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An intriguing World Series: Underrated Indians challenge skilled Cubs

An intriguing World Series: Underrated Indians challenge skilled Cubs

The Chicago Cubs won 103 games in the regular season, scoring a tick under five runs per game and allowing 3.4. 

Their fifth best pitcher, Jason Hammel, won 15 games, and hasn’t been on the postseason roster, and they missed an exciting young power hitter, Kyle Schwarber, who played just two games before suffering what was thought to be a season-ending knee injury. 

After two games in the Arizona Fall League, Schwarber is back for the World Series joining a group of exciting young players: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. 

Besides these excellent position players, the Cubs have accomplished veteran pitchers. They start with Jon Lester, who’ll be pitching in his 20th postseason game tonight. He has a 2.50 ERA in postseason play. 

Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey follow. Lackey has pitched in even more postseason games than Lester, 25, and his ERA is 3.26. 

Their closer is the ferocious Aroldis Chapman, who in one of his final games with the Yankees before he was traded to the Cubs in late July, threw a 105 mph pitch against the Orioles. 

Do the Cubs have any weaknesses? Yes, they were just 22-23 in one-run games. They fell into a horrible slump when they were shut out in the second and third games of the NLCS, but when they were challenged, they rose up. 

It was only a week ago when after the Dodgers shut them out and they fell behind 2-1 in the NLCS that many worried. Quickly, they recovered and polished off Los Angeles by a combined score of 23-6 in the final three games. 

After they took a 2-0 lead in the Division Series against the Giants, they lost a 13-inning struggle, worrying their fans. When they trailed by three runs heading into the ninth in the fourth game, there was panic—by not by the Cubs. 

A four-run rally won them the game and the Division. 

In a poll of ESPN baseball writers and broadcasters, 26 of 32 picked the Cubs. 

Before I add my endorsement, some words about Chicago’s worthy challenger. 

A World Series matchup is always intriguing, but because of the long arid period for each franchise, it’s even more so. 

Making the World Series for the first time in 71 years won’t be good enough for the Cubs, but it’s interesting that despite all the talk about how hungry their city is for a winner, the White Sox 2005 title is forgotten. 

Of course, the White Sox are hardly as popular as the Cubs, and they haven’t been the postseason since 2008.

US Cellular Field is no Wrigley Field, but neither is Cleveland’s Progressive Field. 

Cleveland’s postseason angst was relieved by LeBron James in June when the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors, and while they haven’t won a World Series since 1948, they did get there in 1995 and 1997. 

The Indians have had a marvelous postseason, beating the Red Sox in three games in the Division Series and overcoming Toronto in five games in the ALCS.

Opposing Lester tonight is one of baseball’s most underappreciated pitchers, Cory Kluber, who won the Cy Young Award in 2014 and will get some votes for it this year. 

The Indians have a terrific young shortstop, Francisco Lindor, and a third baseman, Jose Ramirez, who no one knows, but should. 

In Mike Napoli, Cleveland has one of the most durable and least recognized postseason players of our time. Napoli, who will be 35 on Halloween, set career highs in home runs (34) and RBIs (101).

Did you know Napoli is playing for his eighth postseason team in 11 seasons? 

In 2011, Napoli drove in 10 runs and batted .350 in Texas’ seven-game loss to St. Louis. 

The Indians’ starters were excellent during the regular season, but one of them, Carlos Carrasco is missing this postseason, and another, Danny Salazar may only be available on a restricted basis. 

Somehow, Cleveland got through the Trevor Bauer drone incident without incident, and got to the World Series.

It was Terry Francona’s inventive use of the bullpen, starring three relievers with WHIPs of 1 or below: Cody Allen (1.000), Dan Otero (.0906), and of course, Andrew Miller (.0552).

In 20 postseason innings, Miller has not allowed a run and just six hits. He’s walked three and struck out 31. His postseason WHIP is .0450. 

Miller will be used early and often by Francona, who swept two World Series with Boston in 2004 and 2007. 

The Indians will give the Cubs a challenge, but again Chicago will prevail. They’re just too deep and too skilled for an underrated Indians team. 

Cubs in six. 

MORE MLB: Camden Yards still considered the best

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Wade Miley roughed up again, Orioles shut out in St. Pete

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USA Today Sports

Wade Miley roughed up again, Orioles shut out in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison homered Friday night and the Tampa Bay Rays clinched third place in the AL East with a 7-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Longoria led off the fifth with his 20th homer off Baltimore starter Wade Miley, marking Longoria's fifth straight 20-homer season and the ninth of his 10-year career.

RELATED: WILD CARD RACES WITH THREE DAYS REMAINING

Morrison hit his 38th homer off reliever Chris Tillman in the seventh.

Rays starter Jake Odorizzi left his final start of the season after four innings with a sore right knee.

Brad Boxberger (4-4) got the win as the first of four Tampa Bay relievers.

Miley (8-15) lost his fifth straight start, giving up four runs and five hits in four innings. He walked five, raising his major league-leading total to 93. The Baltimore bullpen gave up five more walks.

Trey Mancini had one of Baltimore's four hits. It was Mancini's 158th hit, tying Cal Ripken (1982) for second-place all-time among Oriole rookies.

The Orioles, shut out for the 11th time, lost for the 17th time in 21 games and dropped three games behind Tampa Bay with two games left in the season.

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MLB Wild Card Standings: Projecting the standings with three days left

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USA TODAY Sports

MLB Wild Card Standings: Projecting the standings with three days left

With the MLB postseason only five days away and three more days in the regular season the playoff field is almost set.

After Thursday night’s action, the St. Louis Cardinals were eliminated from the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Their 2-1 loss to the Cubs put them too far out of reach of the Rockies.

In the American League the AL East race is all but done after the Yankees lost on Thursday.

RELATED: NEW MLB BRACKET PROJECTION WITH ONE WEEK TO GO

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Not too many changes in the American League race after yesterday.

The New York Yankees (89-70) lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 at home after entering the day only three games back in the division. While the Boston Red Sox (92-67) lost too, three games to surpass is too much for even the Bronx Bombers to overcome.

It will be interesting though to watch both teams sweat. Boston hosts the Houston Astros who are trying to overtake the Indians for the top seed in the AL. New York hosts division rivals Toronto.

The Minnesota Twins (83-76) lost to the Indians after allowing 10 hits in the contest. Win or lose it does not matter how they end the season because they will be the No. 5 seed and the visitors in the American League Wild Card Game. Presumably it will be against the Yankees.

AL WILD CARD RACE (AS OF SEPT 29):

New York Yankees:     +6.0 
Minnesota Twins:           ---
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Colorado was off on Thursday night in preparation for their final series of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Milwaukee Brewers (84-75) did manage to gain a half game with their nail biting 4-3 win over the Reds. Brett Phillips hit a go-ahead double in the sixth inning and the final three frames remained scoreless for both squads.

They now move to two games back of the Colorado Rockies (86-73) with three games to go.

Colorado will host their final series against the Dodgers. Milwaukee is traveling to the St. Louis Cardinals (82-77) for their final three games. St. Louis is now out of contention, four games out of the final Wild Card spot.

FanGraphs.com now has Colorado at a 93.3 percent chance of taking the final postseason spot.  Milwaukee moved up slightly to 6.7 percent.

MORE NATS: WALK-OFF FOR THE NATS, COURTESY OF DE AZA

NL WILD CARD RACE (AS OF SEPT 29):

#4 Arizona Diamondbacks:  +6.0
Colorado Rockies:                   ---
Milwaukee Brewers:              -2.0