By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
The best team in baseball for the last year, the Chicago Cubs, are one step closer to their first World Series berth since 1945—and just eight wins away from their first title since 1908. But a strong, hungry field of playoff teams stands between 2016’s sweetheart and them snapping the most legendary of losing streaks.
Chicago already ousted MLB’s most formidable postseason opponent, the San Francisco Giants, in the National League Division Series. Equipped with baseball’s grittiest performers like Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence, the Giants were poised to make a run for their fourth title in seven seasons, having won the World Series in each even-numbered year since 2010.
But Chicago’s pitching kept the Giants at bay in the first two games at Wrigley Field. In San Francisco, the Giants pounded out a win in game three and took a commanding lead in game four. But Kris Bryant and the high-powered Cubs offense stormed back with four runs in the top of the ninth inning of game four and stole the NLDS just as it looked as though the Giants would force a decisive game five.
In the other NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the final two games against the Washington Nationals, clinging to a one-run lead in game five at Nationals Park. Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw recorded the final two outs of the NLDS for his first major league save, and has appeared to have turned around his adverse postseason luck for the time being. The Dodgers have not appeared in a World Series since they won it in 1988, and are attempting to cap off legendary commentator Vin Scully’s career with a monumental postseason run.
On the American League side, the Toronto Blue Jays looked as strong a contender as any in their three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. They’ve won four consecutive postseason games, in fact, after defeating the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card matchup. With a high-powered offense and more momentum than a big rig on the Autobahn, they’ll be a tough out for their AL Championship Series counterpart, the Cleveland Indians. The Jays are looking to get to their first World Series since they won it in 1993.
Both Cleveland and Toronto benefit from the other having swept their ALDS opponent. Often times, a team that sweeps a series will lose momentum from additional off days before the next series begins.
Cleveland may have been the most underrated division winner this season, and they showed their prowess by knocking out the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis combined for seven RBI over the three games and elite reliever Andrew Miller tossed four shutout innings combined over the two games in which he appeared. The Indians put a sour taste to the end of Boston slugger David Ortiz’s career.
The city of Cleveland snapped its 64-year major sports championship drought earlier this year when the NBA’s Cavaliers won the basketball title. But the Indians have not won a World Series since 1948 and are looking to win the American League for the first time since 1997.
The ALCS begins Friday night at 8 p.m. at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Indians host the Blue Jays for the first game of a seven-game series. The game will be broadcast on TBS, channel 202 on Flyer Cable.
The NLCS begins Saturday at 8 p.m. at Wrigley Field in Chicago where the Cubs will kick off a seven-game set against the Dodgers. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, channel 317 on Flyer Cable.