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The Cubs Ended Their 108-Year Drought The Hard Way

A Chicago Cubs world championship used to be the stuff of fiction and fantasy.

No more. The Cubs won the World Series early Thursday morning, ending 108 years of championship futility and setting off a Chicago celebration that might last another 108 years.

Despite dominating the regular season, the Cubs won their long-awaited title in the most drawn-out way possible. Chicago needed the full seven games to eliminate a talented, resilient Cleveland Indians team that made it further than any predictions said they would. The Cubs also had to overcome a 3-1 series deficit, becoming only the sixth team in World Series history to pull off that feat. At one point, Chicago’s chances of a comeback were just 7.5 percent; only six teams ever came back from longer World Series odds.

RK YEAR WINNER LOSER GAMES WINNER’S LOWEST WS%
1 1986 New York Mets Boston Red Sox 7 0.6%
2 2002 Anaheim Angels San Francisco Giants 7 1.6
3 2011 St. Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers 7 2.1
4 1968 Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals 7 2.7
5 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates New York Yankees 7 5.9
6 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates Baltimore Orioles 7 7.0
7 2016 Chicago Cubs Cleveland Indians 7 7.5
8 1985 Kansas City Royals St. Louis Cardinals 7 9.1
9 1958 New York Yankees Milwaukee Braves 7 9.1
10 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates Washington Senators 7 10.3
Biggest World Series comebacks

Source: The Baseball Gauge

And then there was the three-run lead the Cubs blew in the eighth inning of Game 7, when fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman — fresh off an inexplicable, unnecessary 20-pitch appearance in Game 6 — gave up a double and a home run to the first two batters he faced. Just like that, the game was tied, and any notion of momentum seemed to favor a Cleveland championship.

And yet, Chicago continued to bounce back in a way that seemed antithetical to the franchise’s long history as lovable losers. Chapman followed his shaky eighth inning with a clean ninth; the heart of the Cubs lineup plated two runs in the top of the 10th; Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery survived one final push from Cleveland in the bottom of the frame. Resiliency like that was one of the biggest reasons why the Chicago Cubs are your 2016 world champions. (And yep, that still feels funny to type.)

Functionally, the Cubs also won by outlasting the Indians’ brilliant-but-shallow pitching staff. Cleveland starter Corey Kluber had been largely untouchable in his previous two World Series starts, but in Game 7 the fatigue finally seemed to set in: He allowed four runs, two by way of the long ball, and struck out none in four innings Wednesday. Then Andrew Miller, Cleveland’s other unhittable ace — the bullpen edition — succumbed to his own heavy workload, yielding two runs in two-and-a-third innings, the most he’d allowed in an appearance all postseason.

The flip side of that was the Cubs’ bats finally roaring to life during the team’s furious comeback. After scoring 5.0 runs per game during the regular season (third-most in MLB), Chicago averaged a mere 1.8 per game during Games 1 through 4 as they slid into that 3-1 hole. Cleveland’s pitchers deserved a huge amount of credit for holding the Cubs’ hitters in check, but Chicago’s lineup eventually solved and — more to the point — wore down the Indian hurlers. The Cubs averaged 6.7 runs per game as they clawed their way out of the pit, including 8.5 in Games 6 and 7. By Game 7, both power hitting (they smashed three homers) and timely run manufacturing (the winning run scored on a clutch single after being intentionally walked) drove the Cubs’ scoring.

Add it all up, and the Cubs are finally champions, if by the narrowest of margins. (In addition to coming down to extra innings of Game 7, both teams scored exactly 27 runs in the World Series.) Wire to wire, 2016 was baseball’s Year of the Cubs; it carried over into the playoffs as well, even if things weren’t always easy. And this might just be the beginning: Chicago is favored to repeat next season, too. Suddenly, a Cubs championship doesn’t feel as fanciful and far fetched. It might just be baseball’s reality for the next few seasons and beyond.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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