World Series Preview

176 years of heartbreak and torment. Which city will absolve its history in 2016?

Andrew: It’s finally here.

A fun, exciting and at times controversial MLB postseason has now culminated in the Fall Classic. I hate using that term, but in actuality, this World Series has the potential to be a classic.

Two hard-luck franchises matched up in a series that even movies wouldn’t have ever predicted. Congratulations if you had Cubs-Indians as your World Series pick in March. Because I didn’t (I had Mets-Astros). We can go on and on all day about all the things that existed — or didn’t — last times these teams won a title, but let’s just get to the point.

Both of these teams are facing extended droughts worse than the likes of California or the Northeast (that’s a weather joke, by the way) and one of them is going to end it.

I’m intrigued by a multitude in things in this series aside from these extended periods of non-winning. As someone who has rooting stake in this, Justin, I’m curious how you’re viewing this. I have to ask, how’s your heart doing? And do you believe in these so-called curses?

JustinWell first, hats off to the Chicago Cubs, you’d have thought they all had stuffed billy goats in their lockers by the way they clinched the berth against the Dodgers. Seriously, Javy Baez has a preternatural baseball IQ.

On a personal level, I’m in shock and awe of all that’s occurred this postseason. Notably, with the Indians. 7-1, beating two AL East opponents, and doing it without two of the aces who undoubtedly brought them an AL Central title. Tito’s bullpen use is mind-boggling, which we’ve chronicled. To be sure, no one else has, so you know where to come for the scoops.

Anyways, it’s significant for the Tribe. It’s been 19 years. 1997 was a long-ass time ago. And people in Cleveland, but more so outside of Cleveland, tend to forget how heart-wrenching that loss to the Marlins was. Jose Mesa was as close to lockdown as a closer could be over a three to four-year span in the mid-’90s. Then all those Modelos got to him at once on the biggest stage, i.e. the Indians blew a ninth-inning lead and eventually the game when Edgar Renteria (because of course) hit a low liner back up the middle over Charlie Nagy’s glove.

Generally, I’m happy for baseball. I think Cubs-Indians might be the best World Series they could have hoped for, with an obvious nod to 108 years of torment for a top-three American city. I mean it’s the Chicago freakin’ Cubs. Pretty sure four years ago I said they might not win in my lifetime. And here we are. Gotta love baseball. And I’m genuinely hoping this goes seven, because this season deserves a seven-game Series in my book.

AndrewThis is a great series for baseball and long-suffering fans in general.

Like you said, this is a huge deal for the Indians. Forgetting the Cavaliers for a moment, this is a huge step for the franchise. I was actually watching some of the highlights from the ‘97 run on MLB Network today, and man was that a good team the Tribe had. Did a lot of damage to Armando Benitez on the way, but is that really a surprise?

And on the other side, I kind of felt the same way about the Cubs. Curse or not, they always just never seemed to be able to pull it together. Even without Bartman, that Game 6 in 2003 was a straight choke job, and lest we not forget there was a Game 7 that Kerry freaking Wood hit a home run in. They had a lead in that game and blew it, too. A lot of that can be credited to some poor defense (looking at you, Alex Gonzalez) and some shoddy managing from none other than Dusty Baker.

But that Marlins team might have just been straight better than the Cubs. The one-two punch with Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo was lethal. Mike Lowell was clutch. Oh yeah, they also had future hall-of-famer Miguel Cabrera sitting in the middle of the order. Not to mention a sweet rotation with the D-Train and Josh Beckett.

But the Cubs had a lot of suffering in the years after, and I’m not talking about the failures in 2007 and 2008. From 2009-14, the Cubs had some brutally bad teams.

Yet, the day Theo signed on to head this team’s operations, you could kind of sense things would change, even if it would take time. That’s how I felt, and I’m sure you felt similarly. If they win it all, and I have no idea if they will, but I think we can point back to the day that he came over as the day this title was won. And I really don’t think that’s an overstatement.

Justin: Not an overstatement in the slightest. Theo is the premier baseball mind of the 21st century, bar none. His first World Series with the Red Sox has to go down as one of the hallmarks of an entire generation of baseball fans. And if he ends two 80+ year curses before he turns 50, then he becomes a teen fiction icon: THE CURSE-BREAKER. More specifically, he’s already a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he can cement his status as baseball’s preeminent front office innovator.

As for the series itself. I tend to think two factors are overblown.

