Bleacher Report's 2016 League Championship Series Awards

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterOctober 23, 2016

Bleacher Report's 2016 League Championship Series Awards

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    I went looking to see how Bleacher Report covered things the last time the Chicago Cubs went to the World Series. No luck.

    I couldn't find any of our stories about the last Cleveland Indians' World Series title, either.

    We weren't around in 1945 (the last time the Cubs made it) or in 1948 (the last time the Indians won it) or even in 1997 (the last time the Indians played in it).

    So yeah, you're going to be watching history when the 2016 World Series opens Tuesday night at Progressive Field. Cubs vs. Indians: Two teams that have been around forever; two teams that haven't won in forever; two teams that won something pretty important this week.

    Tuesday night will get here soon enough. First, let's take a quick look back on how all of this happened, how and why the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS and the Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

    Catch your breath and enjoy the first Bleacher Report League Championship Series Awards to feature the Cubs and Indians.

Most Overlooked Hero: Robert Andino

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Yes, Robert Andino.

    Why? Because without his base hit on the final day of the 2011 season, there's a real chance neither the Cubs nor the Indians would be in the World Series now.

    Andino played for the Baltimore Orioles then. His ninth-inning single off Jonathan Papelbon on the final night of the regular season sent the Boston Red Sox home after a shocking September collapse. Three days later, Terry Francona was out as Red Sox manager. A week later, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was spotted at a Chicago Starbucks and was on his way to taking over the Cubs.

    Hiring Epstein turned around the Cubs. Hiring Francona in 2012 turned around the Indians.

    Without Andino, they might both still be in Boston. Instead, they're both in the World Series, and they brought the Cubs and Indians with them.

Best Big Moment: Miguel Montero's Game 1 Grand Slam

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The best moment for Cubs fans came when they clinched the pennant Saturday night. And the best moment for Indians fans no doubt came when they finished off the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

    But those were predictable. This wasn't.

    Remember, the Dodgers had just tied Game 1 with Adrian Gonzalez's two-run single off Aroldis Chapman in the top of the eighth. Cubs manager Joe Maddon had already run through five relievers, and since Montero was batting for Chapman with two out in the bottom of the eighth, Maddon was going to need another one for the ninth. The game and perhaps the entire series could have turned toward the Dodgers.

    Montero didn't have a hit yet in the postseason. He hasn't had another hit since then.

    But when Joe Blanton spun an 0-2 slider in the middle of the plate and Montero unloaded for the grand slam that would win the game, Wrigley Field went wild. Cubs fans around the globe did too.

    It wasn't a straight path from there to the World Series, not with the Dodgers shutting out the Cubs in Games 2 and 3, but Montero's slam will still live on in Cubs history.

Best Surprising Star: Ryan Merritt

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    He was a 16th-round draft pick. He had started 115 games in the minor leagues and one game in the majors. His fastball averages 87-89 mph.

    With two of their starters hurt and the bullpen taxed after Trevor Bauer had to leave a game in the first inning, the Indians called on 24-year-old Ryan Merritt to start Game 5 in Toronto.

    Merritt didn't throw a pitch at even 90 mph, but he gave up no runs and just two hits. He didn't qualify for the official win because he only went 4.1 innings, but he left with a 3-0 lead and allowed Francona to turn the game over to the guys he trusted in the bullpen.

    The Indians are American League champions, and Merritt started the clinching game.

Best Supporting Player: Matt Szczur, Cubs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    No, that's not Matt Szczur in the picture. That's Anthony Rizzo, hitting a home run off Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night.

    Who's Matt Szczur? He's the guy whose bat did all the damage.

    As Scott Miller wrote in his fine column for Bleacher Report on Game 4, Rizzo was 2-for-28 with nine strikeouts in the postseason using his own bat, so in the fifth inning that night he grabbed one of Szczur's.

    "Watch this," Szczur told Tommy La Stella in the Cubs dugout. "He's going to go deep right here."

    Rizzo did go deep. He finished the night 0-for-2 (with his bat) and 3-for-3 (with Szczur's). He had two more hits in Game 5 and two hits, including the home run, in Game 6.

    Szczur is a .245 career hitter with just eight home runs. He wasn't on the roster for the NLCS.

    The Cubs didn't need him, and they probably don't need him for the World Series, either.

    But you can bet he'll be sure to bring his bats.

Best WBC Preview: Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez

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    Francisco Lindor
    Francisco LindorTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Cubs and the NLCS got the big ratings, so you've no doubt heard of Javier Baez and his postseason heroics.

    But if you haven't seen the other emerging star middle infielder from Puerto Rico, you're missing something. He's Francisco Lindor; he's the Indians' 22-year-old shortstop; he was a star in the ALCS; and he's the guy you see above with the big smile.

    Lindor is always smiling, and he's always doing something to help the Indians win. He hit .368 in the ALCS with a home run. The rest of the Indians batted .138, so you could say they needed him.

    Baez was hitting .368 in the NLCS before he went 0-for-3 Saturday night. He's had a great postseason too.

    Lindor and Baez should be great to watch in the World Series...and when they team up for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March.

Best Performance by a Free Agent-to-Be: Dexter Fowler

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In three of the four games the Cubs won, Dexter Fowler started the first inning with a single and scored the game's first run. He scored six runs overall in the NLCS, and his decision to return to the Cubs last winter on a one-