World Series 7: CHC vs. CLE — The drought, the Goat, whatever, it’s over for a century

My social media is pretty divided, and it’s not about the election. I have to say I think I’m most upset by the fact that my postseason bracket looks worse than Bauer’s finger after it met with a drone. But as I don’t gamble or anything, it’s just my pride or whatever that’s hurt. All this because I kept guessing wrong, so I went with the opposite of my head and was wrong. And I have to say, for once, my heart was actually wrong. Logic told me the Cubs would win.

But truthfully, they almost didn’t. And truthfully, neither team really played “exceptionally well”. I mean, the Cubs racked up 3 errors, 2 of which allowed unearned runs. This really could’ve gone either way. It wasn’t obvious until the very end who had this game, and it made things a bit more interesting in the long run.

Neither starter, Hendricks (Cubs) or Kluber (Indians), had a stellar night, both pitching only into the 5th inning. Kluber failed to get a single strikeout, something he’s not done all season in any game. And collectively, both pitching staffs allowed far too many hits and runs to be called “good” in any manner. Only those relievers who can on for only a couple batters came out fairly clean, and that’s not really a fair assessment of statistics.

But unlike most of the games this postseason, tonight’s game wasn’t about the pitching (which somewhat explains the MVP award, more later), but rather the offense. The Cubs struck first when Fowler led off the game with a big solo home run straight up the middle to get things started. The Indians answered back in the 3rd when Crisp led off with a double, moved to 3rd on Perez’s sacrifice bunt, and then scored on Santana’s single. But with 2 runners on base and just 1 out, the Indians couldn’t do much to turn that into more runs, the story of the night for them actually.

In the 4th, the Cubs broke the tie with some small ball. Bryant led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Rizzo’s hit-by-pitch, then to 3rd on Zobrist’s fielder’s choice, and finally scored on Russell’s sacrifice fly. Zobrist then scored on Contreras’ double to give the Cubs that insurance run. And Baez led off the 5th with a solo home run for one more.

Miller came on to relieve Kluber at this point, but couldn’t find that postseason momentum from earlier games. After an allowed single, Miller got a nice double play (upheld, thanks to a Cubs’ challenge), but then an allowed walk scored on Rizzo’s deep single.

But the Indians’ offense chipped away on the Cubs’ lead in the bottom of the 5th in a play very indicative of this game. With 2 outs, Santana walked and the Cubs pulled both Hendricks and catcher Contreras for the battery team of Lester-Ross (significant because this was Ross’ final game ever, as he’s retiring following this game). But Lester gave up a single, and Ross’ throwing error moved both runners up to scoring position. Lester’s wild pitch then scored both runners to keep Indians’ hopes alive and within 2 runs.

But Ross’ 1-out solo home run, a big shot over the center field wall, pushed the Cubs into what they felt was a comfortable lead. (It would be Ross’ final home run ever, by the way.) But there’s a trick in any professional sport — don’t get too comfortable.

In the bottom of the 8th, with 2 outs, Ramirez singled and the Cubs called on Chapman to make a 4-out save. Except he didn’t. Guyer came in and doubled to score Ramirez, and then Davis hit a 2-run home run to the left field seats. A friend of mine in the southwest asked online whether the sound he was hearing outside was thunder or the cries of disappointment from thousands of people in Illinois.

Progressive Field already had a strong Cubs’ presence in its stands, but when Davis hit that home run, the stands were literally shaking. The cheering outside the field in the plaza where it was standing room only for local fans was deafening. In that single play, Yogi proved once again to be the wisest man in baseball history. It wasn’t over. In fact, it felt like the entire game hit a reset button at that point. It was finally time for some real baseball.

And extra innings apparently. The game went into the 10th, after a bit of a rain delay, with both teams on opposing lakes praying for their respective players to be the ones who would break the tie and end their drought. As it was an offense-based game, the Cubs got the opportunity first. Schwarber led-off with a single and was pinch-run by Almora. After an intentional walk to Rizzo, Zobrist saw that opportunity and doubled home Almora. (For this reason, Zobrist was awarded the MVP of the World Series.) The Indians decided to load the bases with an intentional walk to Russell to go after the back-up, back-up catcher Montero. But then Montero did the improbably and singled home the insurance run.

Two outs later, and it was the Indians turn to make it turn in their favor. So they did what they did best — got two outs to put the pressure on everyone. Guyer worked a walk and moved to 2nd on defensive indifference before scoring on Davis’ single. This put the Indians within 1 run of the Cubs. So they weren’t taking any chances and called for a new reliever. Two pitches later, Rizzo pocketed the ground out ball as he made his way to the infield for the celebration.

Final score: 8-7 Cubs, in 10. Cubs win World Series 4-3.

Of course, the immediate jokes following the Cubs’ win tonight was something about meeting up in the next 108 years (which would be 2124 if you don’t feel like doing math). Now, I distinctively remember similar jokes about the Red Sox following their 2004 win, and it took them only 3 years to be World Champions again (and then 6 more years to do it again).

Like I said before, I think the Cubs as a franchise have a potential to be in the conversation as “good teams” for a bit now, much like how we refer to other “lovable underdogs” like the Mets. I don’t expect the Cubs to just drop in momentum, unlike say the Giants in odd years this decade or Red Sox following their 2013 win or the Royals this season after last year’s championship.

