- Mark McClusky and Mark Bechtel are both SI editors with rooting interests in this year's Fall Classic between Chicago and Cleveland. Only one of them will get the World Series title they've long waited for.
Sports Illustrated Digital Editor Mark McClusky grew up in western Pennsylvania and has been a Cubs fan all his life. Mark Bechtel, the managing editor of SI Kids and SI's NBA editor, has rooted for the Indians since he was a kid himself in the suburbs of Cleveland. They'll provide their thoughts and commentary on all things World Series—from the cities to the ballparks to the games—throughout the 112th Fall Classic.
Before Game 7
Okay Mark, I know you’re probably not feeling so great after last night’s Cubs win, but strangely, neither am I. Sure, a Game 7 in this Series seems like the way it should end, and the rational part of my brain hopes for a really great, close, tense game tonight. It’s good for the sport that I love.
But the fan in me wants to see the Cubs score 32 runs in the first so I don’t get an ulcer by the third inning.
If there’s any such thing as a good way to lose Game 6, I think that’s what the Indians did last night. The fact that the Cubs broke it open early gave Terry Francona one huge, huge advantage: He didn’t have to manage the game to win it. That meant that no Andrew Miller, no Cody Allen, no Bryan Shaw. Put Corey Kluber on the mound to start, and the Indians have their four best pitchers available in any way that Francona wants to use them in Game 7.
Contrast that with the very, very questionable decisions the Joe Maddon made around Aroldis Chapman last night. I can almost understand having him come in in the seventh to shut down the threat that the Indians had going in that inning. But after he seemed to tweak his ankle covering first, I would never have brought him out for the eighth. And after he had a solid eighth—and the Cubs pushed their lead out to seven runs in the top of the ninth—I think it was legitimately crazy to have Chapman come and start the ninth.
Here’s what I don’t understand: If you don’t trust Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, or Travis Wood to get three outs with a seven-run lead, why the hell are they on your roster at all? Maddon seems to have whittled his bullpen down to one or two guys, and that’s it. That’s not a sustainable situation, but of course, he doesn’t need to sustain it. He just needs to get though one game.
Games 7 are often unpredictable affairs, full of odd moves and weird decisions. I think you’d be a fool to predict how it will play out. But right now, I think the Indians are more set up for success than the Cubs when it comes to pitching, and I think that Francona is making better decisions than Maddon. What that will actually mean for the game might be very minimal. But it leaves me feeling unbelievably nervous.
When I get elected President, the first thing I’m going to do is summon every official scorer to Washington and tell them that the whole “it’s not an error if no one touches it” thing is over. Yes, that’s the very first thing. It’s the most pressing thing issue facing our nation.
That dropped fly ball is Naquin’s fault. He’s the centerfielder; it’s his ball; E-8. I get that the scoring doesn’t change the outcome of the play, but it’s not fair to pin last night on Josh Tomlin. Did he pitch well? Not especially. (Again: Nibble, man. The homer by Bryant was on an 0–2 pitch, and the two hits that led to his departure in the third were with two strikes. To reference an earlier post: Paul Lynde’s face took a beating last night.) But he didn’t deserve to get stuck with that line (six earned in two plus innings).
And not to get all sliding doors, but if Naquin catches that ball, when Tomlin gets in the inevitable jam that was coming, it might have at least still been a one-run game, which might have meant someone other than Dan Otero gets the call. (To be fair, Otero has been fine this postseason.)
Next to last thing about Naquin: When it comes to defensive WAR, all three of Cleveland’s regular outfielders were worse than Michael Brantley, who played 11 games and had a 0.1 dWAR.
Last thing about Naquin: He hasn’t hit a home run over the fence in three months. He got blown away with the bases loaded last night. Does Tito trot him out there tonight?
As for the Cubs' bullpen: You’re right, none of this postseason bullpen usage is sustainable. At the rate he’s pitching now, Andrew Miller would make 104 appearances, throw 196 2/3 innings and have 335 strikeouts.
