MLB Playoffs: What Did We Learn From the World Series?
Now that the World Series is in the books, and the Cubs have broken the longest drought in sports, we can now start to digest what we’ve learned over these past seven games.
It happened! For the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs are the champions of baseball. In what was perhaps one of the most anticipated baseball games of all time, everything came together much of the way that baseball fans wanted. Terry Francona and Joe Maddon were forced to make tough choices, star players produced when it mattered, the curse seemingly came back after Rajai Davis went yard and we got extra innings to make Cubs fans unable to sit still when watching the game. The only thing that stunted the excitement was a short rain delay late in the night.
Looking back at the World Series, there were aspects that played out the way many thought, but there were also the usual surprises that happen in a seven game series. After the Cubs were heavily favored to win the World Series up through the MLB Playoffs, Cleveland shook up the Chicago faithful when they jumped out to a commanding 3-1 lead after four games, with their two most recent victories coming at Wrigley Field.
However, the World Series changed quickly after a couple of solid performances in games five and six. The Cubs used solid starts from Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta to stabilize their World Series hopes, which led to Kyle Hendricks surprisingly out-dueling a former Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber, who had stunted a talented Cubs offense twice before in the series.
So what did these seven games tell us about both the Cubs and the Indians? Well a lot. So let’s dive into some of the biggest lessons we learned from watching the Fall Classic.
The Cubs Are Going to be Good for Awhile
When looking at this Cubs roster, it’s clear that Chicago Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein placed an emphasis on having veterans on the roster. The team signed a 35 year-old in Ben Zobrist to big money this past offseason. Epstein signed former Boston ace Jon Lester to a long-term deal before the 2015 season. Other veterans like David Ross, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and even Miguel Montero at times contributed to the club’s historic 2016 season. But make no mistake, Chicago is led by their young talent.
Outside of Zobrist and Dexter Fowler, no batter in game seven’s starting lineup was over the age of 27. Kris Bryant, the frontrunner of the National League Most Valuable Player, is just 24 years old. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is 27. Promising infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez are 22 and 23 years old, respectively. Kyle Schwarber, who made an amazing return from injury in the World Series is also just 23 years of age. The list of young, talented position players really goes on and on. The starting rotation skews a little older, even though Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta are still currently in their primes. It also doesn’t look like Jon Lester will be slowing down anytime soon. There are also some promising young arms in the bullpen like Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Mike Montgomery. The team also still has one of the best farm systems in the entire league even after trading away a ton of talent for Aroldis Chapman.
What all of this youth means is that the Cubs have these talented players under team control for many seasons to come. The front office also has a willingness to take on big contracts so it seems realistic that Theo will lock up many of his best young players. He also has flexibility to trade some of his top minor leaguers to fill future holes in the starting rotation or bullpen because so many of his better younger position players are blocked for the near future.
All of this cheap talent and long-term flexibility will make it difficult to knock the Cubs off of the short list of the dominant franchises in MLB. This roster is built for the short and long-term, which will certainly give them multiple chances to hoist the World Series trophy again.
And So are the Indians
Don’t sleep on the Indians, though. While they may not have the young and dynamic roster that the Cubs do, Cleveland is still set up for sustained run of success. It was unfortunate that two of their top of the rotation starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out with injuries to end the season, but both should be back and ready to go for opening day next season. Their starting rotation is key if the team is going to have a chance to get back to the World Series.
Corey Kluber is under team control for the next five seasons. He turns 31 in April so he still should be very good throughout most of those years. Carrasco is also set to stay in Cleveland for the long-term as he is locked up for four more years. At 30 years old he should remain on top of his game during that span. Salazar is the youngster of this great trio as he will be just 27 years old for the entirety of the 2017 season. All three of these hurlers are legitimate Cy Young contenders in the American League and whenever you have three pitchers of their caliber leading your rotation that gives you a great chance of not only making the playoffs, but advancing deep into October. It also should be said that even though he had a rough postseason, Trevor Bauer had a productive 2016 season at just 25 years old.
This isn’t to take anything away from Francisco Lindor, who is possibly the best of an amazing group of young shortstops in the league. Talented outfielder Michael Brantley is under 30 and under team control for the next two seasons. Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez will be mainstays in the Indians batting order for the next five years or so. The heart of this team in Jason Kipnis also has a contract that will keep him in Cleveland for the next four years.
With an elite starting rotation that will remain intact for many years and a lineup that is set up to be not too shabby for the next few years too, Indians fans should expect continued success in the seasons to come.
Injuries Doomed Cleveland
While it’s easy to like how Cleveland handled their injury situation this season, you can’t help but think what might have been if their starting rotation remained what it was supposed to be through the postseason.
Kluber was spectacular in October and did a great job of masking the losses of Carrasco and Salazar, but ultimately he just couldn’t shoulder enough of the loss in game seven of the World Series. The 30 year-old right hander pitched on short rest a couple of times and looked to just run out of gas. There is no doubt that Terry Francona would have handled his rotation differently if he had both of his other top starters at full strength.