Not that I think they’ve somehow started a dynasty. I have a hard time believing in dynasties these days. Players move teams a lot now, even more than when they first introduced free agency. And front office executives are constantly on the look out for the newest young talent to break out and change the landscape of their team (like Sanchez this year with the Yankees). A dynasty needs consistency, and that’s not really something you see a lot in the game any more.

Maybe this is just a sentimental Yankees’ fan talking, but I think it’s okay to remember what was every now and then. It doesn’t make today or the future any less special. It’s just different. And sometimes, different is okay.

Go Yankees!

World Series 6: CHC vs. CLE — November baseball continues…

For the 38th time in World Series history (apparently, depending on how you count) there has been a “Game 7”. In fact, both teams have a history of losing in Game 7 — the Cubs in the infamous “Goat” series of 1945 (against the Tigers) and the Indians in the tragic 1997 series (against the Marlins). The only thing is that tomorrow night, one of these teams will actually win this year’s “Game 7”.

I try to be positive on this blog for several reasons. The first of which being that there’s a lot of terrible and negative stuff out there already, and there’s no reason for me to waste my time and energy only to get lost in the vacuous void that is all that. And second, because there’s got to be something that is positive in every scenario, a silver-lining if you will, that reminds you why it’s worth moving forward and why you fell in love with this game in the first place.

So, the positives for this game clearly were in the Cubs’ favor. They showed up to play baseball, knowing this could be the end of their season, and they played hard. And it paid off. They took advantage of the Indians’ sloppy defense and off-night of pitching and made it work for them. Meanwhile, the Indians’ attempt to come back never fully materialized and always seemed to fall short at those crucial, key moments.

I said this going into tonight’s game: the Cubs’ starter Arrieta, being the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, is a really good pitcher. And he showed that in so many ways tonight — throwing into the 6 inning, giving up just 3 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, and striking out 9 Indians batters. He kept things close and allowed the stellar Cubs defense to shine through at those key moments.

In the 4th, Arrieta showed a bit too much of his hand. Kipnis led things off with a double and then scored on Napoli’s 1-out single. Arrieta then loaded up the bases with 2 outs, a hit-by-pitch, and a walk, but got that all-important strikeout to end the Indians’ rally. Kipnis also got one by Arrieta in the 5th, when he laced a big 2-out home run into the left field seats. (Worth noting: Kipnis hit 3 of the Indians’ 6 hits tonight and scored 2 of their runs.)

But here’s the thing: all that would be amazing and great if not for the fact that the Cubs were already way ahead. Like light-years ahead in the score at this point. You see, Indians’ starter Tomlin just had a terrible night, and really had a hard time with consistency, right from the beginning.

In the 1st, with 2 outs, Tomlin gave up a solo shot to Bryant to get the Cubs on the board first. Rizzo and Zobrist then singled and scored on Russell’s double. But that ball should’ve been caught in the outfield, except neither fielder “called it”, instead letting it drop between them. A “Little League” play, if you will. It made the entire Cleveland area and its fans around the country groan and actually wish they were watching election coverage.

After a quick 3-up, 3-down 2nd inning, Tomlin looked to be righting himself and came back for the 3rd, but instead, he fell back into the rough pattern — loading the bases with a walk and 2 singles. Tomlin’s night was over, and the rotating door of the bullpen began. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on the Indians’ side tonight — Russell saw a pitch he liked and sent it sailing straight up the middle for a big, beautiful grand slam home run. And yes, that makes 7 Cubs runs scored at this point.

The Indians’ bullpen had better luck keeping the Cubs from expanding their significant lead, while not dipping into their reliable three backend relievers (perhaps, knowing they’d need them for tomorrow night?). With no strikeouts from Tomlin, the bullpen alone tallied up 6 strikeouts in its tenure, though they also allowed 7 hits (adding to Tomlin’s allowed 6). But the Indians’ defense showed up to play through most of the game and kept things stalled for the Cubs.

The Indians, however, clearly didn’t have much luck in the offense department tonight, to chip away at that hefty lead. After Arrieta came out, Montgomery took over to shut things down for the 6th and into the 7th inning. And for some weird reason, the Cubs called on Chapman to finish the 7th and pitch into the 8th. Several times, the Indians loaded up the bases, but always failed to do anything to help their score.

In the 9th, the Indians relied on their reliever to finish his 2 inning out, after a fairly clean 8th. With 2 outs, Bryant singled and then Rizzo hit a nice 2-run home run to edge the Cubs a bit further, and left the entire Indians franchise and fan base praying for an 8-run home run in the bottom of the 9th.

They got a partial answer to that one. For reasons that left everyone scratching their head, the Cubs sent Chapman out for another inning, where he promptly allowed a walk to Guyer. So they sent in Strop. With 1 out, Guyer moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on Perez’s single. Perez would then be thrown out trying to make it a double. After Santana worked another walk, the Cubs went to their bullpen again and called on Wood to throw just 2 pitches for a pop-up out to close out the game.

Final score: 9-3 Cubs, series split 3-3.

So, now we have a Game 7. It’s on. It’s still very much anyone’s game, anyone’s championship, anyone’s season. And isn’t that just a bit more interesting when all is said and done?

