CLEVELAND – If Sunday night at Wrigley Field was any indication, the Cubs made the right decision by pursuing Door No. 2 with Aroldis Chapman in trade talks with the Yankees at the summer deadline.
That is, unless Andrew Miller gets a chance to end the Cubs’ season in the next two nights by doing what he has done throughout this postseason.
Of course, Kyle Schwarber might have something to say about that now that he returns to the Cubs’ lineup for Game 6 of the World Series in Cleveland on Tuesday and, possibly, Game 7 on Wednesday as the Cubs try to come back against the Indians.
These might be the three most intriguing – if not decisive – players for either team as this historic World Series makes its final stop, at Progressive Field, with the Indians one victory from a first title in 68 years, the Cubs a two-game streak from their first in 108.
All of which means that sweet relief from generations of heartache and failure for one city’s fan base might have been decided during one seven-day span in July.
“It wasn’t the ideal situation [being traded], but the way it’s worked out, it’s hard for us to complain,” said Miller – the Cubs’ first choice when the Yankees put back-end bullpen lefties Miller and Chapman on the trade market.
“Both of us couldn’t have asked for better places to land.”
The Cubs were in position to reverse those landing spots – or at least keep Miller from becoming the roadblock to a championship he already has proven to be.
When the Cubs balked at including either Schwarber or Javy Baez in a deal, the Cubs shifted focus to rent-a-closer Chapman for a package built around the organization’s top prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, and closed that deal July 25.
Seven days later, the Indians sent a top-heavy package of prospects to New York for Miller, a multi-inning horse this postseason, who’s signed through 2018.
Despite conflicting reports, the Cubs never were in play to acquire both, with the Yankees looking to drive value with separate bidding wars.
“To break up our major league team and trade Baez, who could have a huge role, and also given the way we feel about Schwarber,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, “that was something we focused on: `Let’s not touch the core group of guys in order to improve our bullpen at the deadline.’ “
The Yankees might have had a better chance getting a Ricketts sibling in the deal than Schwarber, given the man crush Theo Epstein’s front office has on the lefty slugger.
“We made it clear all along that he wasn’t a guy that was on the table,” Hoyer said. “Not only do we think he’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, but I do think his makeup and his intangibles are exactly what we’re looking for. And if you believe in that you have to practice what you preach. If you believe in makeup like that, and you have a guy like that, it’s hard to deal him.”
That makeup came into play when Schwarber outworked his rehab schedule, earning a medical green light to bat and run at least six weeks ahead of the original prognosis for his reconstructed left knee – and just in time to become the Cubs’ World Series designated hitter after just four hitless at-bats in the regular season.
“I’m very excited about writing his name in [Tuesday],” said manager Joe Maddon, who got a 3-for-7, two-walk performance in the first two games of the Series from the kid after 6½ months between big-league pitches.
As for Baez, he’s one of the biggest reasons the Cubs reached their first World Series in 71 years, earning co-MVP honors in the National League Championship Series.
And by the time Chapman notched a career-high eight outs to closer Sunday’s 3-2 victory, the Cubs started to look like they might even have wound up with the more desirable reliever.
“He’s an animal,” teammate Kyle Hendricks said.
And Chapman (42 pitches Sunday) might even be available again Tuesday, Maddon said on Monday.
But Miller remains looming and rested to counterpunch – having averaged six outs an appearance during a dominant postseason.
And Hoyer knows this whole thing could come down to those two lefties – if not that week in July.
“There’s going to be a comeback at some point in [a game] this series,” he said. “For the most part, there’s a comeback in every series. And that largely comes down to the bullpen.”