Believe it, Cubs fans. Next year finally is here. After their Game 6 win over the Dodgers on Saturday, the Cubs are headed to the first World Series since 1945. Awaiting them are the Indians, whose 68-year title drought pales in comparison to the Cubs’ 108-year wait. And although Cleveland is on quite an impressive roll of its own, Chicago simply will not be denied.
Five reasons why the Cubs have the edge and will finally shed the “lovable losers” moniker:
They just clobbered Clayton Kershaw
Even after winning Game 5 to take a 3-2 NLCS lead, the Cubs knew Kershaw was lurking in Game 6. And given the way the three-time Cy Young Award winner dominated in the Dodgers’ Game 2 win at Wrigley Field, the specter of a Game 7 loomed large.
But that no longer is a source for ulcers after Saturday night’s win, which included two homers and two doubles in five innings against Kershaw.
And remember, this victory came one round after the Cubs knocked out Giants ace Madison Bumgarner -- another pretty decent lefty -- after only five innings in the NLDS.
They have the rotation advantage
Jon Lester is the best big-game pitcher in the majors, and Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey round out a superior starting group. Arrieta and Lackey haven’t been at their best, but they at least have proven track records.
Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin have been outstanding for the Indians, but Trevor Bauer remains a question mark and lightning might not strike twice for Ryan Merritt. And even if Danny Salazar (forearm) is able to return for the Indians, he’ll have to shake off a ton of rust after not pitching since Sept. 9.
They're deeper and more versatile
During their two-game offensive drought, the Cubs had the luxury of rotating Jorge Soler into the lineup for the flailing Jason Heyward. Although Joe Maddon resisted, he also could have moved Javier Baez from second base to shortstop in place of Addison Russell.
Chicago has three catchers (Willson Contreras, David Ross, Miguel Montero) on the playoff roster, two other players (Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist) who can play in the infield or outfield, a pinch hitter (Albert Almora) who can stay in the game on a double-switch and might have the unexpected luxury of Kyle Schwarber a DH.
Maddon has seemingly limitless options at his disposal.
They also can prevent runs
After an uncharacteristically sloppy NLDS, Chicago made two errors in Game 4 against Los Angeles. One was a catcher interference call, and the other belonged to Javier Baez, who also made an error in Game 6. However, for every miscue, there were two or three outstanding defensive plays, often courtesy of Baez.
Chicago, which was at or near the top of the majors in just about every key defensive metric during the regular season, isn’t going to give away runs to Cleveland, which will need any help it can get after hitting just .168/.215/.329 and scoring only 12 runs in the five-game ALCS.
Their mojo is back
Anthony Rizzo caught fire with Matt Szczur’s bat, Addison Russell again began to bash like one of the game’s premier young stars, Jon Lester lit a fire under his team by glaring into the Dodgers’ dugout and the overall mood eased considerably since the fourth inning of Game 4.
Faced with adversity for the first time all season, the Cubs stared it in the face and throat-punched it. And through it all, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez never stopped hitting. Another offensive collapse is unlikely since the Indians’ only left-handed starter is rookie Ryan Merritt, and shutdown reliever Andrew Miller can pitch only so much.
The breaks –- flyballs are popping out of opposing outfielders' gloves, controversial replay reviews are benefitting them -- finally are going the Cubs’ way.
The Indians’ only clear advantage is the bullpen, and the Cubs can negate that with bounce-back efforts from Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop.