Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers, the two losing teams in the LCS round, won’t want to hear this, but the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians is the best possible matchup in terms of story lines. The Cubs haven’t won the Fall Classic since 1908 and the Indians not since 1948. That’s 176 combined seasons of no championships (if you count this one), the most pronounced drought between the two opponents is World Series history. It starts Tuesday night in Cleveland — because the American League won the All-Star Game — and the Cubs are series favourites on Sports Interaction MLB odds.
Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians
Game 1: Tuesday at Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET
Game 2: Wednesday at Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3: Friday at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET
Game 4: Saturday at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET
Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET
Game 6 (if necessary): Nov. 1 at Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET
Game 7 (if necessary): Nov. 2 at Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET
The Lovable Losers led the majors with 103 regular-season wins. They ended the San Francisco Giants’ hopes of another even-year World Series title this decade with a four-game series win in the NLDS. The Los Angeles Dodgers were up 2-1 over the Cubs in the NLCS, but then the struggling Chicago bats woke up by winning the next three games by a combined score of 23-6 to take the franchise’s first pennant since 1945. The NBA wasn’t even around then! Ace pitcher Jon Lester, who is expected to start Game 1 on Tuesday, and second baseman Javier Baez were named co-MVPs of the NLCS. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers. Baez hit .318 with five RBIs and was a defensive dynamo.
Both the Cubs and Indians have the Yankees partially to thank for being in the World Series. Around the trade deadline, the Cubs acquired closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees when they couldn’t agree on terms for fellow lefty reliever Andrew Miller. Then the Yankees turned around and traded Miller to the Indians.
There is one shocking story surrounding the Cubs and that’s young slugger Kyle Schwarber. He blew out his knee playing the outfield in the team’s third game of the season and was not expected to be healthy enough to start playing baseball again until spring training 2017. But he was recently activated from the long-term disabled list and has been in the Arizona Fall League since Saturday taking at-bats. World Series rosters have to be set by the teams Tuesday morning. It appears Schwarber will be on it. He still can’t run well or play the field but could play at designated hitter in the games in Cleveland and potentially pinch-hit in the games in Chicago. Schwarber set a Cubs playoff record with five postseason homers last year and his lefty bat could be a boon against a predominantly right-handed Cleveland pitching staff.
Cleveland swept favoured Boston in the ALDS and then took out favoured Toronto in five games in the ALCS. The Indians’ pitching has been stellar in the playoffs, especially the bullpen. Miller was named the ALCS MVP, pitching in four games and not allowing a run in 7.2 innings, striking out 14 of the 26 Toronto batters he faced. Miller became just the fourth reliever ever to win the award, joining Dennis Eckersley (1988), Mariano Rivera (2003) and Koji Uehara (2013).
If the Indians win this series, it’s likely that Manager Terry Francona will be inducted into the Hall of Fame some day. He won World Series titles as manager in Boston in 2004 and ’07. The guy who hired Francona in Boston? Then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who is the architect of the Cubs as the team’s president of baseball operations. Epstein is going to the Hall of Fame too if the Red Sox and then Cubs end incredibly long championship droughts under his watch.
One thing to watch here is the Indians on the basepaths. They led the American League with 134 stolen bases in the regular season, and the Cubs’ Lester and Jake Arrieta were two of easiest pitchers in baseball to steal against. Lester is literally incapable of throwing to first base.
Cleveland is also hoping to get back an injured player in pitcher Danny Salazar. He hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since Sept. 9 due to right forearm tightness but threw a simulated game Sunday. The Indians are likely to put him on the World Series roster, although Salazar might be used as a reliever instead of a starter. Ace Corey Kluber gets the call for Game 1. Kluber has gone 2-1 with an 0.98 ERA during the postseason, including two shutout wins. He probably going to be the runner-up for the 2016 AL Cy Young Award just like Lester is expected to finish second for the NL award.
World Series Odds
The Cubs are -165 favourites on the World Series odds with the Indians at +130. The favoured exact result is Cubs in six games at +325. The top Indians winning result is in seven games at +520. On the series total games, six is the +180 leader. Miller and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant are early World Series MVP betting favourites.
World Series Prediction
I give the Cubs the edge in starting pitching and the lineup, but the Indians in the bullpen and in baserunning. Also a slight edge in managing. Here’s an interesting statistic: nine of the past 10 teams that clinched their pennant first went on to lose the World Series. The Indians clinched last Wednesday and thus could be rusty and the Cubs on Saturday. Take Chicago for Game 1 and to win the series in seven.