The Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians meeting in the 2016 World Series? To some, it could signal the End Times. But the possibility might not seem too far-fetched to many who follow the game.
Both franchises have suffered well-documented championship droughts. The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948, beating the Boston Braves in six games.
The Chicago Cubs are baseball’s special case, though. They beat the Detroit Tigers in back-to-back Series in 1907 and 1908. Then, after seven more appearances, they lost the 1945 Series to Detroit.
They haven’t been back since.
Major League Baseball’s marketing department might agree.
Few World Series match-ups could be as easily marketed. Everyone loves an underdog, and pitchmen love rare and unique items and events. Why not a Twin Underdog World Series? An End of the Curse Championship? The television ratings for the rare 2000 Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets were anaemic. But did those numbers only prove that the rest of the country’s fans didn’t care about what went on in New York? Lots of fans live in the Midwest, too, and many are Cubs and Indians fans.
The big question is: Can the Cubs and Indians actually make this happen?
Christina Kahrl, an MLB staff writer for ESPN, believes the Indians have one of the best starting rotations in the American League.
Maybe. The Indians do have arguably the quirkiest pitching staff.
Of the 14 Indians pitchers, only 30-year-old Ross Detwiler is a lefty. Left-handed batters tend to pull the ball to the right side of the infield against right-handed pitching. But Indians manager Terry Francona shows great confidence in second baseman Jason Kipnis and first baseman Mike Napoli, and with good reason. In 2015, Kipnis had 311 assists and committed only seven errors in 521 chances. The Indians signed veteran free agent first baseman Napoli to a one-year contract. Splitting 2015 with the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers, Napoli also committed just seven errors in 929 chances for a.992 fielding percentage. The Indians also count on newly acquired Juan Uribe to help Francisco Lindor anchor the left side and avoid 2015’s first half fielding woes.
The Indians’ chief problem isn’t their solid infield and bizarre but formidable pitching staff. It’s their hitters. They don’t have the big stick that opposing pitchers fear in the middle of their line-up.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, would be the favored underdog.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon has an impressive pitching staff of his own. After a comeback year in St. Louis, veteran John Lackey joins 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and a solid starting rotation. Closer Hector Rondon was the Cubs bull pen’s principal door slammer. Rondon gave up only 55 hits, 15 walks, and 19 runs over 70 innings, posting a 1.67 ERA and 30 saves.
Statistics also show that Maddon’s lineup only seems more intimidating than Francona’s. In 2015, the Cubs hit 171 home runs, 30 more than the Indians. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo accounted for 31. Without him, that number evens up. The Cubs also scored only 17 more runs batted in than Cleveland.
Of course, those RBIs could be the difference in 17 games.
Is it time for the Cubs to finally make it back to the World Series in 2016? Could these Indians meet them there? A lot can happen between April and October.
And once October gets here, a lot can still happen.
[Wrigley Field Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images – Progressive Field Photo by Tony Dejak/AP Images]