading to a touchdown.  After Clemson answered with a field goal, Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to give Alabama a 38-27 lead.  A Watson-to-Artavis Scott touchdown with 4:40 left pulled Clemson to 38-33, before a long Alabama drive to milk the clock ended with the Tide putting the game away with Henry’s third touchdown.

3.  Apr. 4:  Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (NCAA Tournament, National Championship Game)

After the Final Four in Houston saw two less than stellar semifinals, with Villanova beating Oklahoma 95-51 and North Carolina beating Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the championship game, the Wildcats and Tar Heels made up for it with one of the best championship games in NCAA Tournament history.

After North Carolina led 39-34 at halftime and by as many as seven points early in the second half, Villanova came back to tie the score at 44-44 and then take a 67-57 lead with 5:29 left.  Then the Tar Heels came back, led by threes from Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige.  After getting as close as 72-71, North Carolina trailed 74-71 in the closing seconds when Marcus Paige hit a contested, off-balance, game-tying three with 4.7 seconds left–given the circumstances, one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen (honestly, because of the degree of difficulty, even more of a clutch shot than the one that happened next).

After a timeout, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball up the floor, setting up Kris Jenkins for an open three that will forever live in basketball lore.  Jenkins’ buzzer-beater gave Villanova their second national title (1985) in thrilling fashion, culminating a game CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called “a thrilling, undeniably heart-stopping, instant classic of a title game.”

2.  Jun. 19:  Cleveland 93, Golden State 89 (NBA Finals, Game 7)

Game 7 had some fantastic storylines beforehand.  The Cavaliers and Warriors were playing a rematch of the 2015 Finals, which had been won by Golden State.  The Warriors had reached The Finals by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, then they led Cleveland 3-1 before the Cavaliers fought back to force a Game 7.  The Cavaliers were trying to become the first Cleveland pro sports team to win a championship since 1964, led by native son LeBron James, and doing so on the road in Oakland.

The largest lead of the game for either side was seven, which Golden State enjoyed at halftime, and the game saw 11 ties and 20 lead changes.  After a Warriors layup by Klay Thompson tied the score at 89 with 4:39 to play, the teams combined to miss 12 consecutive shots, including a phenomenal James block from behind on an Andre Iguodala attempted layup.  Kyrie Irving broke the scoring drought with a clutch three, over league MVP Stephen Curry, with 0:53 remaining, and after Curry missed a three, James was fouled hard on a fast break with 0:10 left, staying on the floor for a few moments before hitting one of the two free throws to give Cleveland a 4-point lead, before Curry missed again and time expired, and James fell to the floor in tears as a champion.

The story of LeBron James returning home to Cleveland and winning the city the championship it so desperately wanted was a great story to watch unfold, even as someone who was (mildly) pulling for the Warriors.  As the city won its first title in 52 years, ESPN broadcaster Mike Breen proclaimed, “Cleveland is a city of champions again!”

1.  Nov. 2:  Chi. Cubs 8, Cleveland 7, 10 inn. (World Series, Game 7)

“Game of the Century” is an overused term in the sports world, but leading into just the fifth Game 7 of a World Series since 2001, I said this was legitimately the biggest baseball game in the 21st century thus far.  But even with the Cubs coming from down 3-1 to force a Game 7 in a series between teams with 68- and 108-year title droughts and the matchups of Kluber-Hendricks and Francona-Maddon, I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype.  And yet, somehow, it surpassed it.

So many moments from Game 7 were memorable on their own, and together they combined to truly make the greatest baseball game of this century to date, and one of the greatest ever.  Dexter Fowler led off the game with a homer for the Cubs, and Javy Baez added one of his own, giving the Cubs a 5-1 lead.  The Indians pulled to within 5-3 after two scored on a wild pitch, the first such play in a World Series since 1911.  David Ross, in his final career at-bat, homering to make it 6-3.  A furious Indians rally against Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman in the 8th, culminating with a game-tying homer by Rajai Davis, the latest in any World Series Game 7.

