The Story of Tonight: Previewing the 2016 MLB Playoffs
During baseball’s October showcase, MLB and its fans often face stories questioning the popularity of the game via opinion pieces, talk-show debates, or discussions of unfavorable television ratings in comparison to the NBA Finals, let alone the Super Bowl. The league itself has a hard time disputing this narrative, as it explicitly acknowledged the reality of regional fan bases a decade ago. In a series of commercials in 2006, including this one starring Tommy Lasorda, MLB pleaded with fans to watch October baseball, even if their favorite team had been eliminated.
Four years ago, in promoting the postseason, the league took a different tact, creating a two-minute commercial featuring in-season highlights in the format of a Bruce Springsteen music video. Yes, Bruce Springsteen. I assume the MLB executive behind that campaign pored over demographic data and reasoned, “we’ve cornered 99.8% of the over-50, white, sportswriter demographic – we can’t let the other .2% get away,” and then ordered a confused intern to call Columbia Records.
If MLB wants to attract fans, particularly younger ones to the playoffs, it needs a new hook. A proven catalyst that can take even the most mundane subject, say civics, and turn it into a topic of rabid enthusiasm for millennials. In short, they need Hamilton. Not Reds base stealer extraordinaire Billy, but Hamilton, the musical. Anything that can inspire pre-teen girls to conduct rap battles about America’s Founding Fathers can certainly generate enthusiasm for America’s Pastime.
So, let’s do it for them. What follows is a twist on traditional playoff power ratings. As you’d expect, each team is ranked in its quest to be 2016 World Champions, but to attract that elusive millennial reader, also accompanied by the Hamilton song which most embodies its outlook. Traditional baseball fans can argue about the rankings while their kids can debate the pairing of team to song, like they’re Hamilton sommeliers. (Note that teams are not ranked by order of expected elimination; in the case of any postseason matchup, the higher-ranked team is the one predicted to win.)
This evening’s AL Wild Card matchup marks the beginning of the 2016 postseason, and for the rest of October, on a near-daily basis, baseball historians and fans alike will look back at the battle for this year’s World Series trophy, and “tell the story of tonight.”
Honorable Mention: New York Yankees, “You’ll Be Back”
Under the guidance of Joe Girardi, the Yankees extended their incredible streak of consecutive winning seasons to 21, and yet, when the Manager of the Year voting occurs, Girardi almost certainly won’t get enough credit. Three times in the last four years, the Yankees skipper has led the team to a winning record despite being outscored by their opponents. Until the last two months of this season, every one of those teams has, by far, fielded the oldest lineup in baseball, and each spring any analytics-based preview of their season contains a warning that the bottom may very well drop out in the upcoming year. Despite this, Girardi’s never even been recognized with a top-3 finish in the AL voting for Manager of the Year.
While this year’s overachieving finish may look an awful lot like the last four seasons, the team’s outlook is decidedly different. That’s why, taken literally, “You’ll Be Back” is a perfect fit for the Yankees. For the first time in five years, New York goes into the winter with the expectation of year-over-year improvement. Thanks to a savvy exchange of assets by Brian Cashman this summer – that recalls Alexander Hamilton’s expert bartering during his time heading a trading charter and later funding the Revolutionary War – the Yankees have valuable assets in place for many seasons to come. Oh yes, they’ll be back.
Beyond the title though, it’s the actual content of the song that makes it such a perfect fit for the Yankees. “You’ll Be Back” is the seventh song performed in Hamiliton and the first to reveal the versatile brilliance of Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. After six rap-based R&B songs that establish the tone of the impending Revolution and the energy of the rebels, King George appears on stage to sing “You’ll Be Back,” a song so peppy and romantic it may as well have been lifted from the Beatles’ early catalog. That seals its perfection for the Yankees, who don’t forget, are owned by the descendents of King George!
