Everyone should have seen the Cubs’ rise coming.
Two years ago when the Cubs were embarking on an 89-loss 2014 season, when Anthony Rizzo was the only regular worth carrying over to this 2016 team, and when some (read: fools) called for Theo Epstein’s job I put this comment into the universe via a friends wall on Facebook:
And boy has it been.
Granted, not all of Theo’s moves have turned out golden; but here we are in October of 2016 and the Chicago Cubs are National League Champions. I’m not going to detail all the moves they’ve made because I did that already here. Chicago has a World Series to play, and their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, aren’t slouches on talent (and fanbase misery) themselves. I’m simply here to help you get to know what you’re about to witness as Game 1 starts tonight in Cleveland. So let’s start with the Indians.
This is a good baseball team folks. Keep in mind they knocked off the American League favorites (Boston Red Sox) and the team that breezed past the Texas Rangers who owned the best record in the American League (Toronto Blue Jays). Did I mention two of their three best starters haven’t thrown an inning this postseason yet? Woe to the fan that allows misty-eyed story lines to get in the way of seeing that the Cleveland Indians are as equipped as any team to knock off the Chicago Cubs in a seven game series.
The Indians speed on the bases (fourth in stolen bases in all of baseball; 134) coupled with their ability to get on base (eighth in the majors; .329) is going to be a problem for the Cubs. They will not be afraid to exploit what the Dodgers and Giants before them didn’t: they’re going to run when they’re on base and they’re going to do it often. Unfortunately for Cubs fans between David Ross (29%) and Miguel Montero (11%) that could prove an even bigger problem.
Let’s also not forget that tonight’s game 1 starter, Jon Lester, doesn’t care to throw over very often.
Francona knows this, and he knows a lot more about the inner-workings of Chicago given he’s a product of what they built in Boston. I can’t express how important it is not to forget that.
It’s not all perfect for the Indians, however. Which leads me to….
Chicago is a team built on veteran pitching, unrelenting hitters in their lineup, and finishing games. Yes, finishing games is an intangible, but think about those teams Theo Epstein built in Boston and look at this one. Keith Foulke, Jonathan Papelbon, and now Aroldis Chapman. It’s not always analytics and spreadsheets with Theo, he has his own pattern as well. Score more than the other guy, have your starters out-pitch the other guy, then bring in your best guy to finish.
It’s no different now than it was when he was in Boston. Does this diminish what he’s done? That’s an emphatic ‘no’ because he is undoubtedly one of the best talent scouts the game has ever seen. What’s interesting about this team compared to those in Boston is that the big ticket guy (Jason Heyward) was paid for a completely different reason than Manny Ramirez was. Heyward’s defense has made up for his lack of hitting on many occasions. What’s also interesting is that this team was a complete gut job. Remember, Boston was an 80+ win, playoff contender before he got there.
What’s happening in Chicago is this team can beat you in a lot of different ways, and that could be good or bad depending on who is at the helm in the dugout.
I’m looking at you, Joe Maddon.
I like Joe Maddon as a manager and a baseball man. If this team has a weakness it’s Maddon; only in the sense that he is there to mitigate unfavorable match-ups (like his catchers vs. the Indians baserunners, or late-inning bullpen moves, etc.). The way I see it, if Maddon resists the urge to tinker too much, the Cubs have a real shot at flying a “Championship ‘W'”…. In seven games.
My prediction: Indians over Cubs in seven