Nine innings weren’t enough for this classic, and with the game tied 6-6 and going to extra innings, the whole world got to catch its breath with a short rain delay.  After a Ben Zobrist go-ahead double, the Cubs took an 8-6 lead to the bottom of the tenth, but the Indians didn’t go down without a fight, scoring off of Cubs rookie Carl Edwards.  Mike Montgomery, who had never recorded a save in pro baseball, relieved Edwards with two outs, and got Michael Martinez to hit a soft grounder to third that will become one of the most replayed baseball highlights in history:  the final out of the Cubs’ first championship since 1908.

In my post on the game the next day, I summed up Game 7 this way:  “The Cubs and their fans have literally waited a lifetime to celebrate winning the World Series.  It’s only appropriate that the game of a lifetime put them over the top.”


Honorable Mention

Jan. 16:  Arizona 26, Green Bay 20, OT (NFL Playoffs, Divisional Round)

Jan. 23:  Denver 20, New England 18 (NFL Playoffs, AFC Championship)

Feb. 21:  Denny Hamlin wins Daytona 500 photo finish

Mar. 18:  Northern Iowa 75, Texas 72 (NCAA Tournament, First Round)

Mar. 20:  Wisconsin 66, Xavier 63 (NCAA Tournament, Second Round)

Mar. 20:  Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88, 2OT (NCAA Tournament, Second Round)

Apr. 7-10:  Danny Willett wins The Masters

Jun. 30:  Coastal Carolina 4, Arizona 3 (College World Series Championship, Game 3)

Aug. 11-14:  Olympic Men’s Golf Competition (G: Justin Rose, S: Henrik Stenson, B: Matt Kuchar)

Sept. 30-Oct. 2:  United States wins Ryder Cup

Oct. 1:  Tennessee 34, Georgia 31 (NCAA Football)

Oct. 1:  Clemson 42, Louisville 36 (NCAA Football)

Oct. 4:  Toronto 6, Baltimore 3, 11 inn. (AL Wild Card Game)

Oct. 5:  San Francisco 3, N.Y. Mets 0 (NL Wild Card Game)

Oct. 9:  Toronto 7, Texas 6, 10 inn. (AL Division Series, Game 3)

Oct. 10:  San Francisco 6, Chi. Cubs 5, 13 inn. (NL Division Series, Game 3)

Oct. 13:  L.A. Dodgers 4, Washington 3 (NL Division Series, Game 5)

Nov. 12:  Pittsburgh 43, Clemson 42 (NCAA Football)

Nov. 20:  Jimmie Johnson wins Ford 400 and NASCAR Sprint Cup championship

Nov. 26:  Ohio State 30, Michigan 27, 2OT (NCAA Football)

 

Biggest Stories of 2016

5.  Retirements

Every year has its fair share of retirements, but it seemed 2016 had more big names saying goodbye than most years.  Peyton Manning retired as a Super Bowl champion.  David Ortiz was an MVP candidate at age 40 in his farewell.  Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game.  David Ross homered in Game 7 of the World Series in his final career at-bat.  Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira walked away from the New York Yankees.  Vin Scully said goodbye after an unfathomable 67-year run as a Dodgers broadcaster.  Fellow broadcaster Dick Enberg said “Oh my!” one final time.  Tony Stewart won one of the year’s best races at Sonoma as part of his final season.  Family man Adam LaRoche walked away from millions after his son was unwelcome in the White Sox clubhouse.  The accolades for this list seem endless, and they have given us many moments we’ll never forget.


4.  Rio Olympics

Entering the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the host city was a major story, with concerns about the water quality in Rio, trash in the streets, and risk of Zika virus.

Once the games began, there were some excellent performances by the best athletes in the world, including a successful games for the United States team.  Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all-time, while fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky was utterly dominant in setting multiple world records.  Simone Manuel stunned everyone, becoming the first African-American woman to ever medal in swimming when she won gold in the 100m freestyle.  Simone Biles won five gymnastics medals, with four gold, as the “Final Five” obliterated the competition to win gold going away.

Outside the American delegation, Jamaican Usain Bolt finished his career with a third gold in the 100 meter dash.  Fiji’s rugby team won gold to score the nation’s first Olympic medal ever.  Brit Mo Farah fell down and recovered to defend his gold medal in the 10,000m run.  Golf returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, with Great Britain’s Justin Rose and South Korea’s Inbee Park winning gold.

