The Chicago Cubs have been the lovable loser of baseball for over a century, but a generational shift in talent has vaulted them into the World Series. The team was led by Kris Bryant, the frontrunner for the National League Most Valuable Player award. With the deepest starting rotation in baseball, the North Siders steamrolled through the regular season with 103 wins. They entered the postseason as prohibitive favorites to take it all, but their path from worst-to-first was forged by a general manager who is used to breaking curses.
Theo Epstein was hailed as the savior of a downtrodden franchise when he arrived in the 2011 offseason. The Cubs’ last playoff victory was in 2003 during the infamous Steve Bartman National League Championship Series. Since then, aging veterans cluttered the team’s roster. Epstein liberated the Boston Red Sox from the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and the Cubs hoped the baby-faced executive could repeat his magic in Chicago. He focused on the long-term success of the team, which meant the fans had to endure a nearly 100-loss seasons in his first two years. The Cubs gradually improved, as players like Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell became household names.
In 2014, hiring manager Joe Maddon lightened the clubhouse atmosphere and brought the best out of the Cubs’ precocious roster. Signing Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester as free agents in 2015, in addition to calling up top prospect Kris Bryant, propelled the Cubs to 97 wins and their first postseason berth in seven years. Though they were swept in the NLCS, their deep run set the table for a better 2016.
This time around, The Cubs were active in the offseason as they brought in pitcher John Lackey and lured star outfielder Jason Heyward away from the St. Louis Cardinals with an eight-year, $184 million contract—the largest in Cubs’ history. Heyward was a vacuum on the green as the 27-year-old snagged nearly every ball put in play. Kyle Hendricks followed up Arrieta’s emergent Cy Young season with an equally impressive 2016. His calm dominance on the mound paired with a deceptive pitching style has garnered comparisons to Greg Maddux. Midseason acquisition of Aroldis Chapman solidified their one weakness as they cruised into postseason and the World Series.
In order to bring home the championship, the Cubs need to pull a win against the Cleveland Indians. Head Coach Terry ‘Tito’ Francona was a regular in the postseason with the Red Sox and this feat traveled with him as he made the move to Cleveland. Francona managed the Indians with a vengeance against the Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series, sweeping Beantown and sending David Ortiz into an early retirement.
The Indians remained dominant for the entire season despite having their lineup decimated due to injury at the beginning of the season. Star outfielder Michael Brantley was an early casualty as he missed the entire season with a nagging shoulder injury. Surprisingly, rookie Tyler Naquin stepped up in his absence and anchored the defense. The Indians sailed through the regular season and barely broke a sweat come playoffs.
Game 1 of the World Series was a scary sight for the Cubs, as the Indians’ pitching staff was on their high horse, shutting Chicago out 6-0. Cleveland struggled to put together any offense after falling behind in the first inning by 2-0.
Luckily for Chicago, they were able to mirror Cleveland’s performance when they faced off in Game 2. Arrieta flirted with a no-hitter through five innings, as designated hitter Kyle Schwarber recorded his first hit of the season, a homerun that led the team to a 5-1 win.