Everyone is excited for Game 7 of the World Series tonight. Rightfully so, and I am as well, but I’m also feeling a bit glummy with the realization that this is the final meaningful baseball game for five months (unless you count the World Baseball Classic in March, which my baseball-starved mind definitely will come that time).
One game left, and what a game it is. Two very worthy teams with — in case you hadn’t heard — two lifetime-spanning championship droughts. One from each side will fall tonight. Which ones? I’m not going to make a pick; let’s just enjoy the game without predictions. However, both the Cubs and the Indians should be supremely confident that they will feel the sweet, sweet burn of champagne in their eyes by the end of the night. Here’s why.
Another late-series surge by the offense
Cub Fan was freaking out after Chicago’s loss in Game 3 of the NLCS. After being shut down by Rich Hill and the Dodgers, the Cubs trailed in the series, 2-1, and had scored one run in the previous two games.
Then came Game 4. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, who were in the slumpiest of slumps, both homered and the Cubs rolled from there. They won the next three games with the help of 23 runs (17 earned).
This all feels familiar because the Cubs’ bats had taken an early winter hibernation for most of the World Series as well. That lasted until yesterday’s Game 6. Buoyed once again by an offense highlighted by home runs from Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs won easily, 9-3. We’ve seen very recently how this attack can heat up in a hurry and stay hot. It took care of Clayton Kershaw on short rest just 11 days ago, so what’s the big challenge of facing Corey Kluber on short rest (again) when this lineup is clicking?
They have their own advantage in the bullpen
The Indians have the better overall bullpen, sure. But tonight being Game 7 and all, everyone who can throw a pitch is available. That’s good news for the Cubs since, if Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman in the past two games is any evidence, they could use some more trustworthy arms in the ‘pen. So how about Jon Lester and John Lackey in relief? No matter how it works out after starter Kyle Hendricks departs, that looks good on paper. Both are World Series winners. As for Lester, it would be pretty cool to see the possible 2016 National League Cy Young Award winner come into the game in the sixth or seventh inning. Lackey, you may remember pitched one-run ball over five innings in a World Series Game 7 as a rookie. Granted, that was 14 years ago, but the point remains that he won’t have any stage fright if called upon. Cleveland’s bullpen is better, but the Cubs’ bullpen is as deep and has more talent than ever before tonight.
Aroldis Chapman is available
I am one of the millions who disagreed with how Maddon used Chapman in Game 6. Bringing him in during the middle of a seventh inning for the second consecutive game seemed like an unnecessary reach. Doing so with a five-run lead seemed like overkill. But I’m not concerned with how it will affect him tonight. Yes, he has thrown four innings and 62 pitches over the past three days. He has logged 6.1 innings and 102 pitches in this series, which he didn’t appear in until Game 2.
And I really don’t think it matters all that much. The Cubs will call upon Chapman whenever they feel like it tonight, and he will try to give them what they want. He and his fastball will be amped, that’s for sure. Pain be damned. I wouldn’t be shocked if he is asked to get more than three outs. As a free agent-to-be and one who likely won’t be re-signing with Chicago during the winter, the Cubs will fire the Cuban Missile for as long as they can.
They were the best team this season
The regular season may mean nothing now, but if the Cubs want a mental boost before tonight’s game, they need to remember how they got here: 103 wins. Third-most runs scored in the league. Fewest runs allowed. Largest run differential by more than 60. The better team doesn’t always win, but the Cubs should remind themselves that obtaining that lofty win total didn’t just happen by chance.
They are playing at home
This actually might be a plus for the Cubs given that the away team is 4-2 in this series, Chicago brings a massive fan base to every city, and we just saw in Game 6 how quickly the home-field advantage can be squashed. But if you gave each team the option of where they would want to be playing Game 7 of a World Series, of course they would pick their home yard, for good reason. The Indians had the league’s second-best home record during the regular season, tied with the Rangers and the Dodgers at 53-28. Only the Cubs were better at 57-24. For what it’s worth, the Cubs also carry MLB’s best road record, 46-34. That’s what happens when you win 103 games!
Home field isn’t worth much, but it’s nice to have in the most important game of the season. For some players, it will be the most important game of their career.
Corey Kluber is dang good
He’s on short rest for the second time in as many starts, and this will be the Cubs’ third look at him in eight days. OK, I got it.
Counterpoint: Corey Kluber is still a beast.
