The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs know they’re a part of history in the making.

The Indians have a chance to wrap up the best sports year in Cleveland’s history. More than five decades of futility ended when the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup, then came the Cleveland Cavaliers’ historic NBA Finals comeback. Now, it could be the Indians’ turn.

Heading into the playoffs, few thought Cleveland’s starting rotation could pass muster. Corey Kluber is a legitimate ace, but the Indians lost Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injuries late in the season.

That left Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who each finished the regular season with earned run averages over 4.00. Things got even more dire in the playoffs, when Bauer suffered a gruesome hand injury while fixing his drone at home.

Yet no matter the odds, the Indians kept persevering. They went 7-1 over their first eight playoff gamesnot despite their pitching, but because of it. Their staff went through the ALDS and ALCS never giving up any more than five runs in a single game and only allowing an opponent to hit the five-run mark once. 

Manager Terry Francona made all the right calls, including the decision to start little-known Ryan Merritt in Game 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Merritt threw 4.1 innings of peerless ball before giving way to the bullpen, which has been almost unhittable this postseason. Andrew Miller’s ability to stretch beyond one inning has essentially forced opponents to play six-inning games with the Indians.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis talked about playing for Francona with Kevin Kernan of the New York Post:

Tito is the forefront of us, in all we do. You are not going to find one guy in here who does not enjoy playing for him and doesn’t wish he would be their manager the rest of their careers.

Once you have a guy like Tito, you really don’t want anybody else to manage you. You are like, ‘This is the way it should be, this is the way I want it to be, this is the way I enjoy it.’ He’s so much fun and he lets you be who you are.

Francona will unsurprisingly turn to Kluber for Game 1. The righty took Cleveland’s only loss of these playoffs but threw a combined 13.1 innings of shutout baseball in his first two starts. He has thrown only one game against the Cubs in his career, giving up one run and racking up 11 strikeouts over 7.2 innings and earning a no-decision in 2015. 

The Cubs announced Jon Lester as their Game 1 starter, which was no surprise, given his career is littered with postseason success. Lester has started 17 playoff games, recording an 8-6 record with a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He’s been nothing short of sensational in 2016, going 2-0 and giving up two earned across 21 innings of work. 

Talking to reporters, Lester sounds every bit of a grizzled postseason veteran:

I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go. I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.

Lester is part of a contingent of players the Cubs have signed over the last two offseasons to build this team up. President Theo Epstein underwent a massive rebuild by stocking the minors with talented young prospects before making a series of offseason splurges.

The Cubs spent their regular season scoring more than all but two MLB teams and allowing the fewest runs in baseball. Their lineup features five players who were voted All-Star starters, guys who came back from being shut out in back-to-back games to score 23 runs over their final three wins over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There’s also a chance they’ll get Kyle Schwarber back as a designated hitter, per Jon Paul Morosi of the MLB Network. The young slugger spent the last six months rehabbing his tail off to get cleared in time for the Fall Classic.

“I think sometimes in the game today, it gets to the point where it’s just about acquiring a number,” Maddon said, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I’m a big believer in that, but I also like the balance between the person and what the back of his baseball card says. Our guys do a wonderful job of balancing the math with the actual person.”

That balance of statistics and personalities now has the Cubs four wins away from their first championship in more than a century.

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