It’s impossible to listen to the hilarious juxtaposition of King George singing about eternal love while choosing words of murderous intent, and not think of George Steinbrenner’s 1980s-era reign over the club and his love-hate relationship with Billy Martin and Dave Winfield. If you’re a Hamilton fan unfamiliar with baseball and “You’ll Be Back” is your favorite part of the performance, the New York Yankees are the team for you.
#10 New York Mets, “The Schuyler Sisters”
Introducing the audience to Hamilton’s future wife, ”The Schuyler Sisters” doubles as a love letter to New York City, “the greatest city in the world.” It’s therefore an obvious fit for the Queens-based franchise, but what makes it a perfect symbol for the oft-overlooked Mets, second-class citizens in their own city to their Bronx-borough neighbors, is the presence of Peggy, the third, forgotten Schuyler sister. Preceded by the brilliant Angelica and the beautiful, engaging Eliza, Peggy is so overlooked she has to sneak her name in (“and Peggy”) between beats in the song celebrating the sisters.
For the Mets not to be overlooked this postseason, they’re going to need to tap into some of the magic they discovered last October. The problem is, with the exception of Noah Syndergaard, the same starting pitchers that produced nine straight quality starts in a row while capturing the National League pennant aren’t available this year. Matt Harvey, Seven Matz, and Jacob deGrom are all done for the season, leaving 43-year old Bartolo Colon and largely untested and unheralded rookies to follow Syndergaard. Should the Mets get by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card game, they’ll enter the NLDS against the Cubs with a patchwork rotation, Syndergaard available for just one game and by far the worst defense of any team that made the postseason.
While they can fondly recall their sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS encounter, and a winning record against them during the 2016 regular season, it’s not only New York’s rotation that is weaker for this year’s potential match-up. In a year where scoring increased across the league, the Mets plated less runs this year than last and simply don’t have the firepower to match up with any playoff team in games that aren’t decided by something like a 2-1 score.
Like Peggy Schuyler, the Mets are likely to be a footnote when the story of the 2016 playoffs is written.
#9 Baltimore Orioles, “Aaron Burr, Sir”
The only man named Lin to ever play in the Majors, Lin Storti, played for the St. Louis Browns, the precursor franchise to the Baltimore Orioles. There have been a number of Manuels on the field and in the dugout in MLB history, but only one current team, the Baltimore Orioles, features two of them, Manuel “Manny” Machado, and Pedro Manuel Alvarez. Finally, just one player with the last name Miranda has played in the majors in the last five years, Ariel Miranda, and he made his MLB debut this year for, you guessed it, the Baltimore Orioles. Clearly, if Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is looking for a connection to a team this October, it has to be the Orioles.
If manager Buck Showalter is looking for inspirational words to pass along to his pitching staff, he can turn to “Aaron Burr, Sir.” In the song, Hamilton is given advice by the man who evolves from his friend, to frenemy, to foe, and that advice, with just a bit of modification would serve the Orioles pitching staff well. “Talk less, smile more” advised Burr, and if Showalter has any horse whisperer-like sway over Baltimore’s pitchers, especially the starters, he should quietly advise them to “walk less, retire more.”
Baltimore’s starters walk batters at a higher rate (8.8 percent, 27th in the majors) than any other staff in the playoffs – and, get this, the rotation has better control than the bullpen! Compounding their high-walk tendencies, the rotation strikes out batters at a below-average rate, a combination which puts tremendous pressure on the defense to help strand those extra baserunners. The O’s defense is good, accounting this year for about a win’s worth of value in turning batted balls into outs and erasing existing baserunners compared to an average defense, but there’s something less repeatable that has also benefitted the team.
Solid defense only explains part of the reason the Orioles managed to get to the playoffs with the lowest-scoring offense among AL playoff teams, and a high-walk, low-strikeout rotation – and the missing factor is extreme cluster luck. Pitchers, of course, have no ability to control the sequencing of events of opposing batters, and eventually that will catch up to Baltimore – including closer Zach Britton and his ridiculously unsustainable 89.7% strand rate.