I wonder what’s going through Kyle Hendricks’s head right now. I think I know what’s going through Corey Kluber’s: “10010011101011010.” That’s right, he even thinks in binary code. That’s the one reason I feel good (cautiously) about tonight: He’s going to be unflappable. But will anyone hit? Will anyone catch the ball? Will Roberto Perez still think he’s Kenny Lofton? Only time will tell.
Before Game 6
What’s this familiar feeling? The sinking sensation, the burning in the pit of my stomach, the certainty that nothing will be good and happy again. Oh, yes! It’s Cubs fever! Catch it!
At least they won Game 5. I’m not sure I could have taken the sight of the Indians celebrating at Wrigley Field. The three weekend games couldn’t have felt any different to me. On Friday, after all of the predictions of an offensive explosion with the wind blowing out, of course it was a 1–0 duel. Plenty of neutral observers were talking about what a classic it was. Maybe it was for them but for me, it was misery. Another game where Chicago didn’t manage to get a thing done offensively. And the next night was little improvement, a 7–2 loss that felt like another four-hour long demonstration of offensive futility.
The truth is that neither team is really hitting: The Cubs as batting .210/.281/.311 for the five games, and the Indians are at .236/.315/.373. But Chicago is hitting .170 with runners in scoring position in the series, with eight singles in 47 at-bats, plating six runs. Cleveland is hitting just .194 but has driven in 12 runs in 36 at-bats, and that’s the difference in the Series. One team hasn't managed to get the big hit it so desperately needs, and the other has.
No Cubs player is struggling more than co-NLCS MVP Javier Baez, who went from destroyer of worlds to completely lost. He’s 2 for 11 with five strikeouts with runners in scoring position and is just 3 for 21 in the Series. His bunt single last night was a nice little idea, and he’s still freaking awesome in the field, with that tag of Lindor to catch him stealing. If Chicago is going to pull off the miracle comeback, a player like Baez or Addison Russell or Willson Contreras is going to have to do something offensively. The top of the lineup has too big a burden, though maybe Kris Bryant’s homer last night will get him going.
Even if they can force a Game 7, the Cubs have to face Corey Kluber again. But if they make it there, it will be Cleveland that starts to feel the pressure of going from 3–1 to 3–3. Maybe Chicago will find a way.
How’s it feel on the other side, Mark?
It feels great over here. Not a care in the world. No worries whatsoever.
Before Game 4 was even over I tweeted something along the lines of Cleveland fans, of all people, know that there’s no way a team could lose a 3–1 lead in a championship-deciding series. The Cavs, of course, just overcame that deficit in the NBA Finals, and the Indians blew a 3–1 lead in the 2007 ALCS, one of the most underrated moments of sorrow in Cleveland history.
Speaking of which: The Browns really set the tone for last night’s game. They held a ceremony to honor the 1986 team—the one that blew the AFC title game against the Broncos by allowing The Drive—then proceeded to give up 24 straight points and lose to the Jets by three. A nice reminder of what life as a Cleveland fan is like. So of course it came as no surprise that the Tribe would lose Game 5 and open the door to allow the existential dread to barge right on in.
Tomlin starting Game 6 on three days’ rest doesn’t bug me much. Kluber said when he went on three days’ for the first time that his arm was fine but that he was surprised how dead his legs were. Well, Tomlin doesn’t throw especially hard, and it’s not like he’s Tom Seaver, so his legs should be fine. A slightly tired arm might even help with some sinking action. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)
I was intrigued in Game 4 by the number of curveballs/sliders/power curves Kluber threw. His fastball didn’t have that absurd movement it had in Game 1, so I wonder how much the reliance on Uncle Charlie had to do with that, and how much had to do with giving the Cubs a different look. Be interesting to see what he does in Game 7, which I’m now pretty sure is happening.
Tomlin was terrific in Game 3, much better than I expected. Given the Cubs' propensity for expanding the strike zone in this series, he was very good at staying around the margins and giving them every chance to chase pitches out of the zone, which they obliged him by doing all night. Not a lot of strikeouts, but they were behind all the time, and hitting uphill.