He has allowed just three runs over 30.1 innings this postseason while compiling a 0.99 WHIP and a 35:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Chicago got to him in the first inning of Game 4 for a run on two hits, but then Kuber didn’t allow a runner past second base for the rest of his outing. A first-inning pounce is probably a big key to a Cubs victory tonight. As we’ve seen already, Kluber can dominate on three days rest once he settles in. If that happens, look out, because …
Miller, Shaw and Allen are locked and loaded
What’s a good nickname we can give this trio? Miller had it so easy with “ABC” as a member of the Yankees. The possible three-initial combinations just don’t work as well here. Sigh ….
Anyway, while I don’t think using Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 puts the Cubs at a clear disadvantage for tonight, the Indians staying away from their Big Three on Tuesday leaves them in an absolutely perfect situation IF they can just be leading after five innings.
Kluber for 5, Andrew Miller for 2, Bryan Shaw for 1, Cody Allen for 1.
Or Kluber for 6, Miller for 2, Allen for 1.
Or Kluber for 5, Miller for 4. Truly, the Indians should keep Miller in the game until he gives up consecutive hits or he tears his shoulder out — whichever comes first, and my money’s on the shoulder giving way. The run that he gave up in Game 4 was the first and only one he has allowed in 25.1 career postseason innings.
Miller has had three days off; Shaw and Allen have had two. Here is their collective pitching line for these playoffs:
38 innings, 27 hits, five runs (four earned), 11 walks, 62 strikeouts. That’s a 0.95 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.
If the Indians are leading once the sixth inning arrives and lose this game, it will be pretty surprising.
One more baseball game for the next five months. It should be one to remember.
You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March. So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.
However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.
Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.
Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land.
Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.
Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.
Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably.
Boston Red Sox
Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential.
Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.
Four years ago, the World Baseball Classic served as a welcome distraction during a long spring training. With the WBC’s help, February and March flew by. Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast became real; he must not have seen his shadow in 2009, because spring arrived mighty early. It was MLB Opening Day after a couple of blinks.
Or maybe that was all a dream? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I spent all of March 2009 attending spring training and WBC games in Florida made the days pass quickly. I don’t have a good explanation, because this spring dragged on like a filibuster, and the World Baseball Classic actually made it seem even longer. It’s been torturous. However, the Rangers and Astros played a game that actually mattered tonight, and we are now mere hours outside of baseball salvation known as Opening Day. So, it’s time to roll out everybody’s favorite dart-throwing contest: season predictions.
I usually put a lot of thought into this exercise, but now I view it much like composing a March Madness bracket: You can do all the research you want, but you are still going to be very, very wrong. So with zero abandon for what lies ahead, I closed my eyes and jotted down season standings, award winners and postseason results. Let’s see what my idle hands came up with.
American League East
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Yes, this division could go a thousand different ways (Actually, it could go 120 ways, mathematically speaking. But let’s not get caught up in the details). I’m not worried about chemistry or “learning how to win” or playing in a historically stout division. This team is loaded. When you have Josh Johnson as your fourth starter, you’ve got a pretty damn good squad.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Here is my first Wild Card winner. I’m expecting a big step forward from Seth MacFarlane, errrrr, I mean, Matt Moore. News flash: It would really help if Evan Longoria could stay healthy.
3. Boston Red Sox:
You know the AL East is crazy when the Blue Jays and the Rays are the steadiest teams in the division, without question. There are a whole lot more questions than answers after those two. The Red Sox may have the most issues of any team in this division as they are filled with injury-prone hitters, and pitchers looking to rebound. But if everything breaks right, they’ll be good enough to barely miss the playoffs.
4. New York Yankees
It’s a long season, but how many bad omens and big injuries can one franchise stand? If Robinson Cano gets hurt … mother of God.
5. Baltimore Orioles
I picked the O’s to finish fifth last year. Look at how well that turned out. Seriously, there is no way that pitching staff, especially the relievers, can be that good again.
The Yankees Lead Baseball In Home Runs. If They Keep It Up, You Can Forget About Them Winning The World Series
When you predict that a team isn’t going to win the World Series in June, there’s about a 97 percent chance you are going to be correct. So I’m not really going out on a limb here with the Yankees, and I’m using only one simple statistic from which to draw my conclusion, but here it is.
In 1983 and 1984, the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers went back-to-back, winning those respective championship after leading Major League Baseball in home runs during the regular season. From 1985 forward, only one team who set the mark in home runs has gone on to win the World Series. Bashing ballclubs don’t usually end their final postseason game with a win.
It’s not the current playoff format, but since the most recent format began in 1995, the top team in homers ….
1995: Cleveland Indians (207): Make the Series, lose to the Braves in 6. Albert Belle led the way with 50. He finished second that year in the MVP race to Mo Vaughn, which made no fucking sense. It must have been those six extra steals. Oh, and the fact that everyone in the media hated Belle, and because baseball is covered by 17-year-old girls. And from where did Mo Vaughn find the speed to steal 11 bases?