Lest you think there’s a typo in the lead sentence of the last paragraph, there’s not. Despite easily leading the majors in home runs this year, the Orioles did indeed score fewer runs than any other AL team in the playoffs. Buck Showalter deserves a ton of credit getting a team to the postseason that did one thing really well, but was otherwise beset with flaws. Rather than lash out at those who foresee a brief October stay, Orioles fans should appreciate the season’s success and, to put it succinctly, talk less and smile more.
#8 Washington Nationals, “Guns and Ships”
By virtue of winning a Tony Award for Best Musical in his inaugural Broadway effort, Lin-Manuel Miranda had already achieved enough success to secure an eventual New York Times obituary long before Hamilton was ever written, but for my money his lasting legacy is much less tangible. It’s seeing, as I have, well-off, pre-teen girls, in San Francisco, 2,500 miles from Broadway, battle rapping Lafayette’s rapid-fire lines in “Guns and Ships.” The pride and joy they exude is inspiring and it won’t surprise me if, six years from now, a legion of today’s 12-year old girls are rapping their way through video submissions of their college applications. That is a legacy.
Lafayette, of course, as announced in the rollicking opening to “Guns and Ships” is “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman” and what better team to honor that legacy than the Washington Nationals, formerly known as Les Expos de Montréal. However, the Nationals glory isn’t in the past as the team, like the Giants, has its own even-year magic working. Like the 2012 and 2014 squads, the 2016 version of the Expos/Nationals is a NL East division winner, the only three such teams in franchise history with that distinction.
The Chicago Cubs, deservedly, garnered much of this season’s acclaim, but Washington has the 3rd-best run differential in all of baseball, and at +151, it’s suggestive of a team that’s even better than its 95-win record. Of course, the team that assembled that record isn’t necessarily the team that’s going to take the field in the playoffs, and owing to injuries that’s the case for the Nationals. Catcher Wilson Ramos (.307/.354/.496) turned in a tremendous season at the plate, by far the best of his career, and among full-time catchers, the best in the majors. However, last week he tore his ACL ending his 2016 campaign. His replacement, Jose Lobaton, has a career slugging percentage (.329) lower than Ramos’ 2016 on-base percentage. NL batting champ runner-up, Daniel Murphy had, by far, the best season of his career and he’s been day-to-day for a couple of weeks having last started a game on September 17.
Ramos and a diminished Murphy represent losses at the plate, but there’s an equally big chasm between the regular season starters and those who are taking the mound in October. Sadly, that gap recalls another connection to “Guns and Ships.” The best team in the history of the Nationals franchise, the 2012 squad that won 98 games, self-sabotaged their World Series chances by shutting down Steven Strasburg prior to the start of the playoffs. This year, the big right-hander, paired with Max Scherzer, potentially gave the Nationals a dominant 1-2 rotation punch in the mode of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Alas, Strasburg’s availability for the playoffs after missing the last four weeks of the season is still unknown. One thing for certain though, is that Dusty Baker finds himself in the same position as George Washington as he prepared for the Battle of Yorktown. As Lafayette reminds the General on the eve of America’s most consequential battle in “Guns and Ships,” “get your right hand man back, you know you gotta get your right hand man back.”
In trying to get out of the NLDS against the Dodgers, you can be sure Baker would like to mimic Washington’s response, throw his head skyward and yell, “I need my right hand man back.”
#7 Texas Rangers, “Alexander Hamilton”
Possibly the most famous critique in music is Jon Landau’s 1975 review of a struggling rocker performing in a small Cambridge, Massachusetts club. Published in an equally-obscure Boston-based publication called The Real Paper, Landau wrote, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
Many who love live music thrive on the energy they derive from “discovering” bands before anyone else. But what if you heard groundbreaking genius and didn’t know it at the time? The first time Lin-Manuel Miranda performed “Alexander Hamilton,” it repeatedly drew laughs during both his introduction and during the performance. There are no laugh lines in the song; I think the audience was looking to release nervous energy at the absurdity of hearing a rapped account of a Founding Father, who, according to Miranda’s introduction, “embodies hip-hop.”
