2016: Only Here, Only in Cleveland
The moment baseball fans across the world have waited for is finally here – the 2016 World Series kicks off from downtown Cleveland on Tuesday night as the Indians play host in the Fall Classic to the Chicago Cubs in the annual best-of-seven competition.
In a series chock full of storylines, most notably the lengthy droughts both clubs have suffered through in the pursuit of a world’s championship on the diamond, two teams who have proven to be the best of their collective leagues will take the field with one goal in sight – to bring home a championship to their long suffering fans.
For the Indians, their return to the World Series is just 19 years in the making, but the club has lost each of its previous three trips to the big show after winning in 1920 and again in 1948. The journey for the fans at Wrigley Field is significantly more public knowledge as the lovable losers, owners of the top record in all of baseball this season at 103-58, have reached the promised land ten times now since becoming the Cubs in 1903, but not once since 1945 until this month. Chicago won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908 before losing in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945.
The Chicago Cubs, the Tribe’s opponent in the 2016 World Series, are a very good team. In the regular season, they won 103 games, the most of any team since 2009, and they had a run differential of +252, more than double what the Tribe put up this season. Very good teams like the Cubs excel in all facets of the game: hitting, pitching, and, most importantly for the Cubs, defense. However, it’s the Cubs offense that we’re going to be taking a look at. Though Indians hitters struggled in the ALCS, it’s the Tribe’s depleted rotation and outstanding bullpen that will determine the outcome of the series.
During the regular season, the Cubs scored the second-most runs in the NL (808), amounting to 5.02 runs per game. In the playoffs, they’ve been just as good, but they have also been inconsistent. After getting shutout in two straight games, the Cubs put up ten runs in Game 4, eight runs in Game 5, and five runs against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6. So, the question is: have the Cubs solved their offensive woes or will their bats go cold again?
The healthy Tribe pitchers looking to freeze those bats will have to rely on film and not experience. And the data tells an interesting story. Each Cubs hitter has a weak spot. It’ll be up to the pitchers to take advantage of them. Here’s a look at the weaknesses of the top five hitters in the Cubs’ lineup.
For the sixth time in team history, the Cleveland Indians will play in a Game 1 on the biggest baseball stage of them all – the World Series.
Strange and inconvenient circumstances have prevented the Indians from owning home field advantage in the series in the past, which makes this year’s World Series opener from Progressive Field the first time in club history that they have hosted Game 1 in Cleveland. In that small sample size, there have been three complete games hurled by Indians starters, a controversial call, a walk-off homer, two games decided by one run, and all five games that were decided by three runs or less.
Baseball fans worldwide could ask for nothing more than that kind of excitement in the 2016 Fall Classic as the Indians host the Chicago Cubs in a matchup of the two longest suffering franchises in Major League Baseball today. Working against the Indians is a 1-4 record in starting the first game of the World Series, but all five games have been road contests. Progressive Field has played as friendly confines for the Tribe this year, both during the regular season and in four straight playoff games to start this postseason.
In the span of a few short months, Cleveland has become title town, a city of champions. The Believeland moniker has become that of an Achieveland variety, as the Cavaliers ended a 52-year championship void in June, only to have the older brother Indians now within four games of their own trophy and parade in October.
It’s an incredible time to be a Cleveland fan. What generations before have clamored for has become a reality on the shores of Lake Erie. The Indians will look to end their 68-year championship drought by extending that of the Chicago Cubs beyond its current 108-year void in a battle between the two longest suffering franchises in the sport.
While the June NBA championship hangover still lingers and the images still persist in the collective psyche of the Cleveland populous, those watching the Cleveland Indians with earnest know that the coming World Series feels different than the NBA Finals of four months ago or even those most recent postseason pursuits of the Indians organization 20 years ago.
Terry Francona has received much deserved praise this postseason for the way he has masterfully guided the Indians, with an injury-depleted starting pitching rotation, all the way to the World Series.
In watching the drama and excitement that has been a strong, three-week playoff showing, it is easy to forget the energy and excitement the Tribe brought to the 162-game regular season. However, that is where Francona’s mastery truly began this year.
In skippering a team, with numerous key injuries, to a 94-win American League Central Division championship campaign, Cleveland’s bench boss proved to be quite a few steps above the rest of his managing brethren this year in the A.L. While it is stunning that the group of Indians managed to win seven of eight games in the playoffs to earn entry into this season’s World Series, which starts Tuesday, it would be even more stunning if Francona does not earn his second A.L. Manager of the Year Award.
While the focus right now may be on the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster, things are going well throughout the Tribe’s farm system as well.
