We talked about momentum yesterday, but momentum had nothing to do with anything in this one. Crazy managerial decisions, crazy heorics and dumb blind chance turned Game 7 into a crazy, instant classic. This was anti-momentum. When one team zigged, the other zagged. It was an exercise in random chaos and it was absolutely wonderful. Let us stipulate now that, however history decides this series should be characterized, it was anyone’s Game 7 at about five different times.
But eventunally the buzz from this crazy Game 7 will fade and we’ll have to contend with everything that happened in these past seven games. When we do, I think we’ll be obligated to say that, whatever path we took to get there, the best team won.
It’s been a much joked about meme in the past four and a half months: how the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 Finals because (all together now) “The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.” Given that it was the Cavs who won it, I’m guessing Cleveland fans had more fun with that than a lot of people, actually. Welp, that’s all over now! It’s probably not too fun for Cleveland fans to think about today.
They shouldn’t beat themselves up over it too much, though. Yes, the Indians did, technically speaking, blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series, but it never felt like they had a handle on it the way the Warriors should’ve had a handle on the Cavs. They weren’t the favorites coming into the Fall Classic and, I’d argue, their 3-1 lead never felt quite as secure as most 3-1 leads happen to be. The Indians didn’t blow it. The Cubs won it.
The central issue: the Indians had three starters. Maybe things would’ve been different if Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were healthy and available, but they weren’t. That meant that Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin had to handle it all. Kluber did his part in two starts and the other two did what they could, but it all fell to Kluber once again on this night and it was a bridge too far. He looked gassed from the get-go in Game 7, even if he lasted four innings. He probably should’ve been lifted earlier than he was. But Andrew Miller — the proxy for that fourth starter the Indians never had — wasn’t sharp either. If you go with Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller and the opposition still puts half a dozen on you, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Yes, they almost salavaged it. They pulled off an improbable comeback. The scored two runs off of Jon Lester, one earned, and two off of Aroldis Chapman, but those were gifts from Joe Maddon, really. Kyle Hendricks should’ve still been in the game when Lester was called. Chapman should’ve been better rested in this game — he was overused in Game 6 — or else he should’ve been yanked once it became obvious that he was out of gas. That Maddon didn’t trust his starter and put too much weight on his closer was a self-inflicted wound. Wounds which the Indians should never have been able to take advantage of. This game should not have been as close as it was.
Yet the Cubs still overcame that. They overcame that on this night because of some hard-fought at bats and some smart and aggressive base running in this Game 7. But in the grand scheme — in the aggregate seven games over the past nine days — they won this Series because they had four starters while the Indians had three. That was the biggest difference here. Kyle Hendricks was stronger than a tired Kluber here. Jake Arrieta was stronger than Josh Tomlin the night before. Jon Lester had more than Bauer did in Game 5. A great bullpen will do wonders for you, but it can only cover for so many ills. The Indians had too many ills to cover and, ultimately, not enough horses to win the race.
Some may consider this series to be more of an Indians loss than a Cubs win, but if they do, they got it all wrong. The Indians were pretty fortunate to be up 3-1 on this Cubs team. They were up because of some temporarily cold Cubs bats and some excellent work from a couple of Tribe pitchers. But as this stretched out to 6 and 7 games, the disadvantages of the Indians lack of depth and the advantages of the Cubs superior roster became clear. In seven games, the Cubs were better in four. In nine games, they’d probably take five. In 20 they’d take 12 and so on and so on.
We talk so much about how, in the postseason, small sample sizes skew the results and allow the possibility of the inferior team to steal a short series from the superior team. That didn’t happen here. In seven games, the realities of the situation became clear. The better team showed itself, just in time. The better, deeper and more talented team prevailed.
The Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. Not because the Indians blew it. Because the Chicago Cubs were the better team. Full stop.