Column: A True Fall Classic

The World Series is nicknamed “The Fall Classic,” but let’s be honest–it doesn’t always live up to that “classic” billing. Many Series over the years have ended in four or five games, with few enduring moments.

But this year, as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers prepare for a winner-take-all Game 7 tonight (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX), the World Series has lived up to the “Fall Classic” label, unfolding as one of the greatest World Series ever played. And just think, there’s a game still to be played, and it’s a Game 7–baseball at its best.

From the time the matchup was set, the 113th World Series was destined for greatness, with two exceptional teams meeting for baseball’s greatest prize–the Astros and Dodgers are the first set of 100-plus-win teams to meet in the World Series since 1970.

Yet as good as this Series looked on paper, it has been even better on the field. With each team playing at an incredibly high level, each game has been close (even the 6-2 Dodgers win in Game 4 was 1-1 entering the ninth), intense and entertaining. The Series has had everything, with pitcher’s duels in Games 1 and 6, an all-out offensive slugfest in the Game 5 instant classic, and a Game 2 that had both extremes in the same game.

A great week of baseball will now conclude with the 38th winner-take-all game in World Series history, as the Astros and Dodgers become the first 100-win teams to meet in a Game 7 since Herbert Hoover was president in 1931.

Tonight’s game marks the first time back-to-back World Series have reached a Game 7 since 2001 and 2002. But while last year’s epic Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians will be a tough act to follow, if there’s a World Series that can produce a comparable classic, it’s this one. It has, after all, already produced six phenomenal contests.

So as the Astros and Dodgers play the final baseball game of the year tonight, bringing this breathtaking World Series to a decisive climax, savor it. We’re watching the determining game of a true “Fall Classic.”

 

 

113th World Series

Game 1
Los Angeles 3, Houston 1
W: Kershaw, L: Keuchel, S: Jansen
Dodgers lead Series 1-0

Game 2
Houston 7, Los Angeles 6, 11 innings
W: Devenski, L: McCarthy
Series tied 1-1

Game 3
Houston 5, Los Angeles 3
W: McCullers, L: Darvish, S: Peacock
Astros lead Series 2-1

Game 4
Los Angeles 6, Houston 2
W: Watson, L: Giles
Series tied 2-2

Game 5
Houston 13, Los Angeles 12, 10 innings
W: Musgrove, L: Jansen
Astros lead 3-2

Game 6
Los Angeles 3, Houston 1
W: Watson (2), L: Verlander, S: Jansen (2)
Series tied 3-3

Game 7
Houston at Los Angeles
Tonight, 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX

 

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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

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,

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)

MLB Playoffs: NLDS Preview

After the Blue Jays and Indians took a 1-0 series lead in the two American League Division Series yesterday, each of those series will play Game 2 this afternoon, setting the stage for two series openers tonight in the National League.

(For a preview of each ALDS matchup, click here.)

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71, NL West champion) vs. Washington Nationals (95-67, NL East champion)
(Game 1:  Friday, 5:38 pm ET, FS1)

This series matches a pair of teams notorious for postseason struggles in recent years, and that will continue for one of them.  The Dodgers won the season series, 5-1, but that doesn’t do justice to how good a matchup this should be.

Both teams, and especially the Dodgers, have overcome injuries throughout the season, making Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Nationals manager Dusty Baker the two favorites for NL Manager of the Year (I’d give the advantage to Roberts).

Both pitching rotations are very strong, although the Dodgers may have a slight advantage.  Washington, with a 3.51 team ERA, has NL Cy Young contender Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA) to start Game 1, underrated Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA) in Game 2, and Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57 ERA) in Game 3, but are without Steven Strasburg (15-4, 3.60 ERA).  The Dodgers, with a 3.70 team ERA, have the very strong trio of Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA), Rich Hill (for the season with OAK/LAD combined:  12-5, 2.12 ERA), and Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) lined up for the first three games.

The two bullpens have nearly identical ERAs (3.35 for Los Angeles, 3.37 for Washington), and each have lockdown closers who will be tough to come from behind on in the ninth inning, with deadline acquisition Mark Melancon (for the season with PIT/WAS combined:  47/51 saves, 1.64 ERA) for the Nationals, and Kenley Jansen (47/53 saves, 1.83 ERA) for the Dodgers.

Offensively, both teams have a blend of exciting young talent and experienced stars in their lineup.  The Dodgers (.249 team BA) feature likely NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager (.308 BA, 26 HR, 72 RBI) and veteran leaders Adrian Gonzalez (.285 BA, 18 HR, 90 RBI) and Justin Turner (.275 BA, 27 HR, 90 RBI).  The Nationals (.256 team BA) are led by NL MVP contender Daniel Murphy (.347 BA, 25 HR, 104 RBI), while rookie Trea Turner (.342 BA, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 33 steals) has made his mark in just 73 games, and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper (.243 BA, 24 HR, 86 RBI), even after a down year, is always a threat.

 

The Nationals have never won a postseason series in franchise history, while the Dodgers have won four straight division titles and only have one series win to show for it (and that was against another team known for postseason struggles, the Braves).  One team has to win this one, and this is the toughest pick for me of all four LDS matchups, as I can see reasons why both teams can win, and why both teams can lose.  That said, the Nationals do have home-field advantage, and fit more of my criteria for teams that do well in the postseason, including playing better than the Dodgers away from home and in one-run games.  I expect this series to be really close, with the Nationals squeaking out a victory.

Prediction:  The Nationals will win the series, 3-2.

 

San Francisco Giants (87-75, NL Wild Card Game winner) vs. Chicago Cubs (103-58, NL Central champion)
(Game 1:  Friday, 9:15 pm ET, FS1)

This highly-anticipated series matches the Cubs, who seem to be considered a team of destiny, against the Giants, the Wild Card Game winners who have won the World Series in the last three even-numbered years.  The Cubs won the season series, 4-3.

This series features two very good pitching rotations.  The Cubs, led by the trio of Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA, Game 1 starter), Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA, Game 2 starter), and Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA, Game 3 starter) have a ridiculously good rotation ERA of 2.96, with an overall team ERA of 3.15.  The Giants counter with Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79 ERA, Game 1 starter), former Cub Jeff Samardzija (12-11, 3.81 ERA, Game 2 starter), and Wild Card Game hero Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA, Game 3 starter; complete game, 4-hit shutout in Wild Card Game).

The Cubs have the overall pitching edge, however, because of the differences in these two bullpens.  The Cubs bullpen, led by closer Aroldis Chapman (for the season with NYY/CHC combined:  36/39 saves, 1.55 ERA), have a 3.56 ERA as a unit.  The Giants bullpen had a 3.65 ERA for the season, but struggled mightily in the second half, blowing 13 games for the Giants.

While the Giants have a higher team average than the Cubs (.258 for the Giants, .256 for the Cubs), the Giants dropped from .263 in the first half to .252 in the second half of the season.  The Cubs are clearly the more explosive offense of the two, as they ranked second in the NL in runs, fifth in home runs, and second in OPS (on-base plus slugging), while the Giants were ninth in runs, 13th in home runs, and 10th in OPS,

No one in the Giants lineup particularly stands out, although Brandon Crawford (.275 BA, 12 HR, 84 RBI) led the team in RBI, Brandon Belt (.275 BA, 17 HR, 82 RBI) led in homers, Hunter Pence (.289 BA, 13 HR, 57 RBI) led in batting average, and team leader Buster Posey (.288 BA, 14 HR, 80 RBI) is strong all around.  The Cubs have arguably the best assemblage of young hitting talent in baseball, featuring likely NL MVP Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI), Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI) and Addison Russell (.238 BA, 21 HR, 95 RBI).

The Cubs are the best team in baseball, and won 103 games this season for a reason.  While the Giants are certainly a talented team, Bumgarner can’t pitch every game for them, and while Cueto and Samardzija are certainly worthy starters, I’m not sure the Giants bullpen can hold a lead against this potent Cubs lineup.  I’m also not sure how many leads they will get, as I expect their offense to struggle against the Cubs starting pitchers.

Prediction:  The Cubs will win the series, 3-1.