Go Yankees!

World Series 5: CLE vs. CHC — “Cautiously optimistic with a hint of terrified”

For the first time in the last 96 hours, Wrigleyville had something to cheer about other than just optimism and hope. While the Indians were looking at wrapping up the series tonight, the Cubs were desperately needing to send it back to Cleveland on Tuesday. One reporter called the atmosphere correctly:

For the last night of actual October baseball, the Cubs took that desperation and turned into what they call “flying the W”. Literally, the Cubs raise a flag with a W on it on the poles over the center field scoreboard when they win to alert the neighborhood of their victory. (As if the thousands of people celebrating in the streets wouldn’t tip them off to that tonight.)

But really, for the Cubs, it was a single inning that made all the difference. It wasn’t like it was a consistent dominance tonight. I’ve said before that I’m pretty sure the MVP of this series will be a pitcher, and that’s because every night there seems to be one standout pitcher after another.

Don’t get me wrong, both starters did a pretty good job overall. I mean, without the 4th inning, Cleveland’s starter Bauer would’ve wrapped up the win in a heartbeat. It was his only bad inning. It was also his last one. Up until that inning, Bauer was cruising through the Cubs’ roster. Bryant led-off with a big solo home run, followed up by Rizzo’s double. Zobrist’s single put runners on the corners, and Russell’s single scored Rizzo. All this before a single out was recorded that inning.

But the Cubs weren’t done. A sloppy 1-out bunt single still loaded the bases, and Zobrist then scored on Ross’ sacrifice fly. (By the way, that would be Ross’ last RBI at Wrigley, as he will be retiring at the end of this season.)

Technically, the Indians struck first against the Cubs’ starter Lester, with Ramirez’s 2-out solo shot in the 2nd. But once the Cubs took the lead in the 4th, the Indians couldn’t seem to find anything more until the 6th inning, Lester’s final inning of the night. Davis hit a 1-out single, stole 2nd, and then scored on Lindor’s 2-out single to double the Indians’ score.

And then it became a bullpen battery duel. And neither side was willing to surrender much ground. The Indians split their final 4 innings between 3 relievers, adding 7 more strikeouts to Bauer’s outstanding 7 (in his 4 innings, by the way) to bring the Indians’ total to 14 tonight. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ first reliever took 10 pitches to get through 2 batters, and Maddon went to what he considers a “sure thing” — Chapman. Yes, Chapman the closer was called on to make an 8-out save. And he did it, in 42 pitches with half of them his trademark nasty strikeouts.

Final score: 3-2 Cubs, Indians lead series 3-2.

So, two things about this. First, the series is headed back to Cleveland. Which means if the Indians do win this, they’ll be in front of their home crowd, always a better way to win. Second, we’ll be playing “November baseball”. Yes, Games 6 (and tentatively Game 7) are scheduled for November 1 (and 2). It kind of removes the specialness that was all the “Mr. November” hype back in 2001.

It’s interesting to get into some conversations about this series. It seems that people have very different ideas of what extent “rooting for the underdog” means. Some people, specifically those who feel the Indians were “robbed” of World Series victories in 1997 or 2003, feel like it’s the Indians who deserve this. And I can see that. They’ve been fairly consistent since Spring Training, staying at the top of their division and slowly building momentum to only break out once they hit the postseason.

Other people, especially the fair-weather Cubs fans (read: “hey, the Cubs are in the Series, let’s root for them even though I’ve not watched a single regular season game and have no idea who’s on the team” kind of fans), feel like the Cubs have been “robbed” of even a chance at the series for over a century and thus they should get the ring. Basically, they feel that they might not get another chance in this century and need to grab it now while it’s within reach. Of course, the truer Cubs fans believe this is the first of many postseason opportunities, and while they’d prefer their dynasty to start this season, they get that they may lose it.

And I get both those mentalities too. I mean, the Cubs haven’t really had much in the way of chances at the World Series, lastly in 1945. I think some fans are tired of rooting for their perpetual “lovable losers”. And I can get behind the belief that this is going to be one of many winning seasons for the Cubs because to me, this is the second consecutive season they’ve been this postseason good in recent years. I don’t think they’re as “loser-esque” as the stereotype suggests. I do think that we’ll be talking about the Cubs as a winning franchise for years to come (much like the Giants, the Blue Jays, even the Mets).

The reality is that one team will break their life-long championship drought and the other will regroup and try to do so next year. I don’t think either team is going to just disappear from the conversation anytime soon. I mean, this isn’t like the 2013-2014 Boston Red Sox teams. (Had to. I’m a Yankees fan, after all.)

Go Yankees!

World Series 4: CLE vs. CHC — It was Kluber’s night.

I’ll admit when I sat down to watch tonight’s game that I was thinking this should be a kind of pitchers’ duel, much like yesterday’s game. And I was very wrong. As one of those pitchers seemed to bring a “knife to a gun fight”, to borrow an old phrase (from a really good movie).

The Indians brought out the big guns in this case, using starter Kluber on short rest to repeat his excellent performance from Game 1. Except he was better. Kluber clearly came to play and his lone weak inning was his 1st. Fowler hit a lead-off double and then scored on Rizzo’s 1-out single. And that was it for Kluber’s allowed runs. Overall, Kluber threw an efficient 81 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up just 5 hits (3 after the 1st inning) and a walk, and struck out 6 Cubs’ batters.