There were still some controversies, both within and outside of competition.  Shaunae Miller dove across the finish line, and while I wrote I had no problem with it, many did.  The water in the diving pool mysteriously turned green.  12-time medalist Ryan Lochte claimed he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint, before it turned out a drunk Lochte had vandalized a gas station bathroom and fabricated parts of his story.

While the 2016 Summer Olympics were not perfect, but fascinated with these storylines and many more.

3.  Cavaliers end Cleveland title drought

The career of LeBron James has created some of the top stories in years past, as the Akron native left his hometown Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat in 2010, and after two titles in Miami, signed back with Cleveland in 2014.  After an NBA Finals loss to the Warriors in 2015, the Cavaliers looked destined for another loss to the Warriors in 2016, trailing 3-1, but came from behind to win three straight games, including two on the road, and the title, clinching in a legendary Game 7.

But while this championship was the first for the Cavaliers franchise, this story was about more than just one sport in Cleveland, but all of them, as the city won its first championship in any sport since 1964, ending a drought that led The New York Times to once call Cleveland “the capital of sports heartbreak.”

The Cavaliers fell victim to Michael Jordan playoff buzzer-beaters twice, then lost James in the controversial announcement program “The Decision.”  The Browns lost playoff games on a late interception (“Red Right 88”), an infamous fumble (Earnest Byner), and John Elway’s “The Drive,” before leaving town entirely in 1995 (becoming the Baltimore Ravens), only to be reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999.  The Indians were two outs away from the 1997 World Series title, before a costly Jose Mesa error led to an extra-innings loss to the Marlins.

The Cavaliers title ended the heartbreak, but may also have started a sustained run of athletic success for the city.  While the Browns did go 1-15 in the 2016 season, the Indians reached the World Series, and will have an even better roster in 2017, while the Cavaliers currently have the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference as they try to defend their title.

2.  Deaths

Many people of influence in all facets of American and global culture passed away in 2016, but the year seemed to especially hit the sports world hard.  Muhammad Ali, the boxer who was named Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Century in 1999, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s, while Pat Summitt, the longtime Tennessee women’s basketball coach who is the winningest coach in NCAA history, succumbed to dementia.  Arnold Palmer, “the king” of golf, and Jose Fernandez, a young star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died just hours apart on September 25.

The list also includes broadcasting legends Craig Sager, Joe Garagiola and John Saunders, football coaches LaVell Edwards, Dennis Green and Buddy Ryan, former Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam, basketball legends Nate Thurmond and Pearl Washington, NHL Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, baseball trail blazer Monte Irvin, and dirt racing champion Bryan Clauson.  71 people, including 19 players from Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense and numerous other team staff and media, were killed when a plane carrying the team to a championship match in Medellin, Colombia crashed, while only three players survived.



1.  Cubs win first World Series since 1908

Entering 2016, it was no secret that the Cubs had a great chance to break their curse of 108 years and finally win the World Series, and before the season I picked them to win.  Even still, the way it played out makes this one of the biggest and best sports stories of my lifetime, and one that many veteran baseball writers called the best story they have ever covered.

Coming back from a 3-1 deficit and capturing a thrilling Game 7 to win it all, the Cubs finally rewarded the waiting of their long-suffering fans, some of the most loyal anywhere, with their first championship since 39,466 days before, when Theodore Roosevelt was president.  The resulting reactions from jubilant Cubs fans, nearly all of whom were experiencing their first championship, were expectedly emotional, with many brought to joyous, relieved tears.

The North Side rode the monumental triumph–and, in many cases, disbelief–for days after Game 7, including the Cubs’ victory parade and rally two days after the victory, which saw 5 million people–the seventh largest crowd in human history–pay tribute to their baseball heroes, the unit of Cubs who finally ended sports’ most famous championship drought.

After seeing the Cubs end a historic period of futility in such dramatic fashion, and the depth of the celebration that followed in Chicago and throughout the country, I named the Chicago Cubs my 2016 Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year.


