Tuesday, October 25, 2016

World Series 2016: Someone's suffering will finally end

12 years ago, Terry Francona ended the "Curse of the Bambino" when he led the Boston Red Sox to the first of three World Series titles in the space of a decade (2004-13). Francona wasn't around for the BoSox's last title three years ago, but now he has a shot at his 3rd ring as he leads the AL Champion Cleveland Indians into this year's Fall Classic against NL Champion Chicago.

Both teams have had long droughts they're trying to break.

Cleveland extended the then-Florida Marlins to 7 games in 1997 before losing, and had fallen to the Atlanta Braves two years earlier. This year's Tribe shocked a lot of experts by winning the AL Central, dethroning two-time defending AL titlist Kansas City. In addition to Francona, first baseman Mike Napoli has a little bling to show off from his time in Boston, giving the youthful Indians plenty of incentive.

Almost everyone assumed Joe Maddon's Chicago Cubs would get here after another NLCS failure in 2015. Club President Theo Epstein and pitchers John Lackey & Jon Lester came from----wait for it---Boston, though in Lester's case it was by way of Oakland, and Lackey came with outfielder Jason Heyward from St. Louis. Epstein, like Francona, wasn't in Beantown for the 2013 Series, having already left for Chicago. For Maddon, this is his 2nd shot at a ring, having led Tampa Bay to the 2008 Series, where they fell to Philadelphia.

The city of Cleveland, of course, is 4 months removed from the NBA's Cavaliers delivering the first championship to the city since the Indians did it 68 years ago. Conversely, while the Cubs have had their own historic futility, dating back to 1908, the city's last World Series champ was the cross-town White Sox just 11 years ago. Since then, the only champions in Chi-town have been the NHL's Blackhawks, who've won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years. Much has been made of the Cubs' annual failures, such that one of their most high profile fans, wrestler-MMA fighter-comics writer CM Punk (Phil Brooks), wrote a short story for DC Comics, which appeared in the Vertigo revival of Strange Sports Stories last year, mixing in supernatural elements.

The Cubs have the advantage in starting pitching. What had been a big three (Lackey, Lester, Jake Arietta) became a big four with the emergence of Kyle Hendricks, who outdueled Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night to get the Cubs to this point. Add closer Aroldis Chapman, a trade deadline pickup from the Yankees, and all of a sudden, there are no holes in the Cubs' staff. Cleveland is hoping to get Danny Salazar, the All-Star starter for the AL, off the disabled list to pitch at least one game in the Series. Aside from Salazar, the Indians have Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber. Trevor Bauer, he of the drone incident, may be little more than a question mark. He lasted 1/3 of an inning against Toronto last week due to his finger wound reopening.

Due to the AL winning the All-Star Game yet again three months ago, the Series begins in Cleveland, despite the Cubs having the overall best record in baseball, creating a case for amending the stipulations for the All-Star Game again, or tweaking the post-season tournament. I'll have something about that another time. Anyway, the Indians may be looking at some old tapes of Lester, Arietta, & Lackey, as I doubt they'd be fooled. The DH will be in play in the four games in Cleveland, so it'll be interesting to see what Maddon does to fill the space, even though Arietta, who took Madison Bumgarner out of the yard in the NLDS, could be plugged in between starts, just because it's Maddon, who's not afraid to put relief pitchers in the field in a pinch. Kyle Schwarber, out since April with a knee injury, has been rehabbing in the Arizona Fall League, but the Cubs have bee thinking of activating him for the Series, adding another layer to this story.

Final analysis: Hollywood tried to salve Cleveland's baseball heartache in the "Major League" movies in the late 80's and early 90's, and there are a few wack Indian fans who want Bob Uecker, who starred with Charlie Sheen in those films, to replace Fox announcer Joe Buck. Please. Give me a break. Uecker, otherwise the long-time radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, could be invited if Fox wanted to reference the movies, and that's more likely. Fittingly, Fox has a TV adaptation of the 70's horror movie, "The Exorcist", on their schedule, and it'll be pre-empted Friday for Game 3. The Cubs have had the longer "curses". While Maddon plays like a chess grandmaster, albeit an insane one, Francona just wants to win one more ring, and take the same victory parade that LeBron James had in June.

The Cubs have a better all-around team. Both teams are hungry. The cities are starving (well, maybe not Cleveland as much). It's going to go the distance.

Pick: Cubs in 7.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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