Digressing from that, the Braves were second in the National League, eighth overall, with 168 shots.
1996: Baltimore Orioles (257): That broke a 35-year-old record for team power, but the Orioles lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. The Yankees won the World Series with 166 home runs, the third-lowest total in the AL. Brady Anderson launched 50 homers for the O’s, and no one cared to ask if something illegal was going on.
1997: Seattle Mariners (264): Hey, whadiya know! It took just one year for that Baltimore record to fall. Oh, these boys of summer, everybody’s just having fun! And looking huge. But the Mariners have never won a World Series, of course. They lost in the first round to those Orioles in four games. Paul Sorrento, who hit 25 home runs for that ’95 Indians squad, had 31 home runs for the Mariners this year. He’d then hit 28 through the final two seasons of his career.
The Marlins shocked the much more powerful Indians to win the Series. A week after that celebration ended, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga publicly lit every player he had on fire. Read more…
Well, outside of anything that has to do with human rights advances or the prevention of political villainy.
OK, so consider this the most important petition about sports that you will sign …
… this year.
There is an online petition going around in support of the great Vin Scully getting one last opportunity to announce a World Series. I advise you to sign it and then send it to everyone you know and make sure that they send it to everyone they know and so on.
I doubt it will make a dent anywhere. I first heard about this on Wednesday and as of right now, there are only about 6,700 electronic signatures counted. But that doesn’t mean the effort for a very awesome idea can’t be put forth.
You already know that Scully would be more entertaining in October than Joe Buck, and he makes Tim McCarver look like a nun when it comes to baseball knowledge.
Scully, 80, hasn’t called a World Series since 1988. But even as he nears a still-unknown date with retirement, he remains one of the sharpest announcers of any sport. While he doesn’t travel past Colorado these days, he is only man in the Dodgers’ TV booth when he’s on the call. It’s been that way ever since Don Drysdale’s death in 1993. And sometimes, Scully is the sole carrier of the game’s simulcast on radio, too. Again, he’s 80!
He is a true master at storytelling, and when most broadcasters depend upon the game itself to give them something to talk about during the late innings, Scully never runs out of beautiful yarns related to what you are watching.
Why can’t we have something like that one last time during the Fall Classic? It would be a proper and merited gesture.
Even when baseball’s regular season starts in March, it can’t get here fast enough. Only two days remain until we finally enter the 2011 edition of The Show, so let’s throw out some basic predictions, starting with each division. Feel free to attach your own win-loss total.
American League East
1. Boston Red Sox:
The only way I don’t see them claiming the best record in the AL is if they can’t get anything out of the vets in their rotation — Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka. If those guys don’t improve on their sub-par 2010 numbers, then this might be more of a struggle than I expect. Their offensive lineup is just too lethal to bet against.
2. New York Yankees:
There’s no doubt they will be mixing and matching with their starting rotation all season. But the Yankees led baseball in runs scored last season despite some down years. If the likes of Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada can just come back to their career averages — and I don’t see why not — this team will win the wild card. Also, the Yankees should have the most effective bullpen in the division.
3. Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays still have enough to be competitive without Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and basically a brand-new cast in the bullpen. The starting rotation should be formidable, especially if Jeremy Hellickson continues what he started last season. But this team is going to lose a lot of games late and there will be an inevitable drop in offensive production.
4. Toronto Blue Jays:
Toronto can make a push for third place if Brett Cecil and Jesse Litsch can hold it together in the rotation behind Ricky Romero and the currently injured Brandon Morrow. They’ll hit, but I don’t think the Blue Jays have enough quality depth with their starters or relievers.
5. Baltimore Orioles:
The Orioles are going lose a lot of ballgames, but with Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero Adam Jones, post-hype sleeper Matt Wieters and others, they’ll make sure to lose a lot of wildly entertaining 12-10 ballgames.
American League Central
As I type this, we are about 40 minutes away from the first pitch of baseball real opening day. So quickly, here are my predictions for the league’s divisions, playoff and awards. Of course, if you have checked my division previews, you already know who I think will win the division.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION WINNERS AND WILD CARD
Wild card: Rays
In the playoffs, the Yankees will face the Angels in the first round and win in a three-game sweep. The Rays will beat the Twins in four games, but fall to the Yankees in the ALCS in six.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION WINNERS AND WILD CARD
Wild card: Braves
Phillies over the Rockies in five. Cardinals over the Braves in four. In the NLCS, Phillies will beat the Cardinals in five.