Cubs, Indians, Dodgers, Jays aim to end decades-old droughts
Wherever he goes these days, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier runs into friends, neighbors and total strangers who want to talk.
Mostly, they want to ask questions. Very similar questions.
''I can't tell you how many people from the regular haunts I go through LA now - my restaurants, my places I get coffee that know me that for the last five, six years in the neighborhood I live in - are always, `Hey, when are we going to win the World Series? How is Vin doing?''`
It's been a while since Kirk Gibson helped launch Los Angeles to the 1988 crown, the last one the Dodgers won.
Of course, that's nothing compared to fans of the Indians and Cubs
Cleveland hasn't won it all since 1948 - that's two years before Vin Scully began calling Dodgers games. And the Cubs have been waiting since 1908 - that's before there even was a commercial radio station.
Among the four teams still in the playoffs, Toronto most recently won the World Series. The Blue Jays took two in row, capped by Joe Carter's game-ending homer in 1993 against Phillies reliever Mitch Williams.
That makes it 23 years since any of the final four clubs won the title. Since baseball went to a League Championship Series format, never before have all four remaining teams waited so long.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is eager to bring this year's trophy to Toronto.
''I'd always heard the stories of back in the heyday when they won the back-to-back World Series and when the new stadium opened up, there wasn't a better baseball town out there,'' he said Friday before Game 1 of the AL Championship Series at Cleveland.
Cubs shortstop Addison Russell preferred to focus on the present, rather than the Billy Goat Curse and things in the past.
''We don't care about the goat. We don't care about the last time that the Cubs won,'' he said at Wrigley Field, a day Chicago hosted the Dodgers in the NLCS opener.
''Nah. That's like the least thing on our mind. Coming and being a part of this team right now, you obviously have to know the history,'' he said. ''But I feel we embrace the history a little bit and we try to make new history.''
Also worth watching this week:
Game 5 of the Dodgers-Nationals matchup might someday be known as the day a new bullpen strategy was born. Manager Dave Roberts' daring, unconventional and ultimately very successful gamble of summoning closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning helped push LA into the NLCS. It's long been a tenet of sabermetricians - use the closer for the most important situations, not just the ninth inning. Let's see how this plays out.
Sacrifice bunts and stolen bases have gotten devalued in recent years across the majors. Teams don't want to give away outs, or even risk losing one. Then comes the postseason, and moving up 90 feet becomes a premium, and the third base coach gives the signal. But what if someone can't bunt? Watching the Dodgers' Charlie Culberson try was painful. And he's not the only one. A tip on stealing: Run on the closer. He's usually not great at holding runners.
Theo Epstein built the 2004 Red Sox team that broke Boston's long championship drought. He's also the architect of these Cubs - if they win the World Series, good chance Epstein would someday wind up in Cooperstown in the executive division. Cleveland manager Terry Francona could be on deck for the Hall of Fame, too, if he guides the Indians to the crown. Francona won twice with Boston, including that 2004 title.
ONE BEEP FOR BALL, TWO FOR STRIKE
Plate umpires are certain to be criticized over the next couple weeks for their strike zones. All it takes is one fastball a shade outside the simulated box on the TV screen for fans to light up Twitter. Cubs pitchers John Lackey and Jon Lester could express their displeasure even sooner. Added up, there's sure to be more chatter about the possibility that robots will call balls and strikes in the future. And not the far, far future, either.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.