It’s been worth the wait, hasn’t it? After 71 long years, the Chicago Cubs are back in the World Series. And after five long months, a Cleveland sports team will go for gold as the Indians try to end a 68-year championship drought. So who has the edge? Let’s dive in and find out (and, for what it’s worth, I’m 7-for-8 in picking playoff rounds thus far):
Even if the Indians were fully healthy in their rotation, the Cubs get the nod here. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks will likely finish 1-2 in the NL Cy Young race, and Jake Arrieta and John Lackey as the “other starters” means the Cubs are locked and loaded in terms of starting pitching. Corey Kluber is an AL Cy Young candidate and a true ace, but what will the Indians get behind him? Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer will pitch Games 2 and 3 (not necessarily in that order, depending on Bauer’s finger), and then there is the wild card of whether Danny Salazar will go in Game 4 despite not having pitched since early September. The Indians could also go back to ALCS Game 5 sensation Ryan Merritt, or back to Kluber on short rest. But either way, the rest of the Indians’ pitching staff is going to have to pick up the slack to make up for Chicago’s decided advantage. Edge: Cubs.
Looking for the great equalizer in this series? You’ve found it in the bullpens. Chicago’s is no slouch, with Aroldis Chapman shutting things down at the back end. But Chapman isn’t even the best reliever in this series, as that moniker goes to his former Yankees teammate Andrew Miller. Having had nearly a week off, Terry Francona can run Miller out there for multiple innings almost every game in this series, while supplementing his efforts with the likes of Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero to bridge the gap to closer Cody Allen. Miller was absolutely untouchable in the ALCS, where he earned MVP honors, and will shorten the game for the Tribe if they are able to get a lead against the Cubs’ strong starting pitchers. Edge: Indians.
If you’re looking for a baserunning edge, that would go to the Indians. But if you’re looking for a defensive advantage, that would go to the Cubs. Homefield advantage has been kind to teams in the Fall Classic, with 24 of the last 30 teams opening at home going on to win the World Series. Both teams have outstanding managers, as Chicago’s Joe Maddon and Cleveland’s Terry Francona are arguably the game’s two best skippers. Cleveland needs to win at least one of the first two at home, but if the teams split, then the Cubs go home for three with a chance to close the series out at raucous Wrigley Field. Also, don’t forget about Jason Kipnis’ Grade 2 ankle sprain suffered in the ALCS clinching celebration — that could loom large here. Slight edge: Cubs.
World Series fun facts
-Teams with homefield advantage have won 24 of the last 30 World Series, including seven of the last nine. The only exceptions in that span are the 2008 Phillies and 2014 Giants.
-The last team to win Games 1 and 2 of the World Series on the road is the 1999 Yankees, who went on to sweep the Braves. In the past 16 World Series’ opening two games, teams have split the two games eight times, and the home team has won both games eight times. In that same span, home teams are 10-6 in Game 1.
-Since baseball adopted the silly rule that stipulates that the winner of the All-Star game gets homefield advantage in the World Series, the league has still gotten relatively lucky from the standpoint that in 11 of the previous 13 World Series, the team with the better record (or the same record in one case) ended up with homefield advantage anyway. Both exceptions involved the Cardinals. In 2004, St. Louis won seven more games than Boston, which was a wild card team, but the Red Sox got homefield and swept the Cardinals in four. In 2011, Texas’ C.J. Wilson gave up a three-run homer to Prince Fielder in the All-Star Game, which cost the Rangers homefield when they reached the Fall Classic despite having six more wins than the wild card Cardinals. St. Louis won that series in seven games. This year represents the biggest win disparity between two clubs in such a scenario, with Chicago having won nine more regular-season games than Cleveland.
-The Cubs and Indians have two of the three longest championship droughts in major professional sports. The other is the Arizona Cardinals, who last won in 1947 as — wait for it — the Chicago Cardinals.
-The team with the longer layoff — even if it’s just one day — has lost the past seven World Series. The Indians’ layoff is three days longer than that of the Cubs, having not played in six days total. The last team to win the World Series despite a longer layoff than their opponent was the Phillies in 2008, but that could have been in part due to the emotionally grueling series the Rays had against the Red Sox in the ALCS in which they nearly blew a 3-1 series lead after blowing a 7-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 5.
-If they win the World Series, Cleveland would become the first city since Pittsburgh in 2009 to win two major pro sports titles in the same calendar year. That year, the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in February, then the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in June.
-Both of these teams should be well-rested considering they didn’t play their full regular-season schedule. The Indians (94-67) had a rainout on September 29 in Detroit that wasn’t made up; later than evening, the Cubs (103-58-1) had their game in Pittsburgh called in the sixth inning with the score tied 1-1. The game was declared a tie, the first in baseball since 2005 (the year the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, ironically). Either way, baseball will have its first World Series champion with less than 162 regular-season decisions since 2006, when the 83-78 Cardinals won it all.
-Cleveland and Chicago are relatively close to one another, but this is the first Central division vs. Central division World Series since the Tigers and Cardinals met in 2006. In baseball’s current landscape with its franchises in their current locations, the World Series has only ever featured one AL West vs. NL East matchup — the Athletics and Mets in 1973.
Final word and prediction
Cleveland is such a heartthrob when it comes to the sexy, sentimental pick everyone loves to make this time of year. But let’s face facts: this Cubs team didn’t win 103 games by accident. They are the deepest and most talented team in baseball, and you can throw the curse stuff out the window — especially since they are facing another long-suffering franchise in the Indians. The middle three games of the series at Wrigley figure to go the Cubs’ way at least twice, which will hurt the Indians’ chances unless they can win the first two at home as they have in the first two rounds. But here’s to the end of professional sports’ longest championship drought… Prediction: Cubs in 6.