Red Sox vs. Cubs. Now that would be a dream matchup for Major League Baseball’s World Series this year.
They have two of the most storied franchises in baseball history. Both have had long droughts for championship seasons in their past, although the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and have made a dramatic turnaround in the past dozen years with three World Series championships. Now the Cubs are on the verge of making a similar turnaround, looking to break their own Curse of the Billy Goat.
The Cubs finished the regular season with the most wins in the major leagues, 103. They handily won the National League Central Division by 17 1/2 games over the St. Louis Cardinals for their first division title since 2008.
The Red Sox had a tougher time winning the American League East Division. They were in a scuffle with the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles practically all season, finally finishing four games ahead of them. The Red Sox won eleven consecutive games in the middle-to-end of September that were crucial to keeping them in first place. However, during the past five seasons, it’s been feast or famine for the Red Sox, with last-place finishes in 2012, 2014, and 2015 and first-place finishes in 2013 and now in 2016.
After so many years of being ridiculed by the baseball world for its losing ways, the Chicago Cubs have finally turned around their fortunes such that they are favored to win the National League pennant and advance to the World Series this year. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1909, and their last World Series occurred in 1945 when they lost to the Detroit Tigers. The ill-famed Curse of the Billy Goat began during that Series when a Chicago tavern owner attending a Series game with a billy goat was asked to remove the animal from the game because of its odor. Upon his exit from the stadium, the tavern owner allegedly declared the Cubs would never win any more.
Until about a dozen years ago the Boston Red Sox were in a similar situation as the Cubs. While they had won American League pennants in 1945, 1967 and 1975, their last World Series win occurred in 1918. That happened to be the last year Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox, with whom he helped win three World Series, before he was unpopularly sold by the Red Sox to the rival New York Yankees prior to the 1919 season. Boston fans believed that sale put a wicked curse on the team.
Theo Epstein is given credit for architecting the Red Sox club that won its first World Series in 2004 after an 86-year drought. The front-office executive has been with the Cubs since 2012, when he completely dismantled the club and re-built it into the contender they are today. In the meantime, Cubs fans suffered through three last-place finishes in their division, in addition to two more prior to Epstein’s arrival.
Epstein has the Cubs now where the Red Sox were in 2004. They finally seem to be poised with winning teams for several years to come. Some observers say that if the Cubs were to win a World Series under Epstein’s leadership, he would get an automatic election into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, for having turned around both of the once-dismal franchises.
The Red Sox and Cubs both enjoy a nice mixture of veterans and younger players. But it is clear in both cases their youth has put them in position to be contenders for a World Series championship this season, as well as having them poised to continue their winning ways for years to come.
The Red Sox have an American League MVP candidate in 23-year-old outfielder Mookie Betts, currently in only his second full season at the major-league level. He’s already a complete player with the bat, on the bases, and in the field. Betts is complemented by a cadre of other exciting young position players in Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, Brock Holt, and Travis Shaw. Of course, the backbone of the squad is still their clubhouse leaders and team favorites, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. The 40-years-old Ortiz is still knocking the ball around like his younger teammates. Pedroia is still the gritty player he was since he was Rookie of the Year in 2007.
The Cubs have their own upstart MVP candidate in the National League in third baseman Kris Bryant, who is playing in only his second major-league season. His biggest rival for the MVP honors may be his own teammate, Anthony Rizzo. Both have similar offensive numbers with 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI, and batting averages over .290. The Cubs also have their own core of young players, around which the team has been architected by Epstein, including Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Wilson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber, who’s actually missed this season due to injury.
The Red Sox reckon they will have to get past the Texas Rangers in the American League to claim a World Series berth. The Rangers have been in first-place in the AL West Division since May 29. They added veterans Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez at the trade deadline to solidify its offense. The Rangers will have home-field advantage through the playoffs, because they have the best overall record in the league.
The Cubs’ stiffest competition in the National League playoffs will likely come from the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers managed to survive without its ace Clayton Kershaw during July and August, but he appears to be at full strength now. Starting pitcher Kenta Maeda did a credible job in the Number 1 slot in the rotation while Kershaw was out. The Dodgers are led on offense by NL Rookie of the Year shoo-in Corey Seager. Since this is an even-numbered year the Giants can’t be discarded easily, as they have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
If the Cubs and Red Sox can indeed get to the World Series, it will make for a great media event. TV ratings figure to be off the chart. It seems like everyone is a Cubs fan, now that they are a contending team again. Red Sox Nation is as strong as ever. In Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, the two oldest major-league stadiums, there couldn’t be any better venues for the games.
There will be several other interesting background stories to the Series. Big Papi, who announced his retirement after the 2016 season, will have his last hurrah extended. Cub players Jon Lester and David Ross will face their former Red Sox teammates with whom they won the World Series in 2013. Cubs manager Joe Maddon will only add to his “cult following” through a World Series appearance with the Cubs.
It’s practically a certainty there will be a lot of excitement and drama if these two teams do, in fact, make it to the World Series. I, for one, would love to see it happen.