Welp, here we go. In about a week, either the Chicago Cubs or the Cleveland Indians will be World Series champions. A week after that, Donald Trump could be the president-elect of the United States of America. Y’all know I’m not a religious man, but if you believe in signs, I think those could be the first two of the three that signal the world is coming to an end! Hopefully since #2 is looking increasingly unlikely, the World Series will stand on its own rather than a portent of doom.
I’m struggling with the plot lines for this Series. I have, over the years, generally dislikes both franchises. I’ve also, somewhat grudgingly, come to admire each team and have enjoyed their runs to this point.
Cleveland didn’t really matter to me when I was a kid. They were always terrible and played in the American League East. When they moved to the AL Central in 1995, the Royals were becoming awful and the Indians were kicking off their era of awesomeness. To the extent that I watched baseball in those first few years after the stoppage of 1994, I rooted against Cleveland. I’m not sure why. I ended up liking a lot of guys on those late–90s teams. Over the years, the Indians just became another team the Royals would have to get past if they were ever to be good again. I had no strong feelings about them, but hoped they would always be one game behind the Royals in the standings.
My dislike of the Cubs had clearer roots. As I’ve said before, when I first became baseball-crazy in the late 1970s, the only daily baseball on our TVs in southeast Missouri were the Cubs and Braves. Both teams were perennial losers. So I rooted for whoever they were playing when I watched games on WGN and WTBS. Years later, when I got to college, it seemed like half of my dorm floor was from Chicago. Add in the year I lived in the Bay Area in high school, and when the Cubs played the Giants in the 1989 NLCS, I became a big Cubs hater. Over the following years, I hated the Cubs for their fans’ lovable losers mentality, the franchise acting poor when they were rich, and because of their endless terrible off-season decisions. Here was a franchise that had every reason to be as consistently good as the Yankees and Red Sox, but could never get out of their own way. And many of their fans seemed to celebrate that fact.
But Cleveland hired Terry Francona a few years back, and the Cubs brought in Theo Epstein, who hired Joe Madden. That changed my thinking a little.
Francona is awesome. If I had to pick a current manager to run my favorite team, he would be one of the three or four I would try to get. He does a great job balancing traditional baseball thinking with newer ideas. He seems like a guy I would love to play for. He’s good with the media. He’s not afraid to take risks in games, but also makes smart decisions rather than rash ones. And his teams generally win.
I thoroughly buy into the Epstein mythology. And Madden is one of the other managers on my short list of best in the game. I still can’t get over how calm Madden was Saturday night, as the Cubs were on the verge of clinching their first pennant in 753 years. There was a close-up shot of him taking a drink of a beverage after the Cubs recorded the first out in the ninth inning. His hands were as steady as could be. My hands get jittery keeping score at youth kickball games. I think I might pass out if I was in his situation!
It’s hard to root against teams that are run by people you admire.
And this Cubs team…man do they have some talented and fun guys on their roster. I would have been just fine with the Dodgers winning the NLCS, but as the series progressed, I found myself wanting the Cubs to win more-and-more.
Dogs and cats living together, I guess.
As for the whole “haven’t won in X years” narrative, after what the Royals went through the past two years, I buy into that more than I used to. I know how much fun those Royals runs were for me and so many of my friends. I can’t begrudge anyone from another fanbase that is unloading demons the way we did in 2014 and 2015. I won’t differentiate between how much suffering Cubs fans have experienced versus Indians fans. I just know when this series is over, there are going to be a lot of very happy people supporting the winners. And that’s pretty cool.
Down to the series itself.
This feels like a relatively easy Cubs win at first glance. Cleveland is all beat up. I still don’t understand how they got by Toronto in just five games. Oh, that’s right, they did what you have to do in modern, postseason baseball: get generally excellent starting pitching, then run out relievers who never, ever allow their opponents any breathing room. You don’t have to have the best starting pitchers in the game. You just need your top three/four starters to all be locked in at that moment. The whole key to the series to me is if the Indians’ starters can keep getting the game to the 5th or 6th inning with a lead so they can turn loose Andrew Miller and his pals in the pen. They must do that to have a shot. If they can’t, the Cubs are going to close this thing out quick.
Then again, the Cubs offense has been a little sputtery lately. Even on the nights they scored runs, there have been notable holes in their lineup. They can’t afford to keep doing that against Cleveland, because being down 3–1 in the 5th could mean game over.
The Cubs seem like a team of destiny because of how Epstein has slowly built this team toward this result. They’ve drafted and developed well. They’ve spent money smartly. They’ve put one of the best managers in the game in charge of things. This is just the next step in the process.
The Indians seem like a team of destiny because they keep overcoming obstacles. They lose most of their starting rotation? They plug in guys, stretch out their bullpen, and keep winning. They lose one of their best hitters? Other guys step up and fill in for his loss. They run into the Big Papi Retirement Tour? They sweep the Red Sox. They have to face a red-hot Toronto team smarting from coming close last year? They shut them down and win in five. This team won’t give a damn about momentum or history or anything else that the Cubs bring to the series.
Still, Cubs in 6.
- I later came to realize that, living in St. Louis Cardinals country, an adult probably told me I should hate the Cubs. I have no memory of that happening, but odds are high it did. ↩
- I may or may not have run through the halls yelling “CUBS LOSE!” in my best Harry Caray voice after the Giants cliched. ↩
- See Kansas City Royals, 2014, 2015. ↩