At 8pm EST tonight, Game 7 Seven of the World Series kicks off with the cities of Chicago and Cleveland both vying for the title of America’s most insufferable sports fans. Cleveland Indians are searching for their first World Series title since 1948 while the Chicago Cubs are notoriously looking to end the Curse of the Billy Goat and win their first World Series since 1908. At midnight tonight, one team will end their “championship” drought while the fans of the other team will have to wait at least another year.
Being a sports fans is an absurd hobby in the sense that normally sane people project a lot of their identity on the exploits on teams of working professionals simply because they play in the same city. Fans somehow take credit for sports achievements simply for observing it. They assume some sort of ownership of these teams, castigate the players when they lose and proudly wear the archetype of the tortured fan.
The majority of coverage regarding the World Series hasn’t been about the games themselves but rather how difficult it has been to be a sports fan in the city of Cleveland, who are the reigning NBA Champions, and Chicago who have celebrated the Super Bowl in 1985, 6 NBA titles in the 1990’s, World Series in 2005 and 3 Stanley Cups in the last 6 years.
The assertion that these fans haven’t had a reason to celebrate is patently absurd and takes away from the sport itself and the accomplishments of the players. The Chicago Cubs were the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series before the Season started while most pundits thought the Cleveland Indians would have been good but not World Series good. Let’s see how they both got here.
To reach the World Series you need to have a competent front office, a great and experienced coach, great starting pitching, great relief pitching, timely hitting and of course luck. Health does not play as much as a factor as you think as both the Cubs and Indians had several impact players miss the majority of the regular season and playoffs.
The Indians are led by Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, graduates from Georgetown and Princeton respectively and they have both been groomed within the organization. They have developed the team by investing primarily in starting pitchers (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin) with high strikeout rates and have balanced their hitting staff with low cost veterans (Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Marlon Byrd and Juan Uribe) and players coming through the system (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin). This flexibility has allowed them to fortify their team during the season with Andrew Miller and Coco Crisp after injuries during the season to Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley.
The Cubs are led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer graduates from Yale and Wesleyan respectively and they have both learned the intricacies of baseball management through trial and error with the Boston Red Sox. They have developed the team over a five year plan by accumulating as much young hitting talent through the MLB draft or Amateur Free Agency (Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler) and also by jettisoning older talent at the peak of their value (Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta). Their belief that it is easier to develop premium hitting talent than acquire them in free agency has been correct and they have made great use of their huge spending budget to acquire experienced starting pitching (Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and John Lackey) while also using their excellent farm system to upgrade their relief pitching with their acquisition of Aroldis Chapman.
Both teams have excellent front offices and while they are not perfect, they have shown that there are various methods to create World Series caliber teams.
Both teams decided to reach into the AL East vault to bring in two very experienced managers. For the Cubs they were fortunate that Joe Maddon was not retained by the Tampa Bay Rays and promptly signed him the second he became available. Joe Madden is antithesis of the classic MLB manager and goes against conventional wisdom to make decisions which typically ends up in his favor. He is highly regarded amongst MLB players and coaches and has a great relationship with his players.
The manager of the Indians is Terry Francona who left Boston after winning two titles with Theo Epstein is similar to Joe Maddon but more conventional. While his skill in developing players are not great, he is exceptional at game to game lineup decisions and very experienced in the art of relief pitching management. Terry Francona has honed his managerial skills going through every situation imaginable as his wealth of experience edges out Joe Maddon by the slimmest of margins.
The Cubs glided through the regular season and lead the major leagues with 103 wins but they have looked much more vulnerable in the playoffs thus far. They beat the San Francisco Giants 3-1 in the first round but all four of the games were very close. The Cubs outscored the Giants 17-13 in those four games and the series could have gone a decidedly different way if the Giants made any roster improvements mid-season. The Cubs also had a good scare against the Dodgers trailing 2-1 in the series before righting their ship and progressing to the World Series. They have shown a penchant for their bats to go quiet at inopportune times and their starting pitching can be erratic.
The Indians have glided through the playoffs beating the Red Sox 3-0 and the Blue Jays 4-1. This has been mainly due to their starting being effective in short stretches while Andrew Miller has been unbelievably dominant from the 4th inning onward. The Indians batting has also gone quiet for long stretches during the playoffs as well.
This Series is tied for very simple reason. The Cubs have been unhittable when Jake Arrieta has pitching with Aroldis Chapman in relief while the Indians have been unhittable when Corey Kluber has pitched with Andrew Miller in relief. Both Jake Arrieta and Corey Kluber have enjoyed early run support which enables them to be more aggressive on their strikeout pitches and neither team has shown an ability to adapt to their breaking balls.
Tonight the Indians face Kyle Hendricks for the first time while the Cubs face Corey Kluber for the third time this series. I believe that the Indians will try to be aggressive in the early innings to chase Hendricks and get to the Cubs relief pitching. Joe Maddon has already stated that every pitcher is available for relief and I’m pretty sure he will be operating on a quick hook tonight. He has shown that he has been willing to put his bets pitchers in the highest leverage situations this series but that may come back to haunt him with the overuse of Aroldis Chapman the last two games.
Corey Kluber has to believe that this is his game to lose as the Cubs simply cannot get meaningful hits off him as long as he executes his pitches. Terry Francona is looking to get 5 innings out of him with a lead before he can turn to his relief pitching which has been exceptional during the World Series and unhittable in the playoffs.
The Indians win 5-2 and Cleveland fans combine the worst attributes of St Louis Cardinals, New England Patriots and Cavaliers citing well-worn but inaccurate hyperboles such as “Nobody believed in us!”, “We play the right way” and “Us against the World!”