The Browns are one place we can agree to agree: There’s no way that the sudden increase in sports mojo helps them this season. They’re truly dreadful, but what else is new? Let’s just hope they can use their draft picks to get players who might actually make an impact in the NFL, which hasn’t exactly been a strength of that franchise for the last couple of decades or so.
I’m seriously tempted to put down some money on the Cubs. If they come back, my soul will be crushed, but at least I’ll have a little walking around money to show for it. If they don’t and the Indians win, I’ll consider that money well spent.
Of course, now that I’ve announced my intention to place some illegal action, the Indians will probably lose and I’ll get busted by the Feds.
Before Game 3
Oh, and one more thing with Tomlin. His career batting average is 156 points higher than Ted Williams’. That’s right, Tomlin is a career .500 hitter with a 194 OPS+, and he had a higher offensive WAR (0.1) this season than all of Cleveland’s catchers. Also, he was a shortstop at Angelina College, a junior college in Lufkin, Texas, (where he beat out Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz for the starting spot) and hit .360 one year. So I guess what I’m saying is, Tomlin is going yard!
What an interminable slog. In the middle of the fifth inning they had played two hours and 14 minutes, meaning they were on pace for a four-hour, 28-minute game—and ONE GUY WAS THROWING A NO HITTER. I’ve never seen more foul balls in my life. Trevor Bauer wasn’t exactly missing bats out there. (I was right about something! I predicted he’d throw a lot of pitches!) He can be frustrating to watch. He throws so many pitches—I literally have no idea how Roberto Perez can call for a specific one without using both hands.
The Indians need Bauer to regain his touch, because someone other than Cory Kluber is going to have to win a game at some point. Yet after last night’s performance, the average start length for everyone not named Kluber this postseason is 3.9 innings. (Also, Cleveland is hitting .210 in the playoffs. And has won eight of 10 games. Let that sink in.) I’m trying to be optimistic about Friday, but reading up on Kyle Hendricks is giving me some real agita. He’s allowed four homers at home all year. Wrigley’s park factor for home runs was shockingly low this year, though. When did it get to be so hard to hit one out there?
Park factor or no park factor, the prospect of Josh Tomlin in the Friendly Confines doesn’t leave me warm and fuzzy. He did, however, find his curveball against the Blue Jays in his ALCS start. In Tomlin’s words, “Some days it’s good, some days it’s not.” The Indians need it to be good, because I just looked at the weather for Friday night. Winds of 15 to 25 mph from the southweset—which means out to dead center.
I’m not really someone who gets so hung up on pace of play, but this postseason has featured several games that seemed endless. I’m highly motivated to watch every millisecond of these games, and man, they’re hard to handle. Just imagine if they hadn’t moved that game up an hour. Geez.
In terms of Wrigley, it’s completely weather dependent. In 2016, it was the 24th most homer-friendly stadium in baseball; in 2015, it was the third. The park is a great match for Hendricks, who was a freaking genius against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, and actually pretty good in his loss to Clayton Kershaw at Wrigley in Game 2. I was there that night, and even though he seemed to be pitching from behind most of the night, when Joe Maddon pulled him he had thrown six innings of two-hit, one-run ball.
That run he gave up was on an Adrian Gonzalez homer. Off the bat, it didn’t seem like it was trouble at all, but it caught the breeze and snuck over the wall. Later in the night, Javier Baez crushed a ball that seemed like a sure homer, but it wasn’t high enough, and died at the track. That’s the fun and the hell of Wrigley.
If the wind’s blowing out, though, I feel a whole lot better having a ground ball machine like Hendricks on the mound than Lackey or Lester. But Tomlin gets his share of ground balls as well. The issue for the Indians is that he gave up a homer on almost 18% of his fly balls this season, while Hendricks gave up a home run on only 9% of his. If we’re in for a windy night on the North Side, keeping the ball in the park is going to be a big deal.