In a surprising move (at least in my armchair manager’s opinion), Miller came on in relief of Kluber for the 7th and 8th innings, and while he certainly kept things under control, he proved that he is, in fact, human in this postseason, giving up a lead-off home run to Fowler in the 8th. That was Miller’s first postseason allowed run. Other than that lone play, Miller sailed through the other 6 batters with his usual ease. Indians’ reliever Otero closed things out in the 9th in just 15 pitches to give the Indians (and Kluber) the victory.

The Cubs certainly had their “sharp” moments (trying to stick to my original metaphor here). But it certainly wasn’t enough. The Indians were ready to pounce on any moment of weakness in the Cubs’ pitching staff, and they certainly made their impact early and often.

Down 1-0 going into the 2nd inning, the Indians didn’t waste much time in tying up the game and then turning it into their favor. Santana led-off the 2nd with a solo home run. Chisenhall reached 1st on a throwing error, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Kluber’s single and another throwing error. Then Kipnis led-off the 3rd with a double and then scored on Lindor’s single to add the insurance run the Indians thought they’d need.

Cubs’ starter Lackey clearly had a rough start tonight, but he can share the blame with the sloppy defense. His pitch count was high, but those errors certainly gave the Indians a chance they shouldn’t have had. So when the Cubs went to their bullpen in the 6th inning, things didn’t get any better.

In the 6th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, Chisenhall’s sacrifice fly scored the lead runner. And in the 7th, pinch-hitter Crisp doubled to lead off the inning and ended up at 3rd on a wild pitch. Davis was hit by a pitch, and Maddon did the right thing and pulled his reliever. Well, it was the right thing except for the fact that the new guy promptly gave up a 3-run home run to Kipnis before he finally got the 3 out needed for that inning. That homer was the final shot needed in tonight’s fight.

Final score: 7-2 Indians, Indians lead series 3-1.

Tonight’s game defied the statistic that teams that score first go on to win the games. But if there’s something I’ve learned this postseason is that the Indians aren’t going to do anything to affirm the statistics or the so-called “normal”.

And that’s why their magic number is 1. Yes, the Indians need to win 1 more game in the next three to be World Champions. Meanwhile, if the Cubs want to take the title, they have to win all 3. Technically, the Indians have an easier job in that respect. But the postseason, especially this postseason, is anything but easy to predict.

Like in life, take nothing for granted. Fight as if it’s your last game, because for the Cubs, tomorrow night really could be this season.

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: CLE vs. CHC — Shutout in Wrigleyville

On the north side of Chicago, Wrigleyville was packed tonight with fans excited to bring the World Series back to Wrigley Field for the first time in 71 years. The last time the Cubs were in a World Series (October 6-10, 1945), the world had just declared peace a few weeks prior, and the majority of the 40,000+ fans inside the stadium (and the thousands outside) hadn’t even been born.

So, it’s understandable that Chicago is pretty excited to see its team not just in the World Series, but having a pretty good chance of bringing a championship back to Cubs (since 1908) and to Wrigley for the first time (Wrigley opened in 1914). But not based on how they played tonight.

Actually, the Indians and Cubs’ starters had quite a bit of a pitching duel for most of the game tonight. The Indians’ Tomlin really kept things tight for his team, throwing just 58 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up just 2 hits and a walk. Meanwhile, the Indians’ batters pushed the Cubs’ starter Hendricks in his pitch count — 85 pitches into to the 5th inning, giving up 6 hits and 2 walks. Yes, the Indians had more opportunities, but the Cubs were able to get the outs in the right places, allowing their hometown fans to have quite a stressful night on the edge of their seats (so to speak, as most of the fans stood for the full game in anticipation).

Both bullpens kept the game tight, and mostly scoreless. Miller, Shaw, and Allen split the final four innings for the Indians and did what they do best — dominate and keep their opponents from advancing. Now, the Cubs’ bullpen was actually really strong tonight as well (with a single inning exception), as Maddon (the Cubs’ manager) pieced together the best combination to keep the Indians from doing much on their end as well.

Like I said, there was a single inning where the Indians finally broke the scoreless game. Albeit a momentary break. But in these kinds of games, you grab what you can. In the 7th inning, the Indians led-off with a single. The pinch-runner moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch put him at 3rd. After a walk to Davis, the Cubs’ reliever attempted to pick-off the lead runner, but the runner was deemed safe. The Cubs thought it was too close and challenged it, but the call was upheld.

This ended up being good for the Indians as pinch-hitter Crisp’s single scored that lead runner to get a run on the board. The other runner was thrown out at 3rd on the play, and the Cubs went to a new reliever. A ground out (and subsequent challenge that was upheld) ended the inning and the run-scoring for the night.

Final score: 1-0 Indians, Indians lead series 2-1.

The Indians now hold record for most postseason shutout games, at 5. That says a lot about the state of pitching for both teams in this series actually. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MVP for the World Series (despite which team wins) was a pitcher (like it was for both the NLCS and ALCS).