This happened at the White House in 2009 and to be fair, if you told someone at the time there was a story under development about a man named Hamilton who overcame tremendous hardships to reach the top of his profession, your first thought may have been, “Josh Hamilton’s story would be compelling.”
“My name is Joshua Holt Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait
Just you wait”
Sure enough, in the next two years Josh Hamilton led the Rangers to two American League pennants while capturing an MVP award of his own. Although still on the Rangers payroll through 2017, Hamilton was released this summer but Texas, with the best record in the American League, has put itself in position to recapture the glory of Hamilton’s peak years.
Look, if this were a Harry Potter-themed playoffs preview, the Rangers would be at the top, not 7th, because they pulled off some crazy wizard stuff this year that many analytic-based analysts attribute to witchcraft. For most of the season they threatened to match the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks as the only team ever to not only make the playoffs, but secure home field advantage through the LCS, despite being outscored by their opponents. In the process they went 36-11 in one run games, a .766 winning percentage which is the best in the history of baseball. Do the math and you realize outside of those one-run games, the Rangers were materially outscored by their opponents in their other 115 games. Short-series variance and Billy Beane’s playoff maxim aside, that is not the type of résumé you want to bring to the postseason.
To be sure, the roster the Rangers are bringing to the playoffs is better than the one that compiled the barely-positive run differential. Yu Darvish will start 25% of their playoff games instead of the 10% he did in the regular season, catcher Jonathan LuCroy didn’t join the team until August, and most importantly the bullpen has shed its truly egregious performers that contributed to the second-highest bullpen ERA in the American League.
However, a comparison of rosters with its potential AL postseason foes has the Rangers at a disadvantage against all but the Orioles. Even with home field advantage, that may not be enough to overcome better pitching, hitting or both.
The song, “Alexander Hamilton” reminds us our hero overcame long odds and a lot of opposition to make his mark on history. If the Rangers do the same, I’ll spend the winter shaking my head and saying, “I’m the damn fool that doubted them.”
#6 Toronto Blue Jays, “Non-Stop”
In the last scene of Act 1, Hamilton, wracked with grief over the death of a friend, throws himself into work at a maniacal pace as the company sings,
“Why do you write like you’re running out of time
Why do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive
Why do you write every second your alive?”
You know who else is running out of time? The Toronto Blue Jays burst onto the playoff scene for the first time in 22 seasons last year with an exciting, high-octane offense, so it might surprise some to learn that this year they had the oldest lineup in baseball. While diminished, the offense is still potent – 7th in MLB in runs vs. 1st last year – but behind the drop-off in runs is the erosion of a specific skill that has proven quite valuable to four of the last five World Series champions – an extremely low strikeout rate. Last year the Blue Jays menacing offense combined prodigious power (most home runs) with the majors 5th-lowest strikeout rate (the World Champion Royals were first). This year, anchored by largely the same players, Toronto has the 8th-highest strikeout rate in the majors, a change that’s resulted in 20% more whiffs this year. That’s 20% fewer chances to move runners along, get seeing-eye hits, benefit from fielding errors, etc.
Adjusted defensive efficiency, the ability to convert batted balls into outs and erase existing baserunners, is also highly correlated with lineup age, and the year-over-year results in this category show a drop-off as well. To be sure, the Blue Jays were still an above-average defense this year, but last year they were the best in the American League and as the team lacks a dominating ace in the mold of traditional postseason studs, that glove work is going to be needed if they get in a series where they’re forced to match zeroes.
