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Thoughts On The Eve of A Dream Cubs-Indians World Series

There was no drama this past Saturday night in the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. Kyle Hendricks, who has emerged as the number two starter on the 103-game-winning Cubs, shut down the Dodgers on two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, from the very first inning Chicago bats pecked away at LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He yielded five runs in five innings as the Cubs rolled to a convincing 5-0 victory that propelled the Windy City Nationals into their first World Series since 1945.

For Dartmouth alums who had to be forlorn when my alma mater Columbia earlier in the day beat the Big Green, 9-7 - for its first Homecoming football win since 2000 - Hendricks’ performance provided a great consolation. The onetime Texas Rangers farmhand became a Cub a few years ago in a trade for the now-retired right-hander Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks has been a revelation in 2016, moving into the second spot in the rotation behind southpaw ace Jon Lester and ahead of last year’s Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. With the experienced John Lackey in the fourth slot, you can see why the Cubs ran away with the NL Central this year. The trade deadline addition of Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman has also shored up the back end of the Chicago bullpen.

I haven’t even mentioned the Cubs’ versatile offense that was occasionally shut down by both the Giants and the Dodgers in the playoffs but not for very long. Second baseman Javier Baez is emerging as a star - he was co-MVP with Lester in the NLCS. He can play anywhere on the field, a trait that manager Joe Maddon finds especially useful.

Baez is too much of a hot dog for many people including me but if he delivers he will play and get plenty of airtime. But let’s not just yet crown the Cubs as World Series champions for the first time since 1908.

Cleveland has endured a drought almost as long as the Cubs’. They haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They came very close in the 1990s losing two close Series in that decade - to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997.

They have looked very sharp in the post-season, sweeping the favored Red Sox in three games and beating the Blue Jays in six in a very close and gripping ALCS. They have the American League reigning Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber looking very much like an ace. He attended Stetson University in Deland, Florida, as did Jacob DeGrom, the Mets star pitcher who appeared in last year’s World Series.

A major story in the Indians’ rise centers on the left arm of Andrew Miller, a tireless reliever who has appeared this post-season as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth in a save situation. I cannot recall a pitcher of this magnitude who has been traded so often.

A top draft pick of the Tigers about 10 years ago, Miller didn’t develop as a starter fast enough to suit Detroit. He was traded to the Marlins, then to the Red Sox where Bobby Valentine in 2013 during his one stormy year as Boston skipper converted him to a reliever.

He was traded to the Orioles at the 2014 deadline and helped my Birds to reach the ALCS where they swept away by the Royals. Miller then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that obviously did not have a no-trade clause.

So late this July he wound up in Cleveland for four prospects, two of whom are considered future stars - outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield. It is a deal that the Indians are very happy with.

There are many likable players on both teams. Smiling Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor is a delight to watch on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season in response to the controversy surrounding Cleveland's longtime Chief Wahoo logo, he said, "I don't know much about it but he is smiling and I like to smile."

When asked after the Cubs' clinching 5-0 victory on Saturday what he planned to do with the double play ball that ended the game, first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled it out of his pocket and said, "I'm gonna sleep with it."

It will be cold in Cleveland this week but not too wintry. I hope the elements remain playable when the Series shifts to Chicago for the weekend. Some fan base will be extremely happy come early November. Congrats to all of them in both cities and to the players and the management for getting this far.

I hope for a seven game series that Cleveland with the home field advantage just might win. But I don't know and neither do the know-it-all analytic people. That's why they play the games - to find out who is best.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Cleveland On Verge of World Series While Cubs-Dodgers Are All Even

Baseball never fails to deliver the unexpected. The National League had a ho-hum season in which only a few teams - the Cubs, the Nats, and the Dodgers won more than 90 games.

The American League had far more competition and until the last week of the regular season it was possible that four teams - the Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Tigers, and the Yankees - might battle into play-in games prior to the wild card game.

