Tonight the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 2016 World Series. For most of recent baseball history — say, for the last 60 years or so — if you’d predicted that even one of those teams would make it to the Series, people would have laughed at your brashness. Predicting that they both would make it would have been viewed as compelling clinical evidence of insanity.
That’s because the Cubs and Indians have an unmatched record of futility in major league baseball. The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won a Series since 1908. The Tribe, on the other hand, last won a World Series in 1948. When you’re looking back to the Truman Administration, or the Roosevelt Administration — as in Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin — for your last Series triumph, that’s pretty frigging sad. For decades, generations of fans of both teams have experienced unrelieved heartache and losses, have believed in jinxes, and have been convinced that the fates are against them and they and their teams are cursed.
But this year, one of those teams, by definition, is going to win the World Series. One of those beleaguered fan bases is finally (finally!) going to see their favorite ball club hoist the championship trophy, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten. I’m guessing that this year the TV ratings for the Series will be through the roof, not because there are enormous numbers of Chicago and Cleveland fans in America, but because the prospect that one of these lovable losers is going to bring an end to decades of outright failure is just too intriguing to miss.
And by the way, it should be a pretty good Series if you’re a baseball fan. The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the Series and the overwhelming choice of ESPN’s panel of experts. That’s not dissing the Indians, but rather recognizing that, this year, the Cubs were easily the best team in baseball, from start to finish. They won more than 100 games, had a bunch of their players make the All-Star game, have a powerhouse lineup of hitters and pitchers, and have a guy in the bullpen who throws 103 m.p.h. And, unlike the Tribe, they haven’t seen their roster of starting pitchers decimated by injuries and drone accidents. If you watched the way the Cubs mauled the Dodgers in the last three games of the National League Championship Series, you’d pick the Cubbies to win, too.
As for the Tribe, they’ve been the scrappy underdogs all year, and the World Series will be no different. The Indians have made it this far because Terry Francona has managed his tattered pitching staff with historical deftness, and the starters and relievers have performed brilliantly when called upon. The Indians batters collectively hit just .168 in the American League Championship Series, which is well below the Mendoza line — but the few hits they got were timely hits, knocking in just enough runs to hand the game to the bullpen after the fifth inning. And, unlike the Dodgers, for example, the Tribe played stellar defense and helped the bullpen make sure that those one- and two-run leads held up. It was the kind of baseball John McGraw and Tris Speaker would have appreciated.
I’m convinced that tonight’s game is a crucial one for the Tribe. They’re facing Jon Lester, who was 19-5 in the regular season and has already won three games in the playoffs, and are going with their best remaining pitcher in Corey Kluber. Given the anemic performance of the Indians’ offense this postseason, the Tribe simply can’t afford to fall behind and count on big innings to catch up late. Kluber will need to somehow quiet the Cubs’ powerhouse offense, the Indians will need to scratch and claw for a few runs, and the bullpen will have to come through once again.
It should be a great Series. Go Tribe!