By Ryan Decker
Tuesday night the eyes of the sports world will be centered squarely on Cleveland, Ohio.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will unveil the city’s first championship banner in over 50 years as they host the New York Knicks on the opening night of the NBA regular season.
Cleveland’s baseball team, which plays right across the street at Progressive Field, will be trying to bring home a title of its own, hoping to end the Indians 67-year World Series title drought.
In the dugout on the other side of the field, though, is a Chicago Cubs franchise with the longest title drought in American sports history.
One of the longest title droughts in history will come to an end in this series and I’ll tell you which team it’ll be that ends it.
The Chicago Cubs finished the regular season with the best record in baseball after having one of the most dominant regular seasons of the last twenty years.
No team with the best regular season record has won it all since the 2009 Yankees, and no National League team has accomplished the feat in the Wild Card era. You have to go all the way back to the 1986 Mets to find an NL team to do so.
If you’ve watched any of the postseason this year, you’ve heard the disappointing history of the Chicago Cubs – cursed by a billy goat, a black cat, and Steve Bartman; not even an appearance in the World Series since 1945.
Even though Chicagoans have been saying it off and on for the last 100 years, this team seems different. And as good as this year’s Cubs team has been hitting the baseball, they will be getting reinforcements (like they need it).
Kyle Schwarber, who played just three games this season before tearing his ACL, is set to return to the Cubs for what is likely the biggest series of the franchise’s history. His return seems appropriate, considering he hit one of the loudest home runs in Chicago playoff history last year.
Oh, and he’s been pretty good in Cleveland in his short career.
If the Cubs don’t feel like beating you with their bats, they’ll try shutting you down with a deep starting rotation, and their flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman.
Jon Lester will start Game 1 for Joe Maddon’s club. He boasts a 2-0 record with a 0.86 ERA this postseason. And if that isn’t daunting enough, Lester brings with him a 3-0 record with an even lower 0.43 ERA in his three starts in the World Series.
Speaking of pitching and a team getting back an important player, the Cleveland Indians are also going to be a bit stronger in the World Series than they were in the previous playoff rounds.
Cleveland told Danny Salazar Monday that he would be added to the World Series roster. Salazar, who has been out since early September with a strain in his right forearm, was 11-6 during the regular season, his second-straight year with double-digit wins.
Salazar will fit into the rotation somewhere behind Indians ace Corey Kluber, who will start Game 1 at home, and then will fall somewhere in line between Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and possibly even Ryan Merritt, who started Game 5 of the ALCS.
It should be noted, though, that as of Monday night, it’s unclear if Salazar will be added to the roster to be a starter or a reliever. Indians manager Terry Francona also updated the status of Bauer Tuesday morning on Mike & Mike, saying the 25-year old will start Game 2.
Hitting has been a bit of a mystery for Cleveland, which has been able to come up with timely hits this October, but the bats have lacked consistency. In the ALCS, young shortstop Francisco Lindor hit for a .368 average, while the rest of the Indians hit for just .138.
The combined .168 BA is the lowest by a team that won a postseason series, according to ESPN research.
There’s something to be said for timely hitting though. It helped the Royals win the World Series last year.
Something to keep an eye on is whether or not second baseman Jason Kipnis is available on Tuesday after he announced Monday that he sprained his ankle during post-game celebration last week.
I’m reminded of the old adage: Pitching wins championships.
The Cubs starting rotation is good, really good. As dominant as Chapman can be, the rest of that bullpen has been shaky at times this postseason.
Cleveland’s starting rotation is still a bit of a mystery – Kluber is established, but with injuries to Bauer and Salazar, and Tomlin still being somewhat unproven – so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect.
That is, other than Terry Francona’s request for any starter not named Kluber: get us to the sixth inning and we’ll be fine.
Something to keep note of in this series is the youth on both sides. The two teams combine to have 14 players ages 25 and under. It’s incredible the youth that will be on display.
With that said, Francona gets what he asks for out of his pitching staff, and wins another championship with a drought-ridden franchise.
Cleveland Indians win, 4 games – 2