Let there be no doubt, Chicago Cubs fans have it bad.
For 108 seasons, the World Series trophy has evaded the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. However, arguably the best baseball team the Chicago Cubs have ever fielded will exceed 100 wins this season for the first time in 82 years, and will enter the playoffs as the clear favorite to bring it home. For many Cubs fans, this is a team of destiny.
Coincidentally, on the same night the Cubs passed the century mark in wins, the team with the second-longest World Series drought punched its ticket to the playoffs.
The Cleveland Indians won their first American League Central Division since 2007, and also have their eyes set on ending a 67 season long World Series drought. While 67 seasons may seem meager compared to the Cubs drought, what the drought lacks in length it more than makes up for in pain. In a dominant 7 year span from 1995 to 2001, the Indians won 6 Central Division championships. In 1995, they advanced to the World Series only to lose 4-2 to a very established Atlanta Braves club. In 1997, they lost a heartbreaking game 7 to the Florida Marlins on a blown save. In 2007, they blew a 3-1 series lead in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champs in the Boston Red Sox.
However, earlier this summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the improbable comeback from 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Championship. This championship marked the city of Cleveland’s first major sports title since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964.
The Cavaliers’ magic seemed to rub off on the Indians, as the club went on to win a club record-tying 14 games in a row, and claimed sole possession of the Central Division lead. They haven’t looked back.
Like any good playoff team, the Indians have gotten it done on both defense and offense this season. They rank second in the American League in runs scored, and first in the league in earned run average. They’ve dominated against the rest of the division, going 46-25 in such games, including an 11-5 record against the defending champion World Series champion Kansas City Royals, and a 13-2 record against the second-place Detroit Tigers.
It’s hard to pick one standout player for the tribe this season. Corey Kluber is heading the starting rotation with a Cy Young caliber season, sporting an 18-9 record, and 3.14 earned run average, while striking out 211 batters and counting. Francisco Lindor continues to dazzle with his flashy glove at shortstop and consistent hitting, leading the team in wins above replacement in his sophomore season. Carlos Santana is having a career year and is tied for the team lead with 34 home runs. Jose Ramirez, who played his way into a starting role at third base this season, leads the team in batting average, and has been clutch as can be batting a whopping .360 with runners in scoring position.
One player who has made a huge impact this season is offseason signee Mike Napoli. The playoff veteran has had huge impact on the field and in the clubhouse this season stepping into the everyday cleanup role, and leading the team with 101 RBIs, and 34 home runs. Napoli has also become a fan favorite, as the battle cry, “Party at Napoli’s” can be heard from fans throughout the stadium every time he steps up to the plate. Upon winning the World Series with the Red Sox in 2013, Mike Napoli was sighted shirtless around downtown Boston, playing the celebrity bartender role and indulging in a few drinks himself. Napoli has taken the fan enthusiasm, and sold t-shirts with the slogan brandished on the chest, donating 120K of proceeds to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
Also contributing to the team’s continued success this year are the unexpected big contributions of the rest of the lineup. Offseason pick-up Rajai Davis leads the American League with 42 stolen bases this season, a stat in which the Indians as a team also lead the American League. Tyler Naquin has had a sensational first year in the majors, batting .294 with 14 homers in a short season, and remains in the thick of a competitive Rookie of the Year race.
Naquin hits an inside-the-park walk-off homerun to lift the Indians over the BlueJays at home
The Indians have maintained this success all season despite some unlucky injuries. Outfielder Michael Brantley, the team’s offensive centerpiece, battled a nagging shoulder injury for most of the season, and eventually called it quits and received surgery in August. He played 11 games this season. Catcher Yan Gomes was rehabbing a separated shoulder for a large chunk of the season, and while making his last rehab start in AA Akron, an inside pitch broke his wrist subsequently ending his season.
The hype behind the Indians for most of the season was their dominant starting pitching. However, third starter Danny Salazar experienced a forearm strain in mid-August that has ruled him questionable to return even out of the bullpen for the tribe in the playoffs. second starter Carlos Carrasco took a line drive to his hand, in which he suffered a fracture ending his season. Now the Indians must rely on ace Corey Kluber, up-and-down starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and rookie Mike Clevinger as playoff starters.
The recent decimation of the rotation has cast a lot of doubts on the Indians’ playoff chances going forward. However, the Indians quietly sport the best bullpen ERA, headed by Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and big time trade deadline pickup Andrew Miller. They will carry a heavy workload this October, and we have seen many times in how a bullpen can make or break a team’s success in the playoffs.
The rest of the league may think the Indians are down, but the Cavaliers became the first team ever to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. There might be just enough magic left in the Cleveland air to carry this team all the way. If it does, Mike Napoli, and the rest of Cleveland know where the party is.