Honorable Mention (in generically chronological order, with yearlong stories listed first)

Athletes get politically involved (Colin Kaepernick, Curt Schilling, ESPYs cold open, etc)

Player conduct (Draymond Green, Grayson Allen, Vontaze Burfict, etc)

Performance-enhancing drugs (Dee Gordon suspension, al-Jazeera report)

Louisville basketball escort scandal

The Rams relocate to Los Angeles

Baylor football sexual assualt scandal

The end of Deflategate

John Scott voted to NHL All-Star Game, wins MVP

Golden State Warriors set NBA regular-season wins record

Leicester City beats 5000-1 odds to win English Premier League

Kevin Durant signs with Golden State Warriors

Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits out with concussion, Jeff Gordon returns

The resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders

Tim Tebow plays baseball, signs with New York Mets

Jimmie Johnson wins 7th title, ties Petty and Earnhardt

New collective bargaining agreements in MLB and NBA

The rebirth of Penn State football

Major college football coaching changes (LSU, Texas)

Tiger Woods’ injury and return

Wake Forest game plans leaked to opponents (WakeyLeaks)

 

 

Column: Game 7 WAS the Game of the Century

I called it the biggest baseball game of the century to date.

I told myself that with that much buildup and hype, it would be difficult for the game to live up to that lofty title, even with the guarantee of one championship drought coming to an end.

But after the Chicago Cubs outlasted the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings to win their first championship in 108 years, Game 7 of the 112th World Series didn’t just live up to the hype–it surpassed it, unquestionably becoming greatest baseball game played in this century, and arguably the greatest of all-time.

Even before first pitch the game had a plethora of storylines.  The 37th winner-take-all World Series game in history, between franchises looking for their first titles since 1908 and 1948.  The Cubs trying to complete a Series comeback after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven contest.  A 103-win Cubs team having to play Game 7 on the road because the American League won the All-Star Game.

Cy Young Award contenders from each league, Kyle Hendricks and Corey Kluber, facing off head-to-head for all the marbles.  A managerial battle between Joe Maddon and Terry Francona.  The Cubs exceptional young core of position players and the equally exceptional Indians bullpen.

Game 7 had all this, and more.  Really, it had a little bit of everything.  Things that were expected to happen never unfolded, and things no one expected did occur.  One game contained innumerable moments that will live in the lore of the World Series much longer than 108 years from now.

Dexter Fowler’s leadoff homer.  Kyle Schwarber’s steal in the first.  Kris Bryant sliding between the legs of catcher Roberto Perez to score.  Javier Baez’s homer.  The Cubs stunning Kluber to take a 5-1 lead.  Three Cubs errors.  Hendricks dealing, then being pulled for Jon Lester.  Two Indians scoring on a wild pitch (the first time two scored on a wild pitch in a World Series game since 1911).  David Ross homering in his final career at-bat, becoming the oldest to homer in a World Series Game 7.  Rajai Davis’s unlikely home run in the 8th, the latest game-tying homer in any Game 7 in history.  Aroldis Chapman, running on fumes, somehow getting the Indians in order in the 9th.  Extra innings.

A rain delay.  Schwarber’s leadoff walk in the 10th.  Pinch-runner Albert Almora tagging to second on a flyout.  Zobrist’s go-ahead double in the 10th.  He and Montero earning RBIs after the previous batters were intentionally walked.  Rookie Carl Edwards getting the first two outs in the 10th.  Davis making it 8-7 with an RBI single.  Mike Montgomery, of all people, throwing all of two pitches and getting the final out, his first professional save at any level.  Kris Bryant grinning ear-to-ear as he fielded the grounder to win it all.

It was a paradoxical game with both an abundance of clutch hitting and its share of solid pitching.  Both managers made some tough–and controversial–decisions, and while he ended up on the losing end, Francona appeared to outmanage Maddon.

Both sides experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions:  joy, frustration, hope, despair, and eventually triumph and heartbreak in the respective dugouts when the classic culminated.

The final result is what many veterans of the sports media world have called the greatest story they have ever covered–the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908.

The first time in 39,466 days.  The first time since Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States–all 45 of them–and William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan were running to replace him.  The first time since two weeks after Ford began producing the Model T.  The first time since the year Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Stewart were born and Grover Cleveland died.  The first time since 19 years before any of my grandparents were born.