Overall, I think the Cubs have to feel good going home 1-1. Game 2 was the sort of game they will hope to win each time that Kluber doesn’t pitch, and then try to steal one from him. The Kyle Schwarber story is completely insane to me—I thought that it was a move that felt a little too cute when they made it, and then the guy comes in and goes 3-for-7 with a double, a couple of walks, a run and two RBIs. He only had five plate appearances all season! His hit in Game 1 of the Series was his first of the entire year.
I’ll send folks to our colleague Tom Verducci’s awesome story about how Schwarber made it back, and the Cubs' plans for him moving forward. It makes me more than a little nervous to put him in the field, but hell, at this point I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him make some amazing catch, or throw a guy out at the plate. And it will be an insane moment at Wrigley tomorrow night when they announce the kid’s name, at the first Series game there since Andy Pafko was playing in the outfield.
Here’s my issue with Tomlin: He gave up almost twice as many homers (36) as walks (20) this year. During the ALDS against the Red Sox, Steve Cannella (another fellow SI editor) and I were watching him pitch on TBS, and their strike zone box was divided up into nine quadrants, kind of like the Hollywood Squares board. We were marveling at how many times Tomlin threw one off of Paul Lynde’s forehead. (That would be the center square, for you readers under 40.) I’m not saying Tomlin should turn into Bauer, but maybe he shouldn't be afraid to miss the plate once in a while, or at least hit Nipsey Russell.
But what do I know? I went to a bar with wallpaper from my kitchen because I thought it would bring me luck. I clearly am thinking rationally.
Well, that didn’t take long. Right about the second inning, as another Cub hitter struck out looking, I was in full meltdown mode. Here were the Cubs doing Cub things, meekly being sat down by an amazing Corey Kluber, and giving up two runs on a hit batter and a ball that Jose Ramirez hit about 10 feet. Throw in two home runs from a backup catcher who hit .183 with three home runs all season, and it would be easy to slide into despair.
So I’m looking for the bright spots. Kyle Schwarber got a hit, and looked like he belonged on the field. The Cubs showed that it is at least possible to get baserunners against Andrew Miller, even though they managed not to convert with the bases loaded and no one out. Miller threw 46 pitches, and if he’s at all human, that might have some effect on his availability or effectiveness tonight. And, uh, well, Kluber isn’t starting for Cleveland again until Game 4.
That two-seam fastball he was working last night was just gross. It reminded me of Greg Maddux when he was at his best—hitters completely giving up on pitches, or even bailing out of the batter’s box—right before the ball darts back over the corner. The difference is that Kluber throws that pitch five miles per hour harder than Maddux ever did, and has that breaking ball to work off of it. I thought that Kluber got more of the strike zone from Larry Vanover than Jon Lester did, but he didn’t need the extra help.
So suddenly, tonight feels like almost a must win for the Cubs. The angst that would be floating around Wrigley if they come back down 2-0 would be off the charts, and if Kluber really is going to throw three times in this series, you have to win when he’s not there (he says, stating the insanely-obvious). They’ve moved the game time up an hour, but it’s going to be a long day waiting for it for me.
How you feeling? Must be nice, I imagine, to have a lead.
Yeah, it’s nice to have a lead, but at the same time, all the Indians did was hold serve. How’s that for refusing to allow myself any measure of enjoyment? (Interesting fact: This is the first time the Indians have led in a Fall Classic since the end of the ’48 Series.)
I spent the first inning in the kitchen making wings (you can see the TV from in there). After they scored twice I realized I couldn’t really move into a different room, so I spent the next three hours standing in the kitchen being mocked by the empty couch five feet away. But if Andrew Miller can throw 90 pitches every day for a month, the least I can do is stay on my feet if it means good luck.
Speaking of which: Interesting situation Tito finds himself in. He has one pitcher, Klubot, who can be expected to go any distance. Even when he’s healthy, Trevor Bauer isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to give you eight strong innings. He’s a nibbler, that’s just the way it is. And Josh Tomlin is on a minuscule leash. So Tito’s got to be thinking, “It’d be nice to have Miller rested for Game 2.” But at the same time, he doesn’t want to either a) run Kluber into the ground, because he needs him on three day’s rest (two times!), or b) lose the game. But not sending him out there for the eighth probably would have meant using Bryan Shaw, who has been a touch shaky in the postseason.
All of which is to say, I wonder how much Francona is managing with an eye toward the future. You don’t want to, but with a rotation as thin as his, he has to. But if anyone can strike that balance and figure it out, I think it’s a guy who’s 9-0 in the World Series.
As for me, I’m watching Game 2 at a bar in town. But I brought a scrap of wallpaper from the kitchen with me. Can’t be too safe.
First of all, congrats to the Cleveland Indians on their American League title. And congrats to you—I know from hearing you shouting at a TV during the ALCS just how deep your love for the team goes.
And in just about any other matchup, I’d join you in rooting for the Indians. I have family from Cleveland—in fact, my mother and sister will be rooting hard for the Tribe. But there’s just one problem for me in this matchup. I had WGN as a kid, and that turned me into a Chicago Cubs fan. And let’s face it: The Cubs deserve to win this World Series.
After all, Cleveland has enjoyed a relatively flush period of massive success compared to the Cubs. Since the Cubs last won the Series in 1908, the Indians have won the Fall Classic twice. Since the Cubs have even won the National League title, in 1945, Cleveland has been in the Series three other times. This year the Indians won their eighth division titles in the past 21 years for crying out loud.
Clevelanders like to paint themselves as uniquely downtrodden when it comes to sports. And in some ways, I can relate. I remember the two of us commiserating when Art Modell betrayed the city and moved our beloved Browns to freaking Baltimore. But Cleveland’s martyr complex can’t stand up to the 108 years of futility that Cubs fans have been born, lived, and died through.
I find myself in a strange spot as a Cleveland fan: The city currently has the shortest wait since its last title. (Thanks LeBron!) It’s a little weird to sit here and play the long-suffering fan card. So I won’t. Also, I was told there would be no math, so I’m not going to dispute your statistics.
No, my first salvo is this: You don’t want to win this World Series.
I, too, had WGN as a kid, and like everyone else who had cable and was a baseball fan in 1984, I adopted the Cubs. Now, before you give me any crap about being a fair-weather fan, let me say that it was not especially easy to follow the exploits of the Indians if, as I did, you had recently moved to Alabama. There was no superstation, and they weren’t exactly Game of the Week fodder. You could try to tune in Herb and Ned on WWWE, but unless it was a crystal clear night you were probably out of luck.
I didn’t punt on the Indians, but I had never lived through an actual pennant race before, especially not one I could follow on a daily basis. So I was drawn in by the promise of good baseball—but also by the play-by-play man, whose insane ramblings and penchant for serenading players (“Jo-dy, Jo-dy Davis—King of the National League!”) were fun to watch—unless, perhaps, you were his perpetually put-upon straight man, Cleveland’s own Steve Stone. Harry Caray was a Cubs fan. He was a Bud Man. He broadcast games from the bleachers, where he was getting tanked with the fans. But at the end of the day, the Cubs were losers, lovable losers. What fun!
And now all of that is on the verge of extinction. Four wins and your identity changes. This is a big step. Look what winning did to the Red Sox. Do you really want that?
You make a fair point about the Red Sox—never has a fan base gone from long-suffering to insufferable quite so quickly. And given that at least four generations of Cubs fans have never had the chance to practice being a good winner, there’s every chance that we’ll be as bad at it as the Cubs have been at baseball for so long. It’s a risk that I’m prepared to run. After all, there would still be years before the fan base revolts and runs Theo Epstein out of town.
Lovable loser still contains the word “loser,” and it’s really nice to have a Cubs team (and organization) that doesn’t buy into that construction. When the Tribune Corp. owned the team, it always seemed like they weren’t trying quite hard enough to win. Instead, it always seemed like the hope was to put a just-good-enough product out there so that spending a summer afternoon skipping work to catch a game at Wrigley Field at least carried the possibility of seeing the Cubs win. And if they didn’t, well, hey, it was fun to sit in the sun and drink Old Style.
