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A bittersweet final chapter

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It’s all come down to this. Two fantastically fun teams with two very unsettling features.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Media Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s been roughly six months since since we embarked on the weird and slightly predictable journey that was the 2016 Major League Baseball season. After a long winter of perfectly petulant prognosticating, and a spring and summer filled with ups and downs and all manner of twists and turns, we’re left with just these two teams. Just Cleveland and Chicago, all that’s left after a bloodbath of a year that nearly all the world saw coming from miles away. The teams that were supposed to do well made the playoffs, and the teams that were supposed to do poorly withered away into thin air.

We’re left with just Cleveland, Chicago and their combined 197 regular-season wins. Cleveland, chock full of of exciting players and character, a hodgepodge rotation, the most dynamic bullpen in the playoffs, and a reprehensible mascot. Chicago, overflowing with former top prospects and expensive free agents, an All-Star front office, a wine-sipping manager and a closer brought in after he’d served a suspension for domestic abuse. Both teams have waited a long time for another championship banner, one four decades more than the other. History will have been made at the end of this series regardless of who wins. Both teams have bright spots, and both have gaping wounds on their consciousnesses.

These teams are everything that is right with baseball, and much of what is wrong with it. They are representative of the current state of the game. Both teams are run by Ivy League-educated brain trusts who put great emphasis on statistical analysis. Both have recently emerged from prolonged periods of bad baseball. Both acquired excellent relief pitchers from the Yankees at the trade deadline. There are differences, particularly in payroll and how they have used prospects (primarily as building blocks for Chicago, and partially as currency for Cleveland). But make no mistake. These are teams that represent where the game is heading.

On paper, the Cubs feel like the team most likely to win. They are not burdened with the pitching rotations that Cleveland has endured, and they have what feels to be a more potent offense. Star power is on their side, while Cleveland has made their way to the World Series on the back of a 1-9 that doesn’t contain many easy outs. Yet the Cubs have a distinct pitching advantage with the absence of Carlos Carrasco, the unknown factor of Danny Salazar to pitch effectively immediately after returning from the disabled list, and the newfound propensity for Trevor Bauer’s finger to spew the content of his veins at a truly alarming rate. The Cubs don’t have Andrew Miller, though, just a despicable knockoff.

Yes, this should be Chicago’s series to win or lose. But baseball, and indeed history as a whole, has had different plans. We know that there’s no such thing as a curse. If there are curses, the Red Sox are proof enough that they can be broken, even when they were placed by generational sluggers. Chicago’s curse was put in place by either a goat or the goat’s vindictive owner. There’s no reason that the curse of a goat should be more potent than the curse of the Bambino, yet here we are. The Cubs have proven to be the best team in baseball by a fair margin.

If and when the Cubs win, the celebration will be unparalleled. The entire city of Chicago, and indeed much of the country, will devolve into bedlam. An ancient curse will have been broken, and Theo Epstien’s place in baseball lore will be further cemented. A Cubs win would be a “Where were you when it happened?” moment, a defining moment of sports history — possibly the most iconic highlight of all time.

A Cleveland win would represent the second wave in a revival of Cleveland sports. The Cavaliers brought winning back to the city, a city that was so desperately in need of a win. A World Series would be the second major sport championship in the span of a year. Both teams are built for sustained success, so long as LeBron James and Francisco Lindor stick around and have the appropriate pieces around them. The end of this series could mark the rebirth of Cleveland as a powerhouse sports city. Just don’t try too hard to think about the Browns.

Regardless of who wins, the winner will be a team that it feels slightly dirty to root for. Chicago will likely win with Chapman on the mound. Cleveland will possibly be celebrating with the most racist logo in all of sports on their uniforms.

Chapman is not every player on the Cubs, and Wahoo does not necessarily speak for the opinions of every Cleveland player. The accomplishments of those who win the championship should and will be lauded. It is a hard thing indeed to win the World Series. Undesirable elements shouldn’t detract from that, especially for fans of these two teams. And the purpose of this column is not necessarily to harp on teams that are Problematic with a capital P.

Yet these two things, Chapman and the Chief, have been weighing on the mind of late, and they can’t help but add a slightly sour note to the proceedings for the more socially conscious fan of the game. This is not a plea to not watch the World Series, which should be one of the more interesting and fair fights in recent memory. There are certainly other team with issues such as this in the game. Two of them reside in the NL East, and one of them made the playoffs.

This is nothing more than a stray piece of thought that has been rattling around in my head as of late. This should be a good World Series, a fine World Series, and one with fine historical implications. I have friends on both sides of the aisle here, fans of both teams. I wish them nothing but the best in the coming seven games.

This should be a good World Series, a fine World Series. I look forward to watching it.

I just wish there were not some elements of these teams that were quite so repugnant.

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Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.