The Cleveland Indians will officially face the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about the denizens of Wrigley Field.
When the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Six of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night, they were fulfilling a destiny that has seemingly followed the team around since spring training. Chicago will now look to put a bow on its storybook season in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
The Cubs present a stern test for the Tribe, boasting a young, talented lineup, an experienced starting rotation, and one of the better bullpens in the game. Oh, and their manager is widely regarded as the most forward-thinking skipper in the game.
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Chicago has been cast as the scrappy underdog trying to put an end to the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball, but that’s hardly the case. The Cubs have the fifth-highest payroll in the game, spending some $70+ million more than Cleveland. The Indians were, in fact, the only playoff team in 2016 that was not among the top 12 payrolls.
That said, Chicago got excellent return on its investment, finishing the regular season with an astounding +252 run differential after scoring the third-most runs and giving up the fewest in MLB. That kind of performance is not lost on Indians’ players:
"“They’ve been really good all year,” Chris Gimenez said. “They have guys that can beat you with the long ball, kind of like we have, but they also have a ton of guys that grind out at-bats. They’re not so much free swingers like Toronto, where they’re kind of a little more boom or bust. These guys are going to put good at-bats up and it’s going to be a little different series from a pitching perspective, I think.”"
After last year’s squad that won the NL Wild Card game, dispatched the St. Louis Cardinals in the division series, and were ultimately swept in the LCS by the New York Mets, the Cubs were anointed the favorites in 2016 by every corner of the baseball media. They shattered records for attendance in the Cactus League, led the NL Central every day from April 11th onwards, and were the only team in Major League Baseball to win 100 games in the regular season.
Chicago features six everyday players under the age of 27, including current or former all-stars Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell, and potential future stars in Javier Baez and Wilson Contreras. That group led the team to over 800 runs during the regular season, and after a slow postseason start, began to heat up against the Dodgers.
The pitching staff is comprised of veterans Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lester, alongside young Greg Maddux-clone Kyle Hendricks, and a bullpen full of electric arms highlighted by closer Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs’ team earned run average in the playoffs was just 2.93.
"“Everybody talks about their offense,” Lonnie Chisenhall said, “but their pitching staff, their starters are unbelievable and the backend of their bullpen, you’ve got Chapman back there waiting.”"
So the Tribe will have its hands full if it wants to end its own championship drought. Despite owning home-field advantage, Cleveland will undoubtedly be the underdog in the World Series, and will likely be viewed, as it has been all postseason, as needing a miracle to even keep things close.
"“That’s something we really kind of feed off,” Gimenez said. “It’s kind of us against the world.”"
If you’re playing in the World Series, it makes sense to play the best of the best. And that’s exactly what the Indians are getting. Stay tuned to Wahoo’s on First the next couple of days as we break down the matchup, the history, and what the Tribe must do if it wants to hoist a World Series banner.