Not only did Game 7 mark the first time a Cubs World Series victory was broadcast on television, but the first time it was broadcast, period, as the World Series was not broadcast on radio until 1921, and commercial radio broadcasting in general did not begin until the 1920’s.

The broadcast of Game 7 will endure for ages, as it joins the list of the greatest games in World Series history and, given the circumstances, may eclipse them all as the greatest baseball game of all-time.

The Cubs and their fans have literally waited a lifetime to celebrate winning the World Series.

It’s only appropriate that the game of a lifetime put them over the top.

 

 

 

112th World Series

Game 1:  Cleveland 6, Chicago 0
W: Kluber, L: Lester
Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 2:  Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
W: Arrieta, L: Bauer
Series tied 1-1

Game 3:  Cleveland 1, Chicago 0
W: Miller, L: Edwards, S: Allen
Cleveland leads 2-1

Game 4:  Cleveland 7, Chicago 2
W: Kluber, L: Lackey
Cleveland leads 3-1

Game 5:  Chicago 3, Cleveland 2
W: Lester, L: Bauer, S: Chapman
Cleveland leads 3-2

Game 6:  Chicago 9, Cleveland 3
W: Arrieta, L: Tomlin
Series tied 3-3

Game 7:  Chicago 8, Cleveland 7, 10 innings
W: Chapman, L: Shaw, S: Montgomery
Chicago wins 4-3

 

Column: The Game of the Century

Tonight the Cleveland Indians will host the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, the 37th winner-take-all game in World Series history.

But as big as the game is on the surface, when you look at the storylines and subplots accompanying the Indians and Cubs into Game 7, this game becomes possibly–and I don’t think I’m overstating this–the biggest baseball game of this century to date.

Both teams have long-standing championship droughts, with the Cubs lacking a title since 1908, and the Indians last crown coming in 1948.  One of those historic and well-documented droughts will end in the rain of confetti about three hours after tonight’s 8:00 ET first pitch.

The Cubs are seeking to become just the sixth team in World Series history to win after trailing the series 3-1, and the first since the 1985 Kansas City Royals.  The North Siders would be the first team to pull off such a comeback with the last two games on the road since the 1968 Detroit Tigers.

Both starting pitchers are contenders for this year’s Cy Young Award in their respective league.  Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA), the NL ERA leader in the regular season with the Cubs, has a 1.31 postseason ERA, and no runs allowed in his last two starts.  Corey Kluber, who won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland, won the AL Cy Young in 2014 and could win it again (18-9, 3.14 ERA).  Kluber has a staggering 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts, and is trying to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to start and win three games in a World Series.  Cleveland also has bullpen stalwarts Andrew Miller and Cody Allen rested and ready for potentially extended action tonight.

The Cubs explosive offense struck for nine runs in Game 6 last night, as Addison Russell became the fourth player with a 6-RBI game in the World Series (the first on a team facing elimination), and the second youngest player to hit a World Series grand slam (behind only Mickey Mantle).  Each of the three-through-six hitters in the Cubs order (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Russell) had multiple hits.

The Indians offense has only scored 3.3 runs per game in the Series, but has a six- and seven-run game to their credit.  Last night, Jason Kipnis (3-for-5) was the only player with multiple hits, but Francisco Lindor has been solid the entire series (8-for-22, 2 RBI).

Managers Joe Maddon (Cubs) and Terry Francona (Indians) have both made some bold strategical moves in the series, as both are among the best tacticians in the game.  Francona won two World Series titles with the Red Sox (2004, ’07), and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, while Maddon could be headed for Cooperstown as well.  This is Francona’s first World Series Game 7 in any capacity, while Maddon participated in Game 7 as bench coach for the 2002 Angels, who beat the Giants.

The pair are familiar with each other from their time managing in the AL East, with Maddon in Tampa Bay (2006-14) and Francona in Boston (2004-11).  They have also faced off twice in winner-take-all games:  in the 2008 ALCS, the Red Sox trailed 3-1 and forced Game 7 before Maddon’s Rays won the pennant, and in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game, the Rays beat the Indians, in their first year under Francona.

While tonight’s game–the 178th of the season for the Cubs and the 176th for the Indians–is the third Game 7 of a World Series in the last six seasons, it is just the fifth in this century (2001, 2002, 2011, 2014).

Game 7’s have produced some of the great moments in baseball history, from Bill Mazeroski’s homer in 1960, to the Morris-Smoltz pitcher’s duel in 1991, to Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single to win in 2001, to Madison Bumgarner’s five-inning save in 2014.

Whoever wins tonight, it will be a historic game for baseball, as a drought of either 39,466 or 24,859 days will come to an end.

And if the biggest game of the century is half as good as the hype it is getting, we are all in for a treat.

 

 

112th World Series

Game 1:  Cleveland 6, Chicago 0
W: Kluber, L: Lester
Cleveland leads 1-0

Game 2:  Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
W: Arrieta, L: Bauer
Series tied 1-1

Game 3:  Cleveland 1, Chicago 0
W: Miller, L: Edwards, S: Allen
Cleveland leads 2-1

Game 4:  Cleveland 7, Chicago 2
W: Kluber, L: Lackey
Cleveland leads 3-1

Game 5:  Chicago 3, Cleveland 2
W: Lester, L: Bauer, S: Chapman
Cleveland leads 3-2

Game 6:  Chicago 9, Cleveland 3
W: Arrieta, L: Tomlin
Series tied 3-3

Game 7:  Tonight, 8:00 pm ET, FOX

 

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)

Column: The Last Time the Cubs Were In the World Series

Saturday night, the Chicago Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 to win the National League Championship Series in six games to meet the Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic, starting Tuesday.

In that 1945 World Series, the Cubs met the Detroit Tigers.  It was the Cubs 10th World Series appearance in the first 42 editions of the World Series, although the North-Siders had only won in two of their previous appearances (1907-08), and would end up losing to the Tigers in seven games.

When that World Series was contested, Harry S. Truman had just become president six months earlier after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Between then and the World Series that October, Truman had already overseen the end of World War II, winning in Europe 25 days after Roosevelt’s death, and in Japan in August.

(Outspoken Cub fan Steve Goodman, known for writing “Go Cubs Go,” pointed out that parallel history in a lyric in his song “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” saying “You know the law of averages says anything will happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.”)

In the month before the 1945 World Series, Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and American military occupation of Korea began, with both events setting the stage for major conflicts over the coming years.

The average house cost $4,600 in 1945, and a gallon of gas costs 15 cents.  The Bells of St. Mary’s starring Bing Crosby was the top-grossing film of the year, and Crosby won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Going My Way, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Animal Farm and Stuart Little were among the novels published in 1945.

Microwave ovens and cruise control were invented in 1945, and less than 10,000 homes had television sets, while the credit card, defibrillator, and hair spray were all invented over the next three years.

Don McLean was born the day before the World Series, while fellow entertainers Tom Selleck, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, Steve Martin, Neil Young, and Bette Midler and journalists Chris Matthews and Diane Sawyer were all also born in 1945.  Sports figures Pat Riley, Walt Frazier, Gary Williams, Hale Irwin, Phil Jackson, Jim Palmer, and Larry Bowa were also born in 1945, and Hall of Famer Rod Carew was born two days before the World Series.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would not be born for another year and two years, respectively.  My grandparents were between 9 and 18 years old.

World War II resulted in the deaths of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Anne Frank in 1945, while general George Patton died shortly after the war’s conclusion.

As the 1945 World Series was played, no black players were on either team, as Jackie Robinson would not break baseball’s color barrier for another two years.  The first Cubs player to appear in the 2016 World Series opener on Tuesday in Cleveland will likely be African-American outfielder Dexter Fowler, the Cubs usual leadoff hitter.

The years 1945 and 2016 are quite different, as society, culture, and even the timeless game of baseball have all seen big changes.  But in 1945 and 2016, one thing is the same:  The Chicago Cubs are National League champions.

The curse of the billy-goat, the black cat, and the Bartman game have blocked potential World Series appearances for the Cubs, but now, finally, 71 years later, the Cubs are back in the World Series.

It’s been a long time coming.

 

 

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)