The AL playoffs are wide open, and I prefer the Blue Jays more well-rounded offense to the Orioles in the Wild Card round. The AL seeding looks favorable as well, should they get by Baltimore. With a formidable back-end of the bullpen and a lineup that has traditionally eaten lefties alive – although like contact rate and defense, that competitive advantage also showed decline this year – the Blue Jays are a bad potential second round match-up for the Texas Rangers. So a path to the World Series is certainly logical, but this is not as good a team as the 2015 version, and the cruel reality of the aging curve suggests participation in the 2017 postseason is no sure thing. They’d do well to treat this October with the urgency of a team running out of time to accomplish its goals.
#5 Boston Red Sox, “One Last Time”
One of the themes through Hamilton is the deserving exalted status of George Washington. Based on source material written by Ron Chernow (Alexander Hamilton, Washington: A Life) the musical makes clear that Washington kept the country unified first as commanding General and then as President. He was also a father figure to the orphaned Hamilton, and in short earned his moniker, the Father of Our Country. As King George acknowledges in “I Know Him,” “nobody else . . . looms quite as large.”
Well if we’re saluting large fathers, who else could this song possibly embody other than Big Papi and the Boston Red Sox? Like George Washington, David Ortiz is voluntarily retiring at the height of his popularity and effectiveness. Ortiz’ .315/.401/.620 batting average (equating to a league-leading 1.021 OPS in his age 40 season!) is a large reason the Red Sox have lapped the rest of the American League in scoring, having plated 101 more runners than second-place Cleveland. The offensive explosiveness, highlighted by a lineup that leads the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, is a reason why in some circles, the Red Sox, and not the Cubs are listed as World Series favorites. (A perceived easier path to the World Series is a factor as well.)
The problem I see with that logic is that being the highest-scoring team in baseball, while always useful, isn’t necessarily the best credential to bring to the October trophy chase. Just ask the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, who scored even more runs last year than the Red Sox this year. Simply put, the fabulous lineup aside, this is not a rotation you necessarily want to rely on in October. Rick Porcello has to be one of the lowest-strikeout pitchers (relative to the league’s rate) ever to win 22 games in a season and David Price’s skills, while better than the over-4.00 ERA he posted in 34 starts this year, are positively in decline. The Red Sox are built to win a lot of 7-5 games, and they very well may need to do that for three more weeks if they want to fly yet another World Series banner captured during the Big Papi-era.
For me, the emotional high point of Act II of Hamilton comes toward the end of “One Last Time,” when the entire company repeatedly sings “George Washington’s going home” after our first president gives his famous farewell address. It’s so evocative that while listening to the soundtrack, I’ve imagined the serenade occurring as Washington rides his horse off the White House grounds on his way to Mount Vernon – and the White House didn’t even exist yet! This write-up, and a 5th-place ranking may not be an overly-optimistic prediction for Boston, but if it’s wrong, Red Sox fans may be rewarded with a similarly fitting sendoff for their Papi during the 6th or 7th game of the World Series in a venerable venue of its own . . . one last time.
#4 San Francisco Giants, “The Room Where It Happens”
They took a crazy route to get there, but the San Francisco Giants presence at the table of the October Ten shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, it’s 2016 and if it’s an even year, you can be sure that when it comes to deciding who captures the World Series crown, the Buster Posey-era Giants are going to be “in the room where it happens.”
No team has ever had the best record in baseball at the All-Star game and then recorded the worst record in baseball over the rest of the season, but the Giants nearly pulled it off, finishing 29th in winning percentage after the break. They did, in fact, have the worst record in the National League in that span. So why are they ranked so highly, and why should the presence of the Giants in the room, like the cunning Aaron Burr who longed and schemed to be a government insider, make the Cubs scared?
The Cubs have a high-strikeout pitching staff; the Giants strike out less than any other National League team, by far. Chicago’s pitchers limit home runs by keeping fly balls to a minimum; in games played at AT&T Park, that’s a skill with limited value. Outside of the altitude-skewed results that accrue to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs are the highest-scoring team in the National League and it’s a largely due to their MLB-leading walk rate of 10.4%. Well, San Francisco pitchers had the second lowest walk rate in baseball.
