And They’re Heading for Home!

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by Tom DeMichael

So…what’s been happening around here? Oh, yeah – right. That World Series thing. Indulge me, if you will, for a moment..

Around the middle of September, I wrote in this column: Cubs vs Indians.

Lucky guess? Maybe. Educated guess? Maybe. Reality? Absolutely.

And, now – due to publication deadlines – you likely have the honor of knowing something I don’t.

The Cubs have won the World Series!!

Or, the Cubs have lost the World Series.

Or, the cake isn’t completely baked yet (Yes, like many schemes – half-baked.)

No matter which way, we can look at the results.

The Cubs won because…

First and foremost, the starting pitching was deeper than the Cleveland hurlers. The quadrille of Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, and Lackey was – man for man – capable of delivering the goods in a better fashion than Kluber, Bauer, Tomlin, and…and…hmmm. No fourth starter? So, manager Terry Francona harkened back to the days of Gibson and Koufax to have his horse, Corey Kluber, start on three days’ rest (to the pleasure of some future orthopedic surgeon, no doubt.)

Down three games to one, the Cubs did what they did most of the season: Buckled down and snatched victory from the jaws of their feet (or, whatever) in Game 5. Across much of the postseason, the Cubs offense was hit or miss (literally,) with MVPers Rizzo and Bryant alternating hot and cold. The same can be said for Baez, Zobrist, Fowler, and Russell. In fact, Russell, Soler, and Heyward hit under .200 for the entire postseason.

Essentially, the Jekyll/Hyde offense turned toward the light when it was needed. And, the Cinderella story of Kyle Schwarber making a miraculous return only six months after sustaining a major knee injury only three games into the season. Restricted to DHing in Cleveland and pinch-hitting in Chicago, the kid brought much more than a Louisville Slugger to the Cubs bench. By and large, the offense was – as is necessary – a team effort.

Or, if you believe such things, this team was destined to win it all in 2016 (insert razz-berry sound here.)

The Indians won because…

First and foremost, the Tribe’s bullpen was more capable than the Cubs. In a large part, that bullpen is spelled M-I-L-L-E-R. In the first five games, he made three appearances, with 8 Ks in 5.1 innings and a WHIP of .93.

At the end of July, Cubs President Theo Epstein made a deal with the Yankees. He wanted all the candy in the store, seeking both Miller and champion cheval, Aroldis Chapman. When NY asked for what they would eventually accept – AND Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber – Epstein refused and flipped a coin.

By no means was receiving Chapman a mere consolation prize, as he delivered what the Cubs needed: a lockdown 9th inning closer. But, a few days later, Cleveland acquired Miller and the rest is hiss-tor-ree.

A dominant Cleveland bullpen denied the Cubs one of their keys to 2016 success: late-inning scoring. When the team found themselves unable to solve a starter, they often held out to lock-pick a team’s bullpen and gain a win in the 7th, 8th, or 9th (sometimes, 10th, 11th, 12th, etc.)

Another factor seemed to be a loose Cleveland dugout (despite the millions in upgrades for Wrigley and Progressive fields.) No, I’m referring to the atmosphere and attitude the Indian players appeared to have, no matter what the score. Veterans like Coco Crisp (still one helluva name for a breakfast cereal) and Mike Napoli set the tone for younger players like Francisco Lindor.

Head to head, through five games: The Indians had a 1.84 ERA to the Cubs’ 3.27; they had a 1.14 to 1.20 WHIP, they hit .236 to .210; they hit five homers to two. Quite simply, the numbers tell the story.

Overall, the Indians pitchers had the Cubs expanding their strike zone and swinging at balls that weren’t strikes. Years ago, Yankees and Mets manager Casey Stengel – the “Ol’ Perfessor” – sagely said that most baseball games weren’t won, they were lost. Between poor pitch selection at the plate, uneven pitching, and untimely errors, the Cubs lost the 2016 Series.

Any which way, the sun comes up every morning and – win or lose – Chicago baseball fans on both sides of Madison Avenue can look forward to next year.

And – if the Series is still going on past my deadline – stay tuned for more!