  1. Danny Salazar
  2. Kyle Schwarber

Look, I know people are jonesing for the hot takes as the series rolls around. For me, it’s simply too easy to label both of these guys difference-makers without having seen either of them play in months.

In Salazar’s case, he’s got a forearm strain. I find it hard to believe he can positively impact the game as a starting pitcher in this series. At best, he can log maybe 4-5 innings out of the ‘pen. But do we really think he’ll have his full repertoire of pitches? I don’t. He already throws a hittable fastball, so if he’s limited in any way, his effectiveness remains in question.

As for Schwarber, he tore his ACL in April. In the sports world, the general consensus is the rehab process for this takes longer than a year. Now, I get that he’d only suit up as a DH in the games at Progressive Field. But just think of how much you use your knee when you swing a bat. He’s generating most of his power from pivots in both of his knees. Does that disappear because he’s not confident in his surgically repaired one yet? We obviously can’t say yet, but I’d certainly hedge my bets on yes.

So Andrew if you had to say one way or the other, Salazar and Schwarber: positive impacts, negative impacts, or no impacts? And who will emerge in this series?

AndrewThis is really a tough one. One the one hand, you think these guys that haven’t played in awhile could give their respective teams an emotional lift in the final games of the season. But are they really ready to contribute at all?

I really want to hem in on this Schwarber business. He’s been out since April 7. He not only tore his ACL, but he also tore his LCL, which frankly, I don’t think I’d ever heard of until April 7 when he ran into Dexter Fowler.

The strain on his newly built-up knee is one thing, but he hasn’t even seen major league pitching since then. Yes, I know, he was in the Arizona Fall League taking swings over the last few days trying to ready himself for the series. But there’s a difference between facing some Double-A prospect than trying to hit Andrew Miller’s slider. It’s going to be a tough transition for him to get back into the swing of things. But he can’t do any worse than Jason Heyward, right?

As for guys that could stand out, we’ve already seen Baez and Miller make cases for being MVP of the entire postseason with the way they delivered in the LDS and LCS. Major hat tip to those two guys.

For me, though, I think this is the series where Francisco Lindor makes a big name for himself. Yes, people were talking about him already in the playoffs, but I feel like he’s been so overshadowed at this point. He might be the best all-around shortstop in the American League, and this would be the perfect time for the rest of the baseball world to see it.

On the Cubs’ side, they really need to have their offense step up in a consistent way. Other than the tail end of the NLCS, their lineup looked anemic at best. We’ve both harped on how Heyward has been awful, so I won’t go there again. But Chicago absolutely needs Anthony Rizzo to get things going. He was swinging well in the final two games against the Dodgers, and the Cubs can only hope that he keeps that up. I guarantee we’ll see Tito bring in Miller to face him on more than one occasion this series. I’m really excited for that matchup.

But I’m curious, do you think the Indians’ rotation holds up and keeps the Cubs in check? They did a great job against two great offenses in Boston and Toronto.

Justin: The cynic in me says no. But sometimes baseball is magical and pure. There’s absolutely no reason Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt should have gone out and silenced the Blue Jays’ offense. Those guys could all hit 40 homers per season with their eyes closed. Well, except for Ezequiel Carrera, who still sucks by the way.

Regardless, no the Tribe do not have the ideal rotation to face the Cubs. Trevor Bauer’s finger could fall off at any moment, Corey Kluber leaves a lot of balls over the plate and Josh Tomlin throws a gopher ball per at-bat. However, there are some factors which may swing in their favor:

  1. Kluber throws a lot of breaking balls. He leaves some over the plate, but I’d give the advantage to his slider nearly every time he throws it. Plus, Cubs hitters are patient. Sometimes too patient. Especially for Kluber, who just attacks the zone.
  2. Josh Tomlin is a legitimately good hitting pitcher. He’s 6-for-12 in his career at the plate. People don’t realize it, but he’s a super athletic dude. It sounds dumb, but when every AB counts in a series like this, an RBI single from Tomlin early when Cubs pitching sleeps on him may prove to be the difference in a game.
  3. Ryan Merritt is a complete unknown. This is good and bad. Good, because the Cubs likely will only scout him based on his Game 5 performance against the Jays. Bad, because well, I’m not even sure Terry Francona has scouted him. He’s a wild card. But hey, what’s a World Series without a little intrigue.