The Giants, in short, more than any other team in the National League are perfectly constructed to thwart the Cubs quest to return to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and should they do that, they’ll be perfectly positioned to continue their confounding even-year success. It shouldn’t happen – the Cubs are still better than the Giants in the field, at the plate, and on the mound, but if anyone is going to derail the Cubs quest for the pennant, don’t be surprised if the Giants are in the room when it happens.
#3 Los Angeles Dodgers, “What’d I Miss”
A list of the marquee and iconic sports franchises in North American sports would include, and be limited to, the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Montreal Canadians and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s the top tier of our professional sports leagues’ franchises when you consider sustained excellence and iconic stature. It’s been 28 years since the Los Angeles Dodgers played in the World Series and in that time the other five franchises listed above have won 15 titles, with at least one by each of them. After the Revolution ends, Thomas Jefferson returns from France where he was Ambassador and asks his fellow patriots, tongue firmly in cheek, “What’d I miss?”
Should the Dodgers advance to the World Series this year, given their long absence, they’d be in position to adopt the same posture.
To get to the World Series, a healthy Clayton Kershaw would benefit the Dodgers tremendously. Possessing a legitimate case to win his 4th NL Cy Young Award despite making just 21 starts, Kershaw is certainly rested. There can be a thin line between rested and rusty though, and while Kershaw has looked in fine form in his last four starts, he’s only faced a lineup three times through the order once since June 26. A similar story can be told about Rich Hill. While he recorded a sparkling 2.12 ERA during his time with the Dodgers and the A’s this year, Hill was limited to just a bit more than 100 innings pitched due to blister problems. Again, that means he’s rested but he only got through a lineup three times just once all season, on May 23.
Starter effectiveness is less of an issue if your offense is scoring runs at a pace greater than any other team in the league not playing half its games in Coors Field, as the Dodgers have since the All Star break. Add to that mix the best closer in the game in Kenley Jansen and even if Kershaw and Hill are only going 5 or 6 innings per start it might be enough. Despite blowing by San Francisco in the second-half to win the NL West, the two teams are still very evenly matched, and given the relative superiority of the Cubs, you’d rather be the Giants trying to take them out in a 5-game series than in a 7-game format which is how the Dodgers would have to beat them.
If Kershaw is a threat to throw complete games as October progresses and the Dodgers make it to the World Series, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, especially to the Dodgers themselves. They should saunter into the Fall Classic and just pretend hardly any time has passed since the last time they played on the big stage.
#2 and #1 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, “Helpless” and “My Shot”
Twenty years from now, when the children of the Harry Potter generation are performing Hamilton in high school plays across the country, “My Shot” is going to be the song that will be bringing the audience out of their folding chairs. A Broadway show tune tradition in the sense that it’s an aspirational song, it nonetheless shares far more DNA with Eminem’s “One Shot” than say, “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music. The audience is introduced to Alexander Hamilton and learns of his driving passion to make a difference in the American Revolution. The song is his mission statement, his résumé, so to speak, so with that in mind, let’s see what our projected pennant winning teams have to offer in making their case to represent “My Shot.” Cleveland Indians, the floor is yours.
“We are the C-L E-V E-L-A N-D and we came to play!”
Well done, Cleveland, well done. Did I mention hip-hop DNA in this song? Well one of the little treats of Hamilton is the hip-hop Easter eggs Miranda leaves to rap fans throughout the production; near the top of “One Shot” he spells out “Alexander” in the same cadence as The Notorious B.I.G. spells his name in “Going Back to Cali.”
In making their case to win the World Series, the Indians, of course, have more to offer than hailing from a city with nine letters. During the regular season they boasted the best 1-2-3 rotation punch in the American League. In a league where only eight pitchers who threw at least 130 innings struck out 25% of the batters they faced, three of them were Cleveland starters. Sadly, one of them, Carlos Carrasco broke his pitching hand when he was hit with a line drive late in the season, and Danny Salazar is nursing a forearm injury that will apparently limit him to bullpen work during the playoffs. That definitely tempers some enthusiasm for the Indians, but they’ve also got an entire bullpen that struck out 24% of the batters they faced all season, 5th in the majors. Cleveland hasn’t revealed exactly how they’re going to proceed with their postseason rotation but with a pen full of high-strikeout relievers the ingredients are there to take a number of games one inning at a time.
