World Series preview: Something has to give
When Tigers general manager Al Avila was saying last week that the team’s free-spending days are over, because the best blueprint to building a champion is through good drafting and trading, well, this is why.
The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians — who will meet Tuesday night in Cleveland for Game 1 of what has the makings of an epic World Series — are the poster children for building a winner the right way.
When Theo Epstein took over as Cubs president late in 2011, he knew he had to tear things down before the team could be built back up. There would be no quick fixes, so his team went to work finding value in the draft (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber) and trade market (Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, etc.) before finally signing some big free agents these last two offseasons (Jon Lester, Jason Heyward) for the near-final touches.
They’re in the World Series for the first time since 1945, and looking for their first win since 1908.
The Indians, meanwhile, tried the Tigers’ big-splash route back in early 2013, signing outfielders Nick Swisher (four years, $56 million) and Michael Bourn (four years, $48 million) to lavish contracts, only to watch those two be total busts in Cleveland. It wasn’t until draft picks (Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor) and young trade pickups (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer) started to blossom that they felt comfortable cracking open the wallets again (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller).
They’re in the World Series for the first time since 1997, and looking for their first win since 1948.
One of these Midwest ballclubs is about to snap a long, long, long championship drought.
All because they built their team the right way.
1. Redemption time: There’s been a whole lot of heartache among these fan bases over the years. A win by the Cubs would let the likes of Steve Bartman (2003 NLCS) and Leon Durham (1984 NLCS) off the hook, while a win by the Indians would get Jose Mesa (1997 World Series) out of their minds.
2. They love N.Y.!: The Yankees sure helped these two pennant winners this year — trading one hard-throwing lefty, Aroldis Chapman, to the Cubs, who’ve made him their closer, and another hard-throwing lefty, Andrew Miller, to the Indians, who’ve made him their man for every tight situation.
3. Welcome back: It wasn’t even on the radar until a couple days ago, but the Cubs, amazingly, might bring back slugger Kyle Schwarber for the World Series, to at least DH in Cleveland. Schwarber tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in his second game of the season, and was thought to be done for 2016.
4. Welcome back, II: The Indians’ have a key contributor who made his way back ub right-handed starter Danny Salazar, who hasn’t thrown a pitch since early September because of an elbow injury. He could help stabilize a rag-tag starting staff that in the ALCS had to start Ryan Merritt, who had 11 career innings pitched entering the series.
5. Red Sox reunion: Both men are almost certainly headed to the Hall of Fame, though a World Series win would cement their case — Cubs president Theo Epstein and the Indians’ Francona, who won two World Series championships together in Boston (2004, 2007).
6. Special skippers: You’d be hard-pressed to find two better, more-respected managers in the game than the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, considered the brightest and most forward-thinking manager around, and the Indians’ Terry Francona, who might’ve just revolutionized the game with his usage of Andrew Miller lately.
7. Cleveland rocks: They’re sure making up for lost time on the other side of Lake Erie. They were miserable from the Cleveland Browns’ NFL championship in 1964 to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship in 2016, with no titles in between. Now, they could celebrate a second in less than five months.
8. Tribute to Jose: If you say you saw this World Series matchup coming, you’re probably not being honest. But at least one man did -- the late Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who was telling teammates back in August that the Cubs and Indians were the best of the best. He died last month in a boating accident.
9. Poor Tigers fans: Who do they root for? Chicago is Public Enemy No. 1 of Detroit, when it comes to the city’s sports fans, and Cleveland, well, that’s a close second. If the Indians win, that means every current AL Central team will have won a World Series since the Tigers last did in 1984. Ouch.
1. Javier Baez, 2B: At just 23, he’s become a star in a matter of weeks, with some seriously clutch hitting and, even more importantly, some heads-up defense.
2. Jason Heyward, RF: A big, old bust since signing his eight-year, $184-million contract last winter, he could earn some redemption with a breakout showing.
3. John Lackey, SP: The forgotten man in the rotation, his start will be big against the Indians’ lefty-loaded lineup. He stands to earn his third ring.
1. Andrew Miller, RP: The easy choice for MVP in the ALCS, he’s such a weapon -- whether he pitches in the fifth inning or ninth inning, one inning or three.
2. Trevor Bauer, SP: He didn’t last in his ALCS start, his finger bleeding profusely following a drone accident. He got more stitches, and is ready to try again.
3. Francisco Lindor, SS: Baseball fans around the country are about to see what the hype around this 22-year-old is all about. There are few players more dynamic.
4-1: Cubs’ spring-training odds to win the World Series (first)
16-1: Indians’ spring-training odds to win the World Series (10th)
5: Indians’ American League championships, the last coming in 1997 (World Series loss to Marlins)
10: Cubs’ National League championships, the last coming in 1945 (World Series loss to Tigers)
The Cubs have been the favorites pretty much all year long, outside of the one day they fell behind the Dodgers in the NLCS. So it’s tough to go against them, given they really don’t have any weaknesses. But I’ve doubted the Indians pretty much all season long, and they just keep proving me wrong. This is for certain: It’s a wildly intriguing matchup, and is a good bet to go six or seven games. Give me, Chicago in seven.