I think that’s what’s been most enjoyable about this team. They aren’t lovable losers; they’re lovable winners. They don’t expect the Cubbish thing to happen to them that all of the fans are waiting for. We’re waiting for Leon Durham or Steve Bartman to reach out of the past and thwart this team, and all that Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and Javier Baez want to do is mash and make great defensive plays.
I watched Game 1 of the NLCS in a Chicago bar, and when the Cubs gave up two runs in the top of the eighth, you could have heard a pennant drop, if not for the muttered (and not-so-muttered) profanity. This was the moment where the Cubs would start doing Cubs things, and they’d find a way to lose and then Clayton Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers the next night and then oh my God we’d be down 0-2 going to L.A. and here we go again with this crap.
Or not. Dave Roberts got a little too cute, Joe Blanton threw one of the worst sliders of his life, and the bar nearly tumbled to the ground as Miguel Montero launched his pinch-hit grand slam into the rightfield bleachers. At each moment of the postseason where this Chicago team has had a chance to live down to the franchise’s history, it has instead shown a swagger and confidence that’s rarely inhabited the Friendly Confines.
Don’t play the “it’s better to lose” card. Would you have preferred that Draymond Green wasn’t suspended, and the for the Cavs to have lost the NBA Finals in six? After all, now Cleveland doesn’t have the longest title drought for a city in pro sports any more. You can’t possibly want that honor back.
I hate to tell you this, but there’s really no such thing as a lovable winner, at least an enduring one. (Ask Draymond how quickly that whole narrative can get turned on its head. Lesson: You’re never more than one kick to the balls from pariah-dom>.) At any rate, I’ve got to believe there’s some middle ground between putting out a team that’s just good enough to draw Lee Elia's “other 15 percent” to the park and spending $184 million on a guy who’s hitting .230. If you blow Jason Heyward money on a guy who plays like, well, Jason Heyward, you should pay a price. What did Heyward’s terrible season cost the Cubs? A chance at 109 wins?
Here’s what I love about this Indians team—and what, in many ways, has me worried about the future: Everyone is having a great year: Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez. There’s a sense that they can’t possibly keep this up, but they do. This living on the edge is kind of exhilarating. For now, at least.
Also, Great Lakes Brewing > Old Style.
You have to love a beer that built a marketing campaign around the idea of people from New York and L.A. coming to Chicago to steal it. Plus, the ads stared Dennis Farina.
The Cubs were a big-market team that acted with a small-market mindset. Say what you will about curses, but I do believe that part of what’s cursed the Cubs for years is Wrigley Field. It’s such a pilgrimage, such a great place to see a game, that the organization could cruise knowing that it would draw 28,000 fans a game to watch another 77-win team. Like Boston did, though, the Cubs have turned their ancient gem into a money making machine without destroying the essential nature of a game there.
There is the sense that the Indians are a little bit of a fluke, and part of that is because you’re right, all of those guys are having the best seasons of their lives. The Cubs, on the other hand, are built to last. That infield is young and awesome and all signed until 2430 or so, and with that core, there’s the possibility of a lot of postseason baseball on the North Side for years.
But I spent 17 years in the Bay Area, and I saw an awful lot of good teams in Oakland that couldn’t get it done. Like Billy Beane said, some times your s--- doesn’t work in the playoffs, and who knows how many chances the Cubs will have. I’d like to think it won’t be 71 years before their next trip to the Series, but I’m sure that they were thinking that back in the late 1940s as well.
OK, I’m not going to say anything bad about Dennis Farina, lest his ghost stab me in the heart with a pencil or bury a telephone in my head.
I agree with you about the Wrigley albatross, though I have to wonder if putting up lights at a field renowned first and foremost for not having lights doesn’t constitute "destroying the essential nature” of the place. At least they didn’t burn down the ivy.
That said, I do have to tip my hat to the Cubs for developing homegrown players at the same time they were splashing out Ricketts family money. I mean this sincerely: Kudos for putting together a team that’s not impossible to root for.