CLEVELAND -- The visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field has never been described as spacious. Players are pretty confined underneath the Friendly Confines, lacking much room between lockers to maneuver. A champagne celebration could be chaotic inside Chicago's cramped quarters.
The Indians are used to that by now. Cleveland's players partied inside the small clubhouse at Comerica Park when they clinched the American League Central. This postseason, they celebrated again in Fenway Park's claustrophobic clubhouse and then in the narrow locker room at Rogers Centre. Now that the Indians know they will face the Cubs in the World Series, Wrigley Field could host the next run of revelry.
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"That's a good little metaphor for our team," Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. "We're a close-knit group. There's no reason for us to have any shoulder room while we're popping the bottles."
With their 5-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night, the Cubs punched their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Historic footnotes will be in surplus in this pairing of championship-starved franchises. Chicago has not won it all since 1908, representing the longest drought in baseball. Cleveland has not won since '48, marking the second-longest run of suffering.
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One city's waiting will come to the end, while the other will again feel the pain of coming oh-so-close.
That makes this World Series -- the 112th Fall Classic in baseball history -- one of the more unique ones in memory. The Indians reached the Series in '54, '95 and '97, but could not complete the journey. The Cubs won consecutive crowns in '07 and '08, but then lost the Fall Classic in '10, '18, '29, '32, '35, 1938 and '45.
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"To have both teams the farthest removed from a championship," Chisenhall said, "I think it's big for baseball, not only for each city. We haven't won since '48 and the Cubs are even longer. I think it's a great story all the way around."
"It's cool to be a part of that kind of history," Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin agreed. "In one sense, you kind of take a step back and kind of look at the magnitude of what this World Series is going to be like. Then, you realize we need to get down to business and try to get this streak over with, so we can enjoy it ourselves and be on top."
In the AL Division Series, the Indians took down the Red Sox in three games. Cleveland then dispatched the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS. The Tribe's 7-1 run through the first two rounds in October has been built on strong pitching, especially from the Andrew Miller-led bullpen. Cleveland's defense has been solid and the offense has done just enough, allowing the 'pen to put the clamp on slim leads.
During both series, the Indians concentrated on throwing a heavy dose of curveballs to the Boston and Toronto hitters. Cleveland catcher Chris Gimenez said it could be tough to have an overall plan for facing the Cubs' lineup. The Tribe will need to look even closer at each individual hitter, as Chicago's offense features a mix of batters who have a variety of strengths.
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"They've been really good all year," Gimenez said. "They have guys that can beat you with the long ball, kind of like we have, but they also have a ton of guys that grind out at-bats. They're not so much free swingers like Toronto, where they're kind of a little more boom or bust. These guys are going to put good at-bats up and it's going to be a little different series from a pitching perspective, I think.
"We're going to have to attack guys differently than we did with the Blue Jays, where pretty much we tried to curveball them to death. I think that's pretty obvious at this point. There are going to be some guys we can do that to, but from the whole team standpoint, we're going to have to get in our meetings and come up with a little different game plan."
During the regular season, the Cubs won 103 games -- the most by the club in one season since 1910 -- with an offense that was both patient and potent. Chicago ranked first in the Majors with a 10.4-percent walk rate and third overall with 808 runs and a .772 OPS. According to Fangraphs, the Cubs had a 15.9 Baserunning rating, ranking fifth in baseball.
On the pitching side, the Cubs have three Cy Young-caliber arms in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks leading the rotation, and fireballer Aroldis Chapman anchoring the bullpen. Chicago led the Majors with a team 3.15 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .206 opponents' average during the regular season.
"Everybody talks about their offense," Chisenhall said, "but their pitching staff, their starters are unbelievable and the backend of their bullpen, you've got Chapman back there waiting."
One element that the Indians will look to capitalize on will be the running game.
Cleveland led the AL in stolen bases and Baserunning rating (17.1) this season, while ranking among the best in taking extra bases. The Cubs, meanwhile, allowed 133 steals (second-most in baseball) and threw runners out at just a 22-percent clip (league average was 28 percent). Lester (28 steals) and Arrieta (23) were on the mound for 38 percent of the stolen bases allowed.
The Indians expect to once again be considered the underdogs for the World Series.
The players are fine with that, too.
"That's something we really kind of feed off," Gimenez said. "It's kind of us against the world."
"We weren't picked in any of the series so far," Chisenhall added. "That's why we play the games."
"Their record has kind of proven that they've been the best in the league so far," Tomlin said. "If you're going to be in the World Series, why not play the best?"
Maybe beating the mighty Cubs would be the fitting conclusion to this dream season for the Tribe.
Through all kinds of adversity -- injuries, suspensions and more -- the Indians have prevailed, taking down teams that no one expected them to defeat. Now, Cleveland is getting a crack at a Cubs club that was deemed the best in baseball before a single pitch was thrown this season.
Cleveland is looking forward to it.
"Honestly," Gimenez said, "I think that would really cap off a pretty amazing season."