Going into the Fall Classic, the Cubs had a clear edge in the starting pitching department. Outside of Kluber, nobody could match what Chicago was throwing out there. I mean Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer going up against the likes of Arrieta, Hendricks and Lackey should not have given Indians fans a ton of confidence. In the end, the depth of the Cubs rotation led them to victory. After losing three of the first four games of the World Series, Lester and Arrieta completely outdueled Tomlin and Bauer to force a game seven. The Indians were then forced to send out Kluber on short rest against a possible Cy Young winner in Kyle Hendricks on full rest, which is not a winning formula.
Cleveland played neck and neck with the Cubs all series and it’s a shame that they were hindered by Carrasco being on the bench and Salazar being forced to the bullpen. Their addition to the starting rotation would have fundamentally changed the series, but unfortunately for Cleveland that’s not how things played out.
Chicago’s Lineup Was Too Deep to Not Break Out
With all of the pitching injuries being said, there was no way that the Indians were keeping an extremely deep and talented Cubs lineup off the board. After only scoring seven runs in their first four World Series contests, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and company flipped a switch in the remainder of the series. A big fourth inning in game five set the stage and the Cubbies never looked back.
Addison Russell drove in six runs in the the World Series with Kris Bryant adding a home run in games five and six. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist did their part as well, consistently getting big hits throughout the remainder of the Fall Classic.
When looking at the Cubs lineup, it’s tough to see how they don’t score at least five runs a game because of how there is really no clear hole in the batting order. This was greatly magnified with the addition of Kyle Schwarber from injury. Heck even the anemic Jason Heyward had some good at bats in the chances that he got later in the series.
Joe Maddon made a great move to place Schwarber in the number two hole because it allowed the likes of Bryant, Rizzo and Zobrist to be protected by a power hitter that was swinging the bat much better than anybody could have expected after not playing for six months. This combined with the lack of quality starting pitching allowed the Cubs offense to assert their will late in the series. Talent always finds a way to rise up when things are going bad, so it’s no surprise that the Indians pitching could not hold down a team that was third in runs scored in MLB during the regular season.
Theo Epstein is the Best General Manager in Baseball
There are so many great decision makers in Major League Baseball. Brian Sabean has created a dynasty in San Francisco. Jon Daniels has consistently made great moves for the Texas Rangers. Neal Huntington and Dan Duquette brought the Pirates and the Orioles back from the abyss and into postseason discussion for the past few years. Andrew Friedman was spectacular with the Tampa Bay Rays and has now brought his success to Hollywood. Even though Billy Beane has had some tough seasons in recent years, he’s done a lot with very little resources throughout his career.
However, if we’ve learned anything in the Cubs run to end the curse, it’s that Theo Epstein has been nearly perfect during his tenure in Chicago. When he was hired prior to the 2012 season, he preached patience and that he wanted to rebuild the entire foundation of the storied franchise.
“We’re going to build the best baseball operation we can. We’re going to change the culture. Our players are going to change the culture along with us in the major league clubhouse. We’re going to make building a foundation for sustained success a priority. That will lead to playing October baseball more often than not. Once you get in in October there’s a legitimate chance to win the World Series.”
(Quote from ESPN)
Well that foundation has been built and he’s done it in a multitude of ways. During his time, Epstein has drafted Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora in the first round. He’s traded for all-stars Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell and Aroldis Chapman. He’s made great use of the international market by signing Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Jorge Soler. The 42 year-old has also recently spent a lot of money on quality free agent signings by adding Jon Lester in 2014 and Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler as well as John Lackey this past winter.
While the Jason Heyward signing isn’t looking like the best after the rough season that he had in 2016, that seems more now like a blip on what is a pretty spotless track record in the five years that he has been working in Chicago.
It’s not only that Epstein has brought more talent into the organization, but he’s formed a roster that is going to be good for many years to come. He’s found a tremendous balance for relying on his young superstars while supplementing his teams with veteran leaders. He’s also had restraint to make moves at the right time. This can no more be seen in his wise trade for the electric Aroldis Chapman.
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Knowing that his squad had outstanding opportunity to break the curse, he went all in to addressing the biggest hole on the team’s roster. The reason he was able to make this deal is because of the tremendous farm system he’s built while at the helm.
Epstein has now broken the two biggest curses in all of professional sports. I just can’t wait to see him switch over to football to end the Arizona Cardinals’ 69 year Super Bowl drought (only kidding). Still in his early forties, Epstein has a chance to keep collecting the hardware because of the work that he’s done in bringing the Cubs back from what was a very dark time when he came into the organization. He had a vision for the Cubs and it finally came to fruition this past Thursday.
What did you takeaway from this year’s historic World Series? Share your thoughts in the comments below.