Major League Baseball’s “final four” has been determined and we’re guaranteed a champion who hasn’t won the World Series in over 23 years. The Toronto Blue Jays’ 1993 pennant is the most recent of the four remaining clubs, the second of their back to back titles. For the Chicago Cubs they could end 108 years of misery while the Indians would snap a tumultuous 68 year drought. Lastly the Dodgers could earn their first World Series since 1988 when they defeated the Oakland A’s in the infamous Kirk Gibson/Dennis Eckersley series. If you’re an Indians fan here’s a stat that will make you smile: every team that has knocked the Blue Jays out of the playoffs has gone on to win the World Series: 1985 Royals, 1989 A’s, 1991 Twins and 2015 Royals.
Imagine an Indians vs. Cubs World Series. It would be epic but also so cruel. One set of fan bases would have a lifetime of disappointment extinguished while another would continue the long journey for the ultimate celebration. I’m rooting for the Cubs because 108 years is 108 years. That’s just plain sad. Cleveland finally got a championship, hell it was only five months ago, when LeBron James brought the NBA Championship to the Cavaliers for the first time. Nothing against the Indians and their 68 years but when you’ve reached triple digits then you can talk.
Clutch Hitting: Indians – Without looking at the stats and based on what I saw in the ALDS, there’s something about the Indians bats I trust. Whether it’s Lindor, Kipnis or Napoli I feel like they embody the “clutch gene”. Maybe they’re inherited it from Terry Francona via his Red Sox days. In the regular season Cleveland’s team average was .262 sixth best in the majors, they hit .260 with RISP which is ten points higher than the Blue Jays.
Power Hitting: Blue Jays – When the heart of your order goes Donaldson (37), Bautista (22), Encarnacion (42), Tulowitzki (24) there aren’t many better power combinations than that. The Blue Jays hit 221 home runs on the season which is good for 4th best in the bigs. Cleveland only hit 185 which was 21st in the league.
Starting Pitching: Push – I don’t see a major distinction in either team’s starting rotation. The Indians have former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14) and the Blue Jays have one of the most successful pitcher’s all season long in Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00). The supplementary starters (Tomlin, Estrada, Stroman, Bauer) are all well above average and effective. The Indians swept the Red Sox and the Blue Jays swept the Rangers so both rotations are more than capable.
Bullpen: Indians – Andrew Miller. Andrew Miller. Andrew Miller. What else is there to say? He’s the best reliever on either team and he’s been dominant all season. Against the Red Sox he threw four innings, allowing zero runs, striking out seven while surrendering just two hits. Cody Allen the team’s closer struggled a bit in the division series (3 IP, 2 H, 2 BB) despite recording two saves without allowing a run.
Defense: Push – During the season the Blue Jays ranked 8th in the league in fielding percentage with the Indians just trailing at 12th overall. In terms of errors committed the teams were within one error of each other with 88 and 89 respectively. From Lindor and Kipnis to Donaldson and Tulowitzki there is no wrong answer here. Once again there is no discernible advantage on either side so I’m calling it a draw.
Prediction: Indians over Blue Jays in 6
Clutch Hitting: Cubs – It’s hard not to pick the team who finished 3rd in the majors in runs with 808, 2nd in OBP and had the best record in baseball with 103 wins. The numbers support it. The Cubs hit better as a team (.256 vs. .249) and while that doesn’t seem like a lot it yielded 83 more runs over the course of a season which is relevant. The Cubs have a more powerful lineup (more to come on that) but even with that additional pop the teams struck out roughly at the same rate (8.3/game vs. 8.2/game).
Power Hitting: Cubs – The gap between the Cubs power and the Dodgers power isn’t as great as you’d think, they were only separated by 10 home runs during the regular season. Chicago has the two most prolific power bats in either lineup with Anthony Rizzo (32) and Kris Bryant (39) then followed by a load of depth with Addison Russell hitting 21 long balls and six others who hit 10+. The Dodgers have a more balanced attack with Corey Seager (26), Justin Turner (27), Joc Pederson (25) and Yasmani Grandal (27) all hovering in the same area. I’ll give the advantage to the Cubs with that much depth and quality.
Starting Pitching: Cubs – You could make the argument that Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher remaining in the playoffs. I said you could make that argument not that I was going to. But what you can’t argue is the Los Angeles having a better rotation than the Cubs. After Kershaw it drops off to Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48) and Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12). The Cubs essentially have three aces in Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10), Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44) and Kyle Kendricks (16-8, 2.13).
Bullpen: Cubs – In terms of closers you can’t go wrong picking either side. Kenley Jansen (47 SV, 1.83 ERA) or Aroldis Chapman (36 SV, 1.55 ERA) are equally great. Jansen is a horse out of the pen with a cutter that’s absolutely filthy. Chapman is a radar gun breaking power pitcher who can also make you look like a clown with his off speed pitch. While innings 8/9 are always super critical many playoff games are won in the middle innings 5/6/7 and the team with the deepest bullpen usually prevails. Go ask the Kansas City Royals or New York Mets about that. So it comes down to Hector Rondon (former closer), Mike Montgomery (lefty specialist) and Travis Wood (1+ inning guy) versus Pedro Baez (Erratic Hard Thrower), Joe Blanton (Dumpster Fire) and Grant Dayton (shelled in the NLDS).
Defense: Dodgers – My gut feeling was the Cubs would’ve been the better defensive team but numbers don’t lie. The Dodgers were 7th in baseball in fewest errors committed while the Cubs were 22nd. They have similar rankings in regards to fielding percentage as well. The Cubs have the flash and pizzazz to make the spectacular web gem plays but they miss a lot as well apparently. Going around the horn: Adrian Gonzalez has the #1 fielding % among all MLB 1st basemen, Chase Utley was 5th at second base, Justin Turner was 10th at 3rd and Joc Pederson was 4th in center. The Cubs players of equal position were much further down the list. Their only advantages were in right with Jason Heyward being 4th and Addison Russell was 15th among shortstops while Corey Seager was 21st. When it comes to defense give me slow and steady wins the race ten times out of ten.