Thursday, November 3, 2016

What a Series

Holy Cow.
I've seen a lot of baseball games. The best ones don't always come in the biggest moments. But this season's World Series is certainly going to be hard to top.

Cleveland's run through the post-season has been all about great pitching. The games they won in this series followed that script. A total of two runs given up across all three. You expect better-than-average pitching from a team that makes it to the post-season and through multiple playoff rounds, but even by that standard the Indians pitching was spectacular. But in a long seven-game series, good hitters have a chance to adjust as they see the same pitching repeatedly. The Cubs' bats came alive as the series went on, particularly in the last two games.

The Chicago pitching was plenty good during the post-season, too. I was particularly impressed with Kyle Hendricks, and not just because of his performance in game 7. This is a guy who came into the season as the 5th starter on the Cubs staff, and all he did was lead the National League in ERA and win 16 games over 190 innings. By the time the post-season rolled around, Hendricks was third in the rotation and manager Joe Maddon felt comfortable lining up his starters to put him in game 7. And he did the job, giving up only 1 earned run over 4.2 innings.

When Jon Lester took over on the mound in the fifth, that also brought David Ross into the lineup. And 39-year-old "Grandpa Ross" (as his younger teammates call him) promptly hit a home run, making him the oldest player ever to go deep in a World Series game 7. This whole year has been full of great moments for Ross, who had announced that he'd retire after this season. Can't finish off a career much better!

Aroldis Chapman has been great closing games since he came to Chicago, but in game 7 he couldn't get the job done. Maybe that's because of all the work he's been doing recently, including pitching in game 6 even though the Cubs were up by 5. I can't say I agree with Maddon's pitching change decisions through this series, but getting the win in the end is what counts, even if that happened more due to the bats than the pitching in the final game. It's fitting that Mike Montgomery ended up with the game 7 save, considering all the good pitching he's done in the post-season out of the bullpen.

For Cleveland fans, I'm sure it's tempting to write off a season as a failure when your team loses. You can't get much closer than being down to a single game for the championship, though. Especially in baseball, where a single game is such a toss-up, and particularly when it goes to extra innings! Even great teams tend to lose around a third of the time. There's disappointment in losing the seventh game of a World Series, but no shame.

For Major League Baseball overall, I'm not sure this year's World Series could have gone much better. Usually, the conventional wisdom says that you want two teams from big markets to draw in the most viewers. Chicago is big enough, but usually you want to see at least one coastal team. This year, though, the fact that neither team had won the championship in so long made it compelling viewing for sports fans from all over. Also, it's always best for the popularity of the sport when the drama is high, and this series didn't disappoint. From a tense 1-0 Indians win in game 3, to two Cubs wins in elimination games 5 and 6, to the winner-take-all game 7 that goes into extra innings - hard to draw it up any better to keep maximum interest from the fan base.

I always miss baseball over the winter, but this will be a much happier off-season than usual. It may take me until spring to get used to hearing "World Champion Chicago Cubs!"

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