So what happens? The Indians with a starting pitching staff minus two regular members, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. After Monday night Oct 17’s 4-2 win at Toronto, the Indians are up 3-0 needing only one win to reach the World Series.

Manager Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series triumphs in 2004 and 2007, has used his bullpen masterfully and the offense has produced enough timely hitting to buttress his future Hall of Fame credentials.

Meanwhile it has been the NL that has provided the most consistent drama. The Dodgers, also suffering a shortage of starting pitchers, eliminated the Nats in a gripping five game NLDS.

Their great ace Clayton Kershaw, only recently back from months on the DL with serious back issues, came out of the bullpen to get the last two outs in a road win at Washington.
Closer Kenley Jansen entered the game in the 7th inning (just like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage used to do) beyond giving way to Kershaw for the save.

Kudos to Dodgers rookie manager Dave Roberts for making that bold decision. Roberts will now be known for more than being the pinch-runner who stole second against Mariano Rivera that fueled the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS
(American League Championship Series).

The Cubs, the only 100-plus winner in MLB this season, dispatched the Giants in four games in their NLDS but it wasn’t easy. In fact, they had to score four runs in the 9th inning to win at San Francisco. If they hadn’t rallied, they faced the challenge of beating Johnny Cueto in Chicago to move on in the playoffs.

The Cubs are young and loaded with talent at every position, and inventive manager Joe Maddon loves players who are versatile and can perform capably at many places on defense.

They rode a pinch-hit grand slam by Miguel Montero to win the first game against LA but that man Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the second game and veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s solo home run was the margin of victory in a 1-0 win to even their NL Championship Series at one game apiece.

The Cubs ran away with the NL East this year and have never looked up at any team all season. Which makes the three games in LA this Tuesday Oct 18 through Thursday Oct 20 fascinating to watch.

The Cubs remain clear favorites to win the NLCS and their first World Series since 1908.
But the Dodgers have Kershaw and closer and free agent-to-be Kenley Jansen to head their
tattered but still resourceful mound staff.

What makes this post-season so refreshing is that managers Francona and Maddon are throwing away the conventional wisdom on pitching roles. Maddon has twice asked his formidable closer Aroldis Chapman, another free agent-to-be, to give him a six-out save.

That it hasn’t worked out either time doesn’t mean Maddon was wrong. It just shows that he is willing to take chances based on his knowledge of matchups and an intuition that has been honed by his long experience in the game.

All of Francona’s moves have worked out. He has his ace in Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young-winner, who has been impeccable in the post-season. And he has used his brilliant southpaw reliever Andrew Miller as early as the fifth inning and in Monday night’s 4-2 victory, he brought him in for a four-out save.

The old time fan in me has wanted a Cleveland-Cubs World Series because their World Series droughts have been the longest. Cleveland hasn’t won since 1948 and only has one other world championship flag to raise for the 1920 team.

They represent one of the smallest cities in baseball with a declining population and accordingly a relatively small payroll. They have drafted wisely and now the fruits of that patience are paying off.

You always build championships up the middle and three emerging Cleveland stars are at key positions - shortstop Francisco Lindor, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and center fielder Tyler Naquin, a rookie of the year candidate.

If the Indians close the deal on Toronto, they will present formidable opposition to either the Cubs or the Dodgers. They also will have the home field advantage in the World Series because the AL won the All-Star Game.

The Indians will not take anything for granted in trying to close out Toronto. Francona knows all about teams losing 3-0 leads in the playoffs because he led Boston to such a victory over the Yankees in 2004. But you have to like the Tribe's chances.

It is not right that home field advantage in the World Series is the product of the All-Star exhibition game. That rule is preposterous but so is incessant replay. Yet nothing can kill baseball as long as the games are played without lockouts and strikes.

So let’s enjoy the action and the chills and thrills because November 2nd is coming too soon - the day when the seventh game of the World Series if necessary is scheduled. Afterwards we all must face winter, never an appetizing thought.

As always remember: Take It Easy but Take It!
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