2016 World Series: One Drought Will Come to an End

Oct 24, 2016; Cleveland , OH, USA; General view of the field during work out day prior to the start of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2016; Cleveland , OH, USA; General view of the field during work out day prior to the start of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Fall Classic is here, and the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will take part in the World Series with both teams looking to break long droughts.

The World Series, the best time of the year for a baseball fan. The leaves are turning, the air is getting colder, and the two best teams in baseball are matched against one another for the honor of being called the World Series champions of 2016.

On the National League side, the Chicago Cubs will be the representatives. They trounced through the regular season, winning a league-high 103 games, eight more than any other team. They clinched the NL Central on September 17th, and finished 17.5 games clear in the division.

In the NLDS, the Cubs got a fight from the San Francisco Giants, but took the series after a miraculous ninth-inning comeback to clinch in game four. They received a scare in the NLCS from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who bounced back after a game one loss to take games two and three. The Cubs woke up with a vengeance, winning the next three games by a combined 23-6 score.

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They will be opposed by the Cleveland Indians, who finished with 94 wins, the second-most in the American League to the Texas Rangers. Cleveland won the AL Central by eight games over the Detroit Tigers.

Cleveland started the postseason on absolute fire. They swept the favored Boston Red Sox in three games. They extended their postseason winning streak to six games by taking the first three from the Toronto Blue Jays in the LCS. The streak ended there when Toronto took game four, but the Indians won the series in game five behind a stellar start from rookie Ryan Merritt (who entered the series with a total of 11 innings of big league experience), and 4.2 sparkling innings from the bullpen.

Both teams enter this year’s rendition of the World Series looking to break a long, long streak of little sucess. The Cubs have already broken one streak, winning their first pennant since 1945. They are still looking for their first championship since 1908. Since that year, the Cubs have made the World Series seven times (the last coming in 1945), and are winless. The Indians are in the World Series for the first time since 1997, but are searching for their championship since 1948. They are 0-3 in World Series since their last title.

Despite that, both teams have players with World Series experience. For Chicago, Ben Zobrist has made the dance twice, falling short with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and earning a ring with the Kansas City Royals last year. Jon Lester won titles with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, and is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in World Series starts. David Ross was a teammate of Lester’s in 2013 with Boston. John Lackey was a rookie during the Anaheim Angels’ 2002 run, and was also part of that Red Sox team in 2013.

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For Cleveland, Coco Crisp was also a teammate of Lester when Boston won a title, but in 2007. First baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli has been to a pair of World Series in the past. In 2011, he was part of the Texas team that lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, but in 2013, he was also on the Red Sox title winning club.

Though there is plenty of that experience on both clubs, the youth will be the focus. The Indians’ shortstop is Francisco Lindor, a 22-year-old that hit .301 in his second big league season. Their third baseman is 24-year-old Jose Ramirez, who hit .312 with 46 doubles, the third-most in the MLB. Outfielder Tyler Naquin is only 25. Catcher Roberto Perez is 27. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, now in his sixth season, only turned 28 on October 4th.

The Cubs’ youth movement is even more impressive. Addison Russell is still only 22 years old. Javier Baez is just 23. Likely NL MVP front-runner Kris Bryant is just 24, as is catcher Willson Contreras. Kyle Schwarber, who is likely to be activated to play designated hitter after tearing knee ligaments in the second game of the season, is 23. Even Anthony Rizzo, who is a three-time All-Star in his sixth season, only turned 27 back in August.

Cleveland’s x-factor in the World Series is obvious: Andrew Miller. The left-hander that was acquired at the deadline was absolutely filthy in the first two rounds of the postseason. He’s struck out 51 percent of the batters he has faced, and has allowed just seven baserunners (five hits, two walks) in 11.2 shutout innings. Opponents are slashing .132/.171/.184 against Miller, and the only run he’s allowed has been an inherited runner. He was named the ALCS MVP, and he was the clear choice.

Miller’s biggest value comes in his usage. A killer on both lefties and righties, he can enter at any time and can pitch multiple innings with no need for matchups. All six of Miller’s appearances this postseason have been for more than one inning. He’s pitched two full innings thrice, and cranked it up to 2.2 innings in LCS game five. With powerful lefties, righties, and switch-hitters in the Cubs’ lineup, Miller will need to continue his dominance.

For Chicago, they need their first baseman to continue his hot streak. Rizzo opened October as cold as ice, collecting just one hit in 23 at-bats between the NLDS and the first two games of the LCS. But when he figured things out, he really figured them out. In the last three games against the Dodgers, Rizzo went 7-14, including a pair of doubles, a pair of home runs, and five RBI.

Rizzo was a tremendous offensive force again in 2016, slashing .292/.385/.544 in 155 games. He also added 43 doubles and 32 home runs (surpassing 30 for the third straight year), and he drove in 109 runs. He will be one of a few Cubs’ players receiving NL MVP votes this year. If he can keep his bat hot, he might take home a World Series MVP.

Next: Giants' 2016 Superlative Awards

One team’s drought is coming to an end. In the cold, autumn air, rain will fall for either the Indians or the Cubs. Then again, it probably won’t be rain. It will be tears of joy from a long-suffering fanbase.