The biggest issue, of course, for the Indians is that the Cubs are red-hot. 23 runs and 33 hits in their last three games. Those are video game numbers with John Dowd batting cleanup. (Praise be to all you fools who understand this reference)

In short, I just talked a lot about nothing because I don’t think the Tribe rotation has what it takes to compete in this series. But I do think the lineup can, and they haven’t really showcased much pop to this point. One could make the argument they’re due. After all, they did score 4.8 runs per game during the regular season and hit lots of long balls. To me, the X-factor is Jose Ramirez. The guy hit .355 with runners in scoring position this season, which is obscene. This postseason he’s just 1-for-17. He’s a much better hitter than that and I expect those numbers to change soon.

I’m curious on your thoughts about the Cubs rotation, though. Aside from Hendricks’ performance in Game 6 and Lester’s postseason, I tend to believe they’re eminently hittable. Am I disillusioned?

AndrewSo you’re saying Ryan Merritt is a wild card?

Anyways, I really love this Chicago rotation. Lester has been an absolute horse, as usual, this postseason.

But, like any team at this point in the year, they are most definitely hittable. Jake Arrieta wasn’t his best in his one NLDS start in San Francisco, and he was even worse against the Dodgers. Other than his Wild Card Game performance against Pittsburgh last year, a lot of his postseason starts of late have left a lot to be desired.

This Indians lineup hasn’t shown it much yet, but it is very, very good and should not be taken lightly. Six guys with an OPS+ over 100 for the year, definitely not bad to have going into your final few games of the season.

But if the Indians can even work deep counts and get any of these starters out of the game relatively early, that’s a big win. Chicago’s ‘pen has looked extremely fallible, especially Aroldis Chapman. I feel like he’s sprinkled in some nice outings in between some poor efforts. If he’s the least bit inconsistent, that has to get Joe Maddon’s head churning and possibly think about using other options, which would be a huge win for the Indians.

That being said, the Cubs do have some good pitching, so if the Indians don’t hit, it might be tough to get by in this series.

But, honestly, props to Josh Tomlin. The guy looks like he’s throwing meatballs and he’s getting tons of called strikes. Maybe he’s the younger, whiter Bartolo Colon.

Justin: Maybe without the secret family, though.

Also where the hell is Hector Rondon? Joe Maddon is freezing him out in the most brutal way. This is some Mike MathenyShelby Miller 2013 shit right here. Still don’t have an answer to that one, either.

I’ll give the Cubs rotation the benefit of the doubt here. I mean, they did win 103 games in the regular season. They’re alright.

To me, the Indians’ only hope in this series is to relentlessly attack the Cubs ‘pen. Carl Edwards Jr. just went down with a hamstring strain. I’m assuming he’ll be available to some degree. Mike Montgomery does not spook me in the slightest. Neither does Aroldis Chapman at this point, to be perfectly plain. Dude’s given up three hits and three walks in 4.2 this postseason. He simply hasn’t had any command over his fastball. He rarely has command over his slider, that’s a given. But his heater has been all over this place these past few weeks. That’s an issue for them, because the Indians don’t swing at bad pitches, not even when they’re 105 miles per hour. This is not a drill, Aroldis Chapman is not invincible.

Now, if they’re already down five runs by the sixth, it won’t really matter, will it?

AndrewIf either of these teams are down by that many at that point in the game, I think it would be safe to assume the game is over.

Also, can we talk about Carl Edwards Jr. for a second? How has nobody made a NASCAR joke about him? Is it just too easy?

JustinNo, been meaning to inquire about this ever since I found out he existed. There’s a lot of pressure on Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr. to win that free car at the end of the series and drive it maniacally around Wrigley Field afterward. This is a real demand that I have.

AndrewRemember that guy who gave Madison Bumgarner the truck after the 2014 World Series? He has to give it to Edwards and make sure it has technology and stuff.

What I really want is that petition to get Bob Uecker into the announcing booth for a game to work out. Having Harry Doyle call a game on national television would make me all sorts of happy for many reasons.

Either way, this is going to be a fun series that I will be very much looking forward to.

Justin: Bob Uecker, yes. Second only to a Tom Hamilton World Series, but he’s on the radio so we’re all saved.

Final pick?

Andrew: Dear God, this is a tough one. The Bears?

In actuality, I’ve been really mulling this one over in my head the last few days, ever since Puig grounded into that double play.

I’ve been going back and forth because of all the reasons we’ve discussed in this little conversation.

I think maybe the Indians’ staff finally cracks and the Cubs take it in six. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Indians take it in a crazy seven-gamer. But, gun to my head, Cubs in six.

Justin: Cubs in seven. Take it to the bank.

More specifically, prove me wrong Mike Napoli.

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