The importance on drafting strong and developing stronger is no more apparent than at the Major League level for the Indians. The current playoff roster is well-balanced between guys drafted/signed internationally and developed solely by the club (Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Cody Allen to name a few), others acquired via trades and developed on the farm (Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, and other absentee names like Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes), and other veterans still who were added via big trades or free agent moves (Andrew Miller, Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, and Coco Crisp).
The names that compose the roster now all worked their way up through the minor league system, whether in the Indians organization or elsewhere. The names of the future are doing the same and some standout performers were recognized this week when MILB.com announced its picks for Cleveland’s organizational All-Stars.
As Carlos Santana closed his mitt around that wondrously stitched white orb that had fallen perfectly to him in foul ground at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night before he dropped to his knees with arms raised as a victim of his own indescribable emotions, I couldn’t help but to be at a loss for words. Moments later, I screamed “YES!” and probably something belligerent along the lines of “We’re going to the World Series!”
I stared at the TV screen, still very much in a surreal state of disbelief, lost in some dream state, needing someone to pinch me to ensure that this moment was occurring in real time and in real life.
This is Cleveland. These things don’t happen in Cleveland.
But this is 2016. The old rule was broken. Chaos now reigns supreme. Cleveland is a city of champions.
The Cleveland Indians blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0, on Wednesday afternoon to claim the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Ryan Merritt channeled his inner Gene Bearden and gave the Indians nearly half a game of shutout baseball. Supported by a first inning run and a pair of home runs later, the young southpaw handed the game over to the dominating Indians bullpen, who got the final 14 outs to send the city of Cleveland to yet another world championship series in 2016.
For the first time since September 28, the Cleveland Indians lost a game when they were defeated by the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-1, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday. In the span to follow, they won each of their final three games to close out the regular season (and missed a game due to rain in Detroit), then swept the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series before taking a commanding three-game lead in the ALCS over the Blue Jays.
Now, in order to claim the American League pennant and advance to the World Series, the Blue Jays will have to do something to the Cleveland club that has yet to happen to them in 2016 – the Indians must lose four consecutive games. With their backs against the wall, the Blue Jays got enough offense and a dominant pitching effort on Tuesday afternoon in the 5-1 victory over the Indians to extend the ALCS to a Game 5. Aaron Sanchez outlasted Corey Kluber, and the productive Indians bullpen was touched for three runs in the late innings to make a close game a little bit more lopsided at the end of the day.
The season is on the line for the Blue Jays. The Indians know that they need just one win over the next three games in four days to clinch their first pennant since 1997.
They say all good things must come to an end, and such was the case on Tuesday afternoon as the Cleveland Indians saw their franchise-record six-game postseason winning streak conclude behind a strong pitching performance from the Toronto staff and the reemergence of their bats in a 5-1 win by the Blue Jays in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
The Indians had no answer for 24-year-old right-hander Aaron Sanchez, one of the Jays’ All-Stars this season in his third year in the Majors. Coming off of a 15-win regular season and a tidy 3.00 ERA, he kept the Jays in the ball game by keeping the Cleveland bats at bay and his offense provided its first burst of runs against the Indians in the series and did so against their ace, Corey Kluber.
The Cleveland Indians will look to clinch their first American League pennant since 1997 on Tuesday while the Toronto Blue Jays try to keep their season alive in a big Game 4 of the American League Championship Series from Rogers Centre.
The Indians have used just enough offense and incredible pitching efforts to win each of the first three games of the ALCS to extend their winning streak in the postseason to six straight and nine straight overall this season after winning the final three games of the regular season. They need to win just once over the remaining four possible games to lock up the best-of-seven series to secure a trip back to the World Series. The Blue Jays had won six straight games before running into the Indians, winning each of the final two games of the regular season to land a Wild Card spot before winning the play-in game against the Baltimore Orioles and sweeping the top-seeded Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.
With the Blue Jays on the ropes, the Indians will look to their ace to deal the knockout blow.
If you’ve read anything about the Tribe’s postseason run, you’ve probably read about the absolute dominance of relief pitcher Andrew Miller. You’ve read about how many batters he strikes out (60% of total batters faced) and how silly he’s made them all look (very). You’ve probably also read about how manager Terry Francona is embracing the new era of bullpen usage by not limiting Miller to a specific role. The left-hander has entered games in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, always coming on to face the opponent’s toughest hitters.
Understandably, Miller has been a very important part of why the Indians have not yet lost in October. There’s no denying that without him, it’s questionable whether the team would have even beat Boston in the ALDS, let alone be standing a mere one win away from the World Series. Yet, there’s another man in the Tribe’s bullpen who deserves some credit too.
That man’s name is Cody Allen.