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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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Kevin Gausman changes jersey number to honor Roy Halladay

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USA Today Sports

Kevin Gausman changes jersey number to honor Roy Halladay

BALTIMORE  -- Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman will wear No. 34 next season as a tribute to Roy Halladay, who was killed in a plane crash last month.

Gausman announced the switch Thursday on his Twitter account. The right-hander wore No. 39 last year.

Gausman and Halladay are both from Colorado, and the Orioles pitcher said he followed Halladay's career closely and idolized him.

In a post next a photo of his new jersey, Gausman wrote: "Roy gave me the inspiration that I could fulfill even my biggest of dreams -- being a pitcher just like him."

Gausman concluded: "The loss of Roy is tragic and saddening, but I feel honored to have watched everything he achieved."

Halladay died on Nov. 7 when his small plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He played 16 big league seasons, winning the Cy Young Award in each league and being named an All-Star eight times.

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Astros, Dodgers set Series HR record amid juiced ball buzz

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USA TODAY Sports

Astros, Dodgers set Series HR record amid juiced ball buzz

HOUSTON (AP) -- Home runs kept flying over the wall at Minute Maid Park, on line drives up toward the train tracks, on fly balls that just dropped over the fence.

Seven more were hit in Game 5, raising the total to a World Series record 22 -- with two possible more games to play. Twenty-five runs were scored in a game started by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Astros' Dallas Keuchel, Cy Young Award winners regarded as among baseball's best.

After a season when sluggers outpaced even their steroid-era predecessors for home runs, some are convinced that something is amiss with the baseballs.

"The main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason, and even from the postseason to the World Series balls," Justin Verlander said Sunday, two days before he takes the mound in Game 6 and tries to pitch the Astros to their first title. "They're a little slick. You just deal with it. But I don't think it's the case of one pitcher saying, `Hey, something is different here.' I think as a whole, everybody is saying, `Whoa, something is a little off here.'"

A record eight home runs were hit in Game 2, including five in extra innings, and Game 5's seven long balls would have tied the old mark. The 13-12, 10-inning Astros' win Sunday night was the second-highest scoring game in Series history.

Keuchel was quoted as saying after Game 2: "Obviously, the balls are juiced."

Not so obvious to everyone, even amid the power surge.

"I haven't personally noticed anything. I haven't tried to think about it either," Dodgers reliever Brandon Morrow said after giving up two homers in Game 5. "It's not something you want to put in your own head."

Same for Kershaw, even after giving up his record eighth homer of the postseason Sunday.

"I don't really pay attention to it," Kershaw said. "I just assume that both sides are dealing with it, so I'm not going to worry about it."

This year's long ball assault topped the 21 of the 2002 Series. Anaheim hit seven and Barry Bonds and his San Francisco Giants slugged 14 over seven games. That was the year before survey drug testing.

Speculation that something has changed includes a study claiming to have found differences in the size and seam height of balls since the 2015 All-Star break.

"I know there was talk about different sizes and some of the baseballs were slightly bigger and some were smaller. Some of the seams were higher, some of the seams were lower. But, no, it's been consistent," said Rich Hill, who will start Game 6 for the Dodgers. "I think that just has to do with conditions -- if it's colder it's going to be slicker. If it's a little bit warmer out or humid, I think you're going to find that you're going to have a little bit more of moisture to the baseballs."

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred insists nothing nefarious is going on.

"I'm absolutely confident that the balls that we're using are within our established specifications," he said Friday.

Verlander rejected that assertion.

"I know Mr. Manfred said the balls haven't changed, but I think there's enough information out there to say that's not true," he said.

Verlander also does not think it's an issue of how balls are rubbed up before games.

"I know baseball uses the same mud for every single ball for every single game that's played," he said. "I think there's a broader issue that we're all missing."

On the day he become commissioner in January 2015, Manfred said, "I'm cognizant in the drop in offense over the last five years, and it's become a topic of conversation in the game, and it's something that we're going to have to continue to monitor and study."

Offense started rebounding during the second half of the season, and a record 6,105 home runs were hit this year, 2.4 percent more than the previous mark of 5,963 set in 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era.

"I think it's pretty clear," Verlander said. "I think our commissioner has said publicly that they wanted more offense in the game. I'm pretty sure I'm not fabricating a quote here when I say that. I think it was already All-Star break of `15, or right before, when he said that."

San Francisco's Johnny Cueto and Toronto's Marcus Stroman also think the balls have changed, with Stroman blaming slick balls for a rise in pitcher blisters -- an affliction which has struck Hill a few times in the past couple seasons, too.

Houston's Brent Strom and the Dodgers' Rick Honeycutt, the World Series pitching coaches, both were quoted by Sports Illustrated on Sunday as saying the slickness of the ball made throwing sliders difficult.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't see a ton difference, but I'm not going to get in a verbal war with coaches and players who think otherwise."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had a similar view but acknowledged the power records got his attention.

"The pitchers talk about it feels different in their hand. The one component is the slickness and guys at different ballparks rub it up differently," he said. "Sort of feels the same to me. But it's hard to argue the numbers. You know there's more velocity. Guys are swinging harder. I know in Los Angeles the air was light. It was hot. The ball was flying, carrying more than typically. But I hesitate to try to give you any insight because I really don't know."

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