Of all the important factors in a World Series, which team has the better story ranks somewhere between who has the better ballpark food (Indians, for what it’s worth), and whose right-handed platoon outfielder has the better hair (also the Indians). Caring about the real underdog before worrying about pitching matchups, home field advantage, etc, could be considered petty and pointless.
So anyway, the Cleveland Indians have the better story in the World Series. I don’t care that your world series drought is longer by half a century, Chicago.
Grant Brisbee over at SB Nation touched on this very subject last month, before the postseason even began. He brought up the point that the Chicago Cubs are not the scrappy young underdog a lot of you people make them out to be. They are a franchise with a massive fanbase who was in the NLCS last season and they were the World Series favorites before anyone in MLB had thrown a pitch this season.
Most of Grant’s argument for the Indians being the best underdog of the postseason was the Indians’ rotation, which went from potentially the best in the league to having Josh Tomlin as their third starter in a matter of weeks.
Because where the Cubs are a confusing amalgam of bully and bullied, the Indians are trying to overcome their legacy of general sadness, but they’re also doing it at a sudden disadvantage. They had to work so, so hard to build a team like this, with a monster of a rotation that featured a pitching hydra that no one wanted to face in a short series. They had to a) acquire the pitchers, b) develop the pitchers, and c) keep them healthy if they wanted to be a dominant postseason team. It’s a complicated, multi-faceted trick that takes several years to pull off, and they were so close. Then c) bit them on the nose because of course it did.
Danny Salazar might miss the postseason, or at least a large chunk of it, with an elbow strain. Carlos Carrasco is out for the year on a freak injury, a fractured finger suffered on a line drive up the middle. It’s all enough to make people react with doom and gloom.
Now, a month later, Danny Salazar is still out and Trevor Bauer cut himself on a drone. But somehow the Indians have managed against two of the toughest lineups in the postseason, the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The main reason for the Indians sticking around this long is the new biggest story of the postseason: Andrew Miller and Terry Francona. Tito could effectively be rewriting how managers use relievers with how hard he has pushed Miller this season. That’s not to say every team’s best reliever will throw two innings every game for nearly a week straight, but there is a real argument to be made that the Indians are sitting on their new mattresses at home right now with Miller locked in the closer role.
This Indians team is built through a mix of home-grown players and smart acquisitions. Brandon Guyer was the most underrated get of the trade deadline, and Coco Crisp has been a hero in clinching games. And, of course, the Indians dealt a boatload of prospects from their deep farm for their star reliever, Andrew Miller. No one on the Indians makes more than $8.5 million (Carlos Santana).
Since 2000, the Cubs have had a top-15 payroll all but one season, including top-3 payrolls in 2009 and 2010. The Cubs are a team with a ton of money, but only recently have they started using it effectively. Where the Indians have to make pinpoint accurate decisions to succeed, the Cubs are able to patch up a lot of their mistakes with big free agent signings.
The Cubs’ top paid players are all big free agent signings — Jon Lester and Jason Heyward are both making north of $20 million this season while Ben Zobrist, Jake Arrieta, Miguel Montero, and John Lackey are all bringing in more than $10 million.
None of this is a knock against the Cubs as a team. No, build your winning team how you like. If you are a franchise with the kind of money to throw around like the Cubs, by all means do it. You owe it to your city and to your fans. But as a story, this is not a scrappy underdog squad that many make them out to be. That title belongs firmly to the Indians.