Chicago native, former Yankee, and current Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award prior to tonight’s game. Granderson has been committed to giving back to the community since his college days, making a large personal donation to his alma mater (UI-Chicago) to help build a baseball complex to serve inner city kids, and is the current home of his foundation’s youth clinics in Chicago. His foundation also runs clinics in New York and Florida. Granderson is also involved in other charities in New York like food banks, housing projects, the USO, and YMCA, and is the active in campaigns to fight childhood obesity, water initiatives, and MLB’s Diversity Task Force. A good guy to receive a “good guy award”.

Brett Gardner was announced today as a Gold Glove Award finalist for his outstanding defense as the Yankees’ left fielder. Every year, the award is given to the best defensive player at each position. Managers and coaches votes (within league and not for their own players) are weighted at 75% of the vote with the other 25% weighted by the actual statistics. But anyone who’s watch Gardner leap, slide, dive, and somersault in the outfield ever know how much he deserves the honor. Fingers crossed that everyone else sees it too.

And in Baby Bomber news: Gleyber Torres was named as the Arizona Fall League’s Player of the Week. Torres, you may remember, was part of the trade that sent closer Chapman to the Cubs (and eventually to the World Series), but his impact in the Yankees’ organization is becoming quite the conversation. He is considered one of the best prospects in the Yankee farm system and one of the best prospects in the all of MLB. In other words, everyone is watching this young kid from Venezuela with high hopes for the future. And he’s currently wearing Baby Bomber pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

World Series 2: CHC vs. CLE — Near-hitless game becomes split series

There’s a statistic that says that the team that scores first in a World Series game is more than likely to be the team that wins the game. It happened last night, and it happened tonight. Of course, the looming weather didn’t help to normalize tonight’s game. But since when are World Series games actually “normal”?

Of course, it certainly helped once again that the winning team was helmed by a really good pitcher having a really good night. Tonight, it was the Cubs’ turn, behind starter Arrieta. Arrieta threw a near-perfect game, keeping the Indians hitless and scoreless up until the 6th inning, where Kipnis broke it up with a nice double. Kipnis then moved to 3rd on a ground out before scoring on a wild pitch.

A single was the final play that Arrieta saw before he turned things over to the Cubs’ bullpen, who finished the 6th inning and threw into the 8th inning. Chapman was called on to make his appearance, a 4-out close. The Cubs kept the Indians to that lone run scored. Together, Cubs’ pitchers also racked up 12 total strikeouts against the Indians as well.

My brother commented that someone needed to remind the Indians they were playing baseball. A little snarky, but I know the sentiment well. It seemed that the Indians struggled everywhere, including only getting 4 hits off Cubs’ pitchers (though they managed 5 walks as well).

But the Indians’ biggest flaw tonight was their pitching consistency, as it seemed that the first half of the game was just kind of messy at times. Bauer came back with a healed finger (read: not dripping blood all over the ball, stitches healing nicely), but still didn’t manage a clean game. In the 1st, Bryant worked a 1-out single and then scored on Rizzo’s double to get the Cubs on the board first (the key word of the night).

In the 3rd, Rizzo worked a 2-out walk, moved to 2nd on a single, and then scored on Schwarber’s single. Bauer was pulled in the middle of the 4th and the rotating door of the Indians bullpen began (for players who weren’t Miller or Allen).

In the 5th, McAllister and Shaw split a messy inning, as they collectively allowed the Cubs to ensure their win, expanding their lead. Under McAllister, Rizzo worked a 1-out walk (yes, he got 2 walks tonight) and then scored on Zobrist’s triple. Then under Shaw, a single by Schwarber (who once again had a pretty good night as the Cubs’ DH) scored Zobrist. A strikeout looked hopeful for the Indians, but it was the Cubs’ game to win tonight. A fielding error and a walk loaded the bases before another walk scored Schwarber to cement the Cubs’ victory.

The rest of the Indians’ bullpen did a better job at fending off the Cubs, but still ran into some of their own problems and jams along the way. In total, the Indians’ pitchers gave up 9 hits and 8 walks in total. This game was clearly the Indians’ to lose, and lose they did.

Final score: 5-1 Cubs, series split 1-1.

The series now shifts to Chicago for the next 3 games, beginning on Friday night. At this point, the magic number is 3. Meaning either team needs 3 more wins to be World Champions. One of these perpetual underdog Midwestern teams will break their long drought in just 3 more wins. One city (and its fans) will be really happy, and another will have yet another year to wait for another chance to break the long drought.

Only time, and some pretty good baseball (hopefully), will tell.

Go Yankees!

World Series 1: CHC vs. CLE — #Believeland

Honestly, it must be a good time to be a Clevelander tonight. For all the “Mistake by the Lake” and the polluted river that caught fire jokes, two of the city’s professional sports teams are sitting on top of the world today. Just yards from each other tonight, this year’s NBA champions (Cleveland Cavaliers) began their regular season (beating the Knicks by 29 points, by the way) and received their championship rings in a pre-game ceremony.

Filling the space between the Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field is a plaza that was filled tonight with Cleveland fans of both home teams cheering on their teams via live-feeds into the standing-room-only plaza. And Cleveland had a lot to be cheering about tonight.

