The 2016 World Series will be remembered for the end of one lengthy title drought and the extension of another.
Cleveland continued its outstanding post season run by defeating Toronto in five games to win the American League pennant. The Indians enter the World Series having won 7 of 8 Playoff games, having swept Boston with three straight wins in the ALDS.
The long time loveable loser Cubs have made it to the World Series for the first time since 1945, ending an absence of 71 years since last having a chance to win a World Series. Chicago needed six games to get past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS after eliminating the San Francisco Giants in four games in the NLDS. The Cubs are 7-3 in the post season.
The Cubs actually have already overcome some adversity in this postseason. After winning the first game of the NLCS against the Dodgers, the Cubs lost both Games 2 and 3. They overcame the 2-1 deficit by winning the final two games in Los Angeles before wrapping up the series at home last Saturday in Game 6.
One of these two storied but long suffering franchises will end a drought of more than half a century since last winning the World Series. The Cubs’ woes are well documented after not having won the Series since 1908, a span of 108 seasons. Cleveland’s disappointment is four decades shorter, but most Indians fans today were not yet born when the Tribe last won the World Series in 1948, some 68 seasons ago.
The Cubs opened as solid -180 favorites to be the team that ends its drought and the early movement pushed the Cubs up to -200 at many sportsbooks. That price and the early upward movement appear justified on several fronts.
The Cubs had the best record in baseball during the regular season, winning 103 games. Next best in the National League was Washington with 95 wins. The Cubs improved slightly from 2015 when they won 97 regular season games, which was only third best behind St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
Cleveland was second to Texas in the American League with 94 regular season wins, one less than the Rangers and one more than their ALDS foes, Boston. That was a 13 game increase over 2015 when Cleveland finished just above .500 at 81-80.
Chicago also enters the World Series in much better health than the Tribe who will again be without their second and third best starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, both of whom were injured over the summer and missed significant time down the stretch.
At full health the Cubs have the better lineup at most positions, a slight edge in their starting rotation and a bullpen nearly the equal to Cleveland’s. In fact, the bullpens can be considered even in many respects, considering the manner in which both managers utilize their relievers.
Two of the game’s best managers will battle wits in this World Series. The Indians’ Terry Francona has already won a pair of World Series titles with Boston – including ending Boston’s 86 season drought in 2005.
Chicago’s Joe Maddon lost in his lone World Series appearance, losing in five games to Philadelphia in 2008. But let’s not penalize Maddon for that failure. He took a franchise that had never won even 70 games in the eight seasons prior to his arrival to the Series in just his third season as Tampa skipper, winning 97 regular season games. His Rays won at least 90 games in 5 of 6 seasons between 2008 and 2013 before the team began to trade away talent in 2014, prompting Maddon to leave for the Cubs after that season.
The call is for the Cubs to win the World Series in no more than six games although Cleveland’s chances cannot be easily dismissed. Francona has masterfully dealt with his late season injuries, and his use of the bullpen was outstanding in the series wins over Boston and Toronto.
Laying 2 to 1 may be a bit steep for what would be, at most, a short sample sized seven game series if it goes the limit. Anything can happen in a short series. Cleveland enjoys the home field advantage as a result of the AL’s win in this past summer’s All Star game.
Cleveland will host the first two games of the Series plus potential Games 6 and 7. The Cubs will host Games 3 and 4 plus a potential Game 5 if there is not a four game sweep.
If Cleveland wins either of the first two games, especially Game 1, the price might drop enough to make the Cubs attractive to play to win the series, needing to win 4 of the next 6 (if they lost Game 1) or 3 of the next 5 games (if they win Game 1 but lose Game 2).
Some bettors will be looking for just such a scenario, taking +180 or higher on Cleveland to win the World Series prior to Game 1 and looking to play the Cubs after either a Game 1 loss or a split of the first two games.
Of course there is the risk the Cubs could sweep the first two games and be prohibitive favorites to win the World Series, up two games to none heading home to Wrigley Field.
At press time Cleveland had announced ace Corey Kluber as their Game 1 starter. The Cubs had yet to announce their starter although ace Jon Lester is likely to start after pitching brilliantly in last Thursday’s Game 5. Four days rest is normal during the regular season when there are stretches of a couple of weeks, or more, without an off day.
If the World Series goes beyond 5 or is delayed due to weather postponements, next week’s column will bid adieu to the 2016 season.
If the Cubs, or Indians, end the World Series in 4 or 5 games this is the final column for the 2016 season. In that case, congrats are in order for the team and its fans that end the long drought.