One of the other reasons to be less concerned about the Indians starters is the quality of the defense behind them. Don’t sleep on those same players when they’re at the plate either. The Indians were the second-highest scoring team in the American League this season. Despite a wounded rotation, the Indians have more than enough strength in the other three areas to get through the ALCS and ALDS to host the Fall Classic.
If this were a rap battle, you might think Cleveland stole the momentum with its opening, but while “Chicago” may not be a nine-letter word suitable for spelling out hip-hop style, take a close listen, starting at the 3:40 mark of “My Shot.” Can you hear that Cubs fans? If you listen closely you’ll hear the entire Company, four times in a row asking, nay, challenging you with this motivational question,
“When are these Cubbies gonna rise up
When are these Cubbies gonna rise up
When are these Cubbies gonna rise up
When are these Cubbies gonna rise up, rise up?”
That should get the Wrigley faithful out of their seats because the ingredients, like yeast in a bread recipe, are there for this to be Chicago’s year to indeed, rise up. They had a defense so spectacular all season, it broke through the top end of my adjusted defensive efficiency model. They had an offense so potent they scored more runs than any American League team except the Red Sox, and of course, the Cubs don’t play with a designated hitter. On the mound the team’s ERA is lower than the next best Major League team’s by more than a third of a run a game. Of course, ERA benefits from defense so if we strip out the effects of defense and just considering pitcher skill sets, the Cubs are behind only the Nationals and the Dodgers, but, of course, neither of them have their regular season pitching staffs at full strength for the playoffs.
That’s a mighty strong team to bring to October, yet, like the Giants, the Indians match strengths and weaknesses pretty well with the Cubs. So let’s go to a simple three-factor checklist to see who gets top billing.
Before we reveal the tipping point for the top ranking, however, let’s make it clear that “Helpless” isn’t a consolation prize song, nor does it in any way imply that one of these teams is powerless to stop the other. Depending on generation, perhaps your young-love anthem is West Side Story’s “Maria” or Springsteen’s West Side Story take, “Incident on 52nd Street,” or Dire Straits’ haunting “Romeo and Juliet” or, if we’re sticking purely to millennial references, Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” All of those memorable songs have long shelf lives and are lovely in their own way, but when it comes to chronicling love-at-first-sight, they all positively take a back seat to “Helpless,” and we will not argue about this.
Did you cry last week as you digested the Jose Fernandez news? If so, let yourself get carried away by the sheer beauty of “Helpless” as it follows the courtship of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler, and be reminded how cathartic it is to cry tears of joy as you celebrate love. In just four minutes you will care more deeply about their relationship than you do about the majority of couples in two-hour long romantic comedies. And isn’t that perfectly emblematic, especially for these two cities, of the relationship between the Cubs, the Indians, and their long-suffering, loyal fans?
Here’s the deciding factor:
Age of 2016 lineup - Cubs: 27.5 years
Indians: 28.9 years
Largest Comeback win - Cubs: 6 runs down
Indians: 4 runs down
Championship Drought - Cubs: 108 years
Indians: 68 years
Young? Check! Scrappy? Check! Hungry? Check!
If there is any manager in baseball who would have his team dress up like the Founding Fathers as a team building exercise, it’s unquestionably Joe Maddon. So, North Siders, take it away:
“Hey yo, we’re just like our country
we’re young, scrappy and hungry
and we’re not throwing away our shot!”
As they say in the theatre, “Ladies and gentlemen the role of the 2016 World Series Champions will be played by the Chicago Cubs. Enjoy the show.”