Because next door at Progressive Field, the Indians started their World Series run against the visiting Cubs and just dominated. Expected of a postseason-caliber team, the Indians had few weak spots the Cubs could take advantage of, while (once again, sadly) the Cubs just weren’t playing up to the level they should be as displayed through most of this season.

Look, both teams have a slew of just amazing players, especially their starting pitchers. Lester, the Cubs’ starting veteran, just had a terrible night tonight. It just seemed that he wasn’t able to find his stride through most of the game. Oddly, for most games (and pitchers), it’s not that bad of statistics — 97 pitches through almost 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 3 runs, and 7 really nice strikeouts.

But those runs would come back to haunt Lester, especially due to his shaky 1st inning. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Lester loaded the bases with a single, stolen base, and 2 walks. A single scored the first run, and a hit-by-pitch scored another before Lester finally got out of the inning with a pop-up in foul territory. Perez’s 1-out 4th inning solo home run added some insurance for the Indians, but continued to make a dent in Lester’s outing.

Lester came out in the 6th, where the rest of the game was divided up among the final five Cubs’ bullpen players. But it would be the 8th inning that the Indians got a second major shot at ensuring the Indians’ win tonight. Again, with 2 outs, after Guyer worked a walk and Chisenhall singled, the Cubs went to their final reliever Rondon, who promptly gave up a 3-run home run to Perez (his 2nd homer of the game).

Now, what really made this game worth it for the Indians was their ridiculously stellar pitching. Starting pitcher Kluber just dominated into the 7th inning, with a rather efficient 88 pitches, giving up just 4 hits and striking out a whopping 9 Cubs’ batters. And more importantly, Kluber kept the Cubs scoreless. Miller, of course, kept that momentum going in his 2 outs, with his high pitch count of 46 pitches, getting 3 crucial strikeouts. And Allen came in for 3 strikeouts in the 9th to close out the game.

Worth noting: the Cubs’ pitchers collectively struck out 9 Cleveland batters, but the Indians’ pitching staff struck out an impressive 15 Cubs’ batters.

Final score: 6-0 Indians, Indians lead series 1-0.

Several Yankees’ beat reporters who are currently covering the World Series for their papers, sites, etc. said the biggest Yankee-related story coming out of the postseason is that we’ll get a big bullpen showdown between Miller (for the Indians) and Chapman (for the Cubs). Former teammates, now in opposing uniforms, fighting for opposing teams. Actually, it’s been rather fun watching many former Yankees make postseason appearances this year. Stay tuned after the World Series for a fun post about how former Bronx Bombers did in this postseason.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: game recaps and video highlights are only available the morning following the game, so when it gets uploaded, I’ll add it to the posts after every game.}

NLCS 6: LAD vs. CHC — And we have a World Series…

Well, we have a World Series, ladies and gentlemen. It’s going to be a Great Lakes series of sorts bouncing from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan, the Mistake by the Lake to the Third Coast, C-land to Chi-town. And what’s cool about that is that neither team has won a World Series in a really long time, so somebody’s streak will be coming to an end really soon. (More after the recap).

The Dodgers certainly did everything right “on paper”. They sent in their best starter Kershaw. They lined up their best, most consistent power-hitters. They worked on their defensive strategies. And yet, as baseball isn’t played “on paper”, none of that went their way tonight in Chicago, especially with the roar of the Wrigley crowd in their ears all night. The Dodgers were looking for a win to force a game 7, while the Cubs were looking for a win to send them to Cleveland on Tuesday.

The Cubs got their wish.

In a very unusual turn of events, Kershaw just struggled off the gate tonight, right from the 1st inning. Fowler hit a ground-rule double to kick off the inning, before scoring on Bryant’s single. Rizzo hit the ball into left field, and thanks to a bad fielding error, ended up with Bryant in scoring position. Zobrist’s sacrifice fly scored Bryant before Kershaw finally got the final 2 outs of the inning.

And in the 2nd, Russell led-off with a double and then scored on Fowler’s single, and Contreras led-off the 4th with a solo home run into the left field seats. And to cap off the scoring, Rizzo hit a 2-out solo home run in the 5th inning. Basically, it was a nightmare that Kershaw could not wake up from all night. He threw 93 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up a big 7 hits and those 5 runs, and striking out just 4 Chicago batters.

Kershaw’s reliever Jansen breezed through his 3 innings in just 30 pitches, shutting down the Cubs for the duration. But the Dodgers offensive struggles continued.

On the flip side of things, the unassuming Hendricks blasted his way into the 8th inning, giving up just 2 hits and no walks, striking out 6 LA batters. And more importantly, no runs allowed. Yes, this starter flew under the radar, with only local Cubs fans knowing his greatness until he shines on the biggest stage possible and glide the Cubs into the World Series. Chapman finished out the game with a 5-out outing in 15 pitches.

The Dodgers never did find their footing tonight, and that in the end is what cost them a trip to the World Series this year.

Final score: 5-0 Cubs, Cubs win NLCS 4-2.

Wrapping up the NLCS: Due to their outstanding contributions, the NLCS granted a tied MVP award to veteran pitcher Lester, whose 1.38 series ERA for Games 1 & 5 is scary impressive, even for the postseason, and to rookie infielder Baez, whose contributions include his strong offense, instinctive base-running, and stellar defense.

  • Championship series predictions:
    • ALCS: Blue Jays over Indians in 6 games.
    • NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers in 5 games.
  • Championship series realities:
    • ALCS: Indians over Blue Jays in 5 games.
    • NLDS: Cubs over Dodgers in 6 games.
  • Championship series results:
    • ALCS: 0-for-1 (including game projections)
    • NLCS: 1-for-1 (not including game projections)
  • World Series predictions:
    • WS: Indians over Cubs in 6 games. (Because I’ve seriously underestimated them the entire season and especially this postseason, so maybe they’ve actually got something here.)

Now, the Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, but haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Comparatively, the Indians haven’t been since 1997, and not won since 1948. In other words, both teams are aching for this next week, and their fans are awaiting the dreams and hopes of bringing that championship back home. Most of their fans weren’t even alive when their team last won their World Series (especially Chicago’s and unlike most Yankee fans, for example).

Either way, one Midwest long-time underdog team is going to make history next week, and it’s going to be something worth watching.

Go Yankees!

NLCS 5: CHC vs. LAD — Showing off the ace

The Cubs are going back to Chicago in control of the series, needing just one win in the next two games to secure their spot in the World Series. The Dodgers have to win both of them in Chicago to take that honor. I said earlier in the postseason that this was going to be one of those races to watch, and it hasn’t failed me yet. The ALCS teams just plowed through their games, but the NLCS has taken it to the nth degree on postseason drama.

So, for tonight’s game, the Cubs pulled out their ace Lester to dominate the Dodgers and allow the Cubs to show off why they deserve to be in the postseason. Lester was strong through his 7 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and a single run in the 4th. The Dodgers’ Kendrick hit a 1-out double, stole 3rd (an overturned out call on a requested replay), and then scored on a ground out to get the home team on the board. Other than that, the Dodgers couldn’t do much damage under Lester’s watch.

The Cubs, on the other hand, dinged into the Dodgers’ pitching staff early and often. The Dodgers had to play a bit of patchwork with their pitchers tonight, and it still didn’t keep the Cubs from commanding the offense as well.The Dodgers starter only lasted into the 4th inning and managed to keep most things under control. Fowler’s lead-off single in the 1st inning scored on Rizzo’s RBI double to get things started for the night.

But the Cubs really damaged the bullpen tonight, beginning with breaking the tied game in the 6th with Russell’s 1-out 2-run home run straight up the middle. But the 8th inning was the worst for the Dodgers as the Cubs just pounced on the Dodgers’ defense and pitching. Leading off, Russell reached on a sloppy missed catch error by reliver Baez, and Contreras singled before they both moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. Fowler’s single then scored Russell and put runners on the corners.

And then came a couple of failed challenges (as if we needed more drama). Bryant singled, scoring Contreras, but the Dodgers challenged the safe call at 1st. Replays upheld the call. A line drive out to the Dodgers’ 2nd baseman, who promptly threw it to 2nd for the force out, was challenged by the Cubs as a possible double play and then upheld as a line drive out with 2 runners on base. Then the reliever added a third to load the bases with a walk. A new reliever then allowed a bases-clearing 3-run double. Only half of the Cubs’ runs in this game were considered “earned”.

So, with a 8-1 lead going into the bottom of the 8th, the Cubs were sitting pretty and could afford a couple of bad innings by their relievers, both who allowed too many runs for a postseason game and yet this wasn’t exactly a typical postseason game. The Dodgers did their best to chip away at that hefty lead. Toles led-off the 8th with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then easily scored on Ruiz’s double.

But it would be the 9th against Chapman that would prove the best opportunity for the Dodgers. Gonzalez worked a walk to lead-off the inning, moving to 3rd on Puig’s single. Reddick’s 1-out single scored Gonzalez, and Toles’ sacrifice fly scored another runner. But a ground out ended the possibilities of really catching up. The Dodgers simply ran out of innings.

Final score: 8-4 Cubs, Cubs lead series 3-2.

So we shift back to the Windy City to wrap up this series either Saturday or Sunday, depending on how the Dodgers do at Wrigley. Both teams like to score late in the game, which really won’t work out well for either of them facing the indomitable Cleveland bullpen.

Someone asked me what I consider a standard postseason game. It’s pretty simple. The teams should be fairly evenly matched and at their peak on all the areas of the game. So it should be a close game, only one or two runs difference on the scoreboard. It should be a low-scoring game, less than seven or eight runs between both teams. It should be error free. It should be just a little over three hours in length (about 3:15)  — less than is when a team clearly dominates with pitching, more than is either a sloppy game or one with too many runs (or both). It should feel like either team could win the game right down to the last out. That is a good, standard postseason game to me.

But since when is the postseason anything standard?

Go Yankees!

ALCS 5: CLE vs. TOR & NLCS 4: CHC vs. LAD — A shut out advance & a sloppy rout

Today held two really big wins in the baseball world. One team advances to the World Series next week. Another kept dreams of doing so alive and well, albeit through quite a bit of sloppy play along the way.

Game 1: Cleveland Indians at Toronto Blue Jays
There’s nothing about the Indians’ postseason that says predictable, but with a manager like Francona, it’s hard to imagine this team doing anything else. They are a mish-mash of veterans who’ve played all over the league and fresh-faced rookies. And yet, somehow they’re sneaking in and surprising the socks off of everyone, most of all the Blue Jays, who were clearly left stunned at the results of today’s game and the series in general.

The Indians sent up the rookie pitcher Merritt to start today’s game, who has a had grand total of one start prior to the postseason. And yet, he did an amazing job. He threw into the 5th inning, giving up just 2 hits and keeping the Blue Jays scoreless. Actually, he got 13 consecutive outs to kick off his postseason career before he gave up a single. And while the only cheering he got (other than his teammates) were the 12 Cleveland fans at Rogers Centre, I can guarantee a ton of them watching all over were just in awe of this kid.

In the mean time, the Blue Jays sent in veteran starter Estrada, who has been ridiculously reliable in the postseason, but had a bit of unfortunate luck today in his 6 innings. In the 1st, Lindor hit a 2-out single and then scored on Napoli’s double and a fielding error. Santana’s 1-out solo shot in the 3rd and Crisp’s 2-out homer in the 4th just further sunk Estrada’s efforts today.

However, following that last home run, the Blue Jays stopped the Indians’ runs when Estrada finally found his groove (4 innings too late) and Toronto’s outstanding bullpen kicked in and sailed through the final 3 innings of the game, combining with Estrada for an impressive 10 strikeouts in today’s game.

But they were no match once again for the Indians’ bullpen. Indians’ reliever Shaw came on to close things out for Merritt in the 5th inning, getting 2 crucial strikeouts before handing things over to the one and only Miller who threw just 21 pitches through 2.2 innings, effectively shutting down all hopes of the Blue Jays World Series dreams. Allen, of course, closed the 9th inning rather effectively and handed the Indians their victory and a trip to the World Series.

Final score: 3-0 Indians, Indians win ALCS 4-1.

Game 2: Chicago Cubs at LA Dodgers
Okay, let’s just clear something up right away. Despite the obvious score, Cubs didn’t really have a great game. No, it was sloppy and messy. The only advantage the Cubs had is that their sloppy mess happened when it didn’t matter (read: run scoring opportunities), but that doesn’t mean it was a “great game” for the Cubs. It was just a less worst game than the Dodgers had tonight.

Neither starting pitcher really had a great night. The Cubs’ veteran Lackey did a slightly better job at fending off the Dodgers, but it still wasn’t really as sharp or clean as he can be. His two allowed walks in the 5th, just before he was pulled from the game, ended up being the only runs the Dodgers scored thanks to his reliever Montgomery. Turner’s big bases-loaded single scored those 2 runners for the Dodgers. But that would be all for the Dodgers as the Cubs manager Madden cobbled together his bullpen in pieces from that point out. It didn’t help their sloppy playing, but it did stem the Dodgers from adding to their run total.

Now, much like the Cubs, the Dodgers’ pitching had a good start and a good finish. All of the Cubs’ damage was done in the middle third of the game. In the 4th, Dodgers’ starter Urias saw his messiest outing. After 3 consecutive singles, the Cubs had a run and runners were on scoring position due to a throwing error. A ground out scored another one, and Russell’s big 2-run home run pushed the Cubs into a comfortable lead. Then, under a new reliever, the Cubs kept adding to their lead. In the 5th, Rizzo led things off with a solid solo home.

And then there was the 6th inning. The Dodgers had a new reliever, Stripling, who just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Russell started things with a 1-out single, ending up at 2nd on a bad throwing error trying for the ground out play. Montgomery’s single moved him to 3rd, and Fowler’s single scored him as the Cubs’ 6th run. Then with Bryant’s walk, the bases were loaded so that Rizzo’s single scored 2 more runs.

A new pitcher was needed and called for. But Zobrist loaded the bases again with his single (a challenge overturned the original call to say he was safe). Baez hit a long fly ball for a sacrifice fly that scored both Bryant and Rizzo due to a (what else in this game?) throwing error. A ground out mercifully ended that inning, but the damage was thoroughly done.

Final score: 10-2 Cubs, series split 2-2.

Okay, some thoughts on today’s games. First, the Indians are going to the World Series for the first time since 1997 (where they lost to the Marlins, of all teams, in 7 games), which makes them the AL Champions. And this makes Andrew Miller the ALCS MVP. Rightly so, of course, as Yankee Universe knew what they had earlier this year. Usually the ALCS MVP goes to a power hitter, so Miller joins an elite group of relief pitchers who’ve won the honor — Uehara (Red Sox, 2013), Rivera (Yankees, 2003), and Eckersley (Athletics, 1988).

Seriously, 6 errors in the Cubs-Dodgers game is really not a good sign. I was having a conversation with a friend (who’s a huge Dodgers fan, from a family of Cubs’ fans coincidentally) during the game about this. Nothing about this game was really something to exalt. The Cubs took advantage of the Dodgers’ sloppy play, and the Dodgers’ didn’t take enough.

Of course, there was that oddball call in the 2nd against the Dodgers, where Gonzalez clearly tagged home before being tagged out but the call on the field was upheld. And for a moment, I thought there might be a revolt by Dodger fans. I usually agree with most replay calls because the video usually shows exactly what happened. But I got to give this one to the “bad call” bin. Sorry, Cubs fans, he was safe at home.

Go Yankees!