By: Brian Stever
Cleveland Indians vs Chicago Cubs
The scene is 1908. Joe Tinker flipped a ground ball to Johnny Evers. Evers turned and threw to Frank Chance. Double play. Ballgame over. World Series over. The Chicago Cubs had won the World Series.
Four future Hall of Fame players were on that Cubs team, including ace pitcher Mordecai Brown who won 29 games that season. The other three were the famous Tinkers to Evans to Chance. A phrase that made them famous, but for the wrong reasons. That phrase signifies the last time the Cubs ever won the World Series. Tinkers to Evans to Chance. For 108 years, Chicago fans have cringed when hearing that phrase.
Fast forward a little. The scene is 1948. Two Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Satchel Paige had just helped the Cleveland Indians defeat the Boston Braves to win the World Series. It was the only World Series from 1947 to 1958 that did not feature a team from New York. It was also the last time the Cleveland Indians would win the World Series.
That brings us to today. 108 years for Chicago and 68 years for Cleveland. Actual lifetimes and generations for fans. Actual hearts being broken.
This year’s Chicago Cubs have been the best team in baseball from the start of the season. With a core of young talent led by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Dexter Fowler, the Cubs had been alone in first place since April 11th before clinching the National League Central division all the way back on September 15th. Manager Joe Maddon has an unorthodoxed style of managing and it has worked perfectly with this mix of young and veteran players.
Cleveland, on the other hand, has had to battle all season. Favorited by many to win their division, it still took them until September 26th to finally secure it. The team – led by Corey Kluber, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana – fought against injuries all season. But Manager Terry Francona, armed with all the experience any manager could ever need, was able to push all the right buttons this season.
The Indians have been red hot in the playoffs, only losing one game total. They swept the AL East Division Champion Boston Red Sox before eliminating the Toronto Blue Jays in just five games. Francona has been a mastermind along the way. He used ace reliever Andrew Miller out of the bullpen on a whim whenever he so chose, and Miller never disapointed. He struck out 21 batters in 11 and 2/3 innings of the ALCS, becoming the only pitcher in MLB postseason history to strike out more than 20 batters within their first 27 outs. It earned him the ALCS MVP.
The Cubs had a little more of a challenge. After surviving the San Francisco “wins the World Series every even year” Giants in the divisional round, they found themselves in a hole versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. held a two-games-to-one lead at home after shutting out the Cubs twice. But the curse of the billy goat, along with the Cubs’ bats, awoke in time to win three straight and win the NLCS in six games. Jon Lester and Javier Baez shared the MVP honors for the series. Lester pitched 13 innings allowing only two runs while Baez hit .318 for the series and flashed serious leather in the field.
The problem with predicting who will win is the fact that the teams are so evenly matched. For the season, these two teams have actually produced almost identically. The Cubs were third in the majors in runs scored at 808, and Cleveland was close behind in fifth with 777. Cleveland’s starting pitching held a stellar 3.84 ERA for the year, but the Cubs led the league with 3.15 ERA. The bullpens are where the teams are really similar. At the trade deadline, both teams made deals with the New York Yankees to bolster their respective pen. The Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman while the Indians dealt away some top prospects to get Andrew Miller. Both Chapman and Miller have been instant upgrades and more than worth the price both clubs paid for them.
The Cubs’ lineup boasts heavy hitters. Kris Bryant, with 39 homeruns, and Anthony Rizzo, with 32 of his own, led the Chicago slugging. As a team, the Cubs hit 199 homers to finish 13th in the league for homeruns. The Indians were no slouch themselves hitting 175 of them, led by Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana each hitting 34.
On-base percentage you ask? The Cubs were 2nd overall at .348 while Cleveland’s .329 finished 8th overall. Looking at pitching these teams are even closer. The Cubs finished 3rd overall, striking out 1441 batters. Cleveland came in 4th with 1,398 Ks for the year.
These teams are almost too close to tell a difference. Both teams are from the Midwest. Both teams have a rich history of falling just short and having their fans’ hearts broken over and over. Both teams even have historic movies made about them. I’m not even sure who would win head-to-head – Henry Rowengartner or Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn.
Any other season and your heart would be easily tugged towards the Cubs or towards the Indians just for the history of them finally winning. This season, though, your heart won’t be able to decide.
Two brilliant managers, two stellar pitching staffs, two incredible lineups and two heartbroken fan bases. Which hearts will finally be mended?
My prediction? One final stat is what will decide this series. Nine out of the last ten teams (with seven straight) that had the longer layoff before Game 1 of the Series has gone on to lose the series. This year that favors the Cubbies.
Cubs in six.