By Andrew Kahn
The Chicago Cubs will play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. That sentence has never been written as anything more than a prediction—and probably not even as that very often. Cleveland took its series against the Blue Jays 4-1 with a shutout victory last Wednesday in Toronto. The Cubs needed six games, beating the Dodgers 5-0 at Wrigley on Saturday night. The World Series starts Tuesday in Cleveland.
1) Curse, Part 1: Broken
Could the first “thing” be anything else? Since the playoffs expanded to two rounds in 1969, the Cubs had lost all six of their chances to clinch a pennant. By winning on Saturday night, they snapped the longest drought in professional sports history without an appearance in the championship (71 years). As you’ve probably heard, the Cubs have not won it all since 1908. The man who helped put the team together will attempt to break the National League’s longest-running curse. Theo Epstein already did it with the American League’s version.
After arriving from Boston, he watched the Cubs lose 101 games his first year, in 2012, and finish in last place the next two years as well. As Wright Thompson’s recent profile on Epstein notes, for those first few years the Cubs president would watch the big league club lose on the field while the minor league affiliates dominated. Those minor leaguers are now big league stars like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, and Epstein has a chance to end a second historic title drought.
2) Cleveland rocks
Let’s not forget Cleveland has been a hapless franchise too. The Indians did reach the Fall Classic in 1997 but haven’t won it all since 1948, making this the first World Series between two teams with an active championship drought of at least 50 years. Another man with a tie to the Red Sox has been part of the turnaround. Like Epstein, manager Terry Francona left Boston after the 2011 season. He joined the Indians in 2013 and the team posted its best record since 2007.
A manager can only affect so much on the field, but his deft handling of Cleveland’s pitching staff, particularly during this playoff run, has been critical. The Indians’ bullpen ERA has been 1.67 in the postseason (compared to the Cubs’ 3.53); overall, the staff is pitching to a playoff-best 1.77 ERA. Can Andrew Miller and company stay strong for one more series? That will go a long way in determining the trophy winner.
3) Cubs offense wakes up
After getting shutout in consecutive games to fall behind the Dodgers 2-1, the Cubs offense came back to life, posting 10, 8, and 5 runs to finish the series. Anthony Rizzo snapped out of a slump in a major way (he was 2-for-26 to start the playoffs but 7-for-14 with two doubles and two homers over the past three games). Of course, it’s easy to close out a series when your pitching staff faces the minimum, as the Cubs did on Saturday night. They allowed just two hits and a walk, and all were erased on double plays. Stranding baserunners might not be so easy against Cleveland. The Dodgers don’t like to run, but the Indians do. They led the American League in stolen bases by a wide margin and will likely be extra aggressive against Chicago starters Jon Lester (who allowed the third most steals among pitchers this season) and Jake Arrieta (fourth most).
4) Off-season questions
The Dodgers are not exactly the Cubs, but they did set a baseball when they were eliminated Saturday. They now have 10 consecutive playoff appearances without reaching the World Series since 1988. What might they do this winter to try and get over the hump next October? Other than add another starting pitcher, possibly not much. The runner-up in the AL for the second straight year, the Blue Jays, could look a lot different next season. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Michael Saunders are among their free agents.
5) World Series preview
Regarding pitching matchup, all that has been announced is that Corey Kluber will start Game 1 for the Indians. Francona mentioned that Danny Salazar, who hasn’t pitched since early September, could make a start, and Trevor Bauer’s finger injury is still a concern. The Cubs at least know who their pitchers will be, if not the exact order, but will have to make a decision on Kyle Schwarber. The left-handed power bat played in just two games this year before injuring his knee, but appeared in an Arizona Fall League game the same night the Cubs won the pennant and could be added to the World Series roster. Chicago is currently the betting favorite at about 1:2 (meaning whatever you bet would net you half that amount in profit (the Indians are 8:5). Ticket prices, as expected, are astronomical: It’s hard to get concrete numbers, but the average sale price for the three games at Wrigley is close to $4,000, more than double the previous World Series record, set last year at the Mets’ Citi Field. Tickets for the games in Cleveland are cheap by comparison, with an average of around $1,600. The action starts Tuesday in Cleveland and the weather won’t be baseball-friendly, with temperatures in the 40s; rain is projected for Wednesday. The series moves to Chicago on Friday for Games 3, 4, and, if necessary, 5. Temperatures are expected in the 50s. The American League has home field advantage for the fourth straight year partly thanks to Kluber, who pitched a scoreless second inning in the All Star Game and got the win. The Cubs made up the starting infield in the game.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn