After all that teeth-gnashing over the Chicago Cubs’ 2-1 NLCS deficit against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the city of Chicago slept easier Wednesday night, thanks to the the Cubs series-tying 10-2 victory in Game 4. Going into the game, the Cubs were pennant underdogs for only the second time all season; now, FiveThirtyEight’s Elo prediction model has them back as NL favorites, with a 61 percent chance of going to the World Series.
But at the moment, the Cubs are still not the most likely club to win the World Series. That’s because another team — the Cleveland Indians — has already won its league championship series. And they did it in relatively convincing fashion, needing only five games to dispatch the favored Toronto Blue Jays.1 Now they await the result of the NLCS — and with it, the potential to make history.
We’ve already seen one Cleveland team go through a historically difficult championship path when the Cavaliers knocked off the record-setting Golden State Warriors last June. The Indians might do them one better if the Cubs end up advancing (and Cleveland can pull another upset). The Indians’ path has already wound its way through two of baseball’s best teams: the Red Sox and Blue Jays, who still rank second and fourth, respectively, in Elo. If the top-rated Cubs are indeed next, the Indians will have faced the fifth-toughest group of playoff-series opponents2 of any World Series team since the wildcard era began in 1995, according to their average pre-series Elo rating:3
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All four of the teams that rank ahead of the Indians on that list lost the World Series, so a Cleveland victory would be far from assured. (Conditional on Chicago making the World Series, Elo thinks the Cubs would be about 60 percent favorites to beat Cleveland.) But the flip-side is that the 2016 Indians could potentially rank as the greatest underdog champions of the wild-card era.
And that’s on top of the history an Indians-Cubs World Series would produce anyway. Neither team has captured a title since Cleveland last won in 1948, and the Cubs have famously been waiting 108 years for their turn. So this is just one of many historical angles to watch for — rampantly speculating that the Cubs beat the Dodgers, of course. (Which is never a great idea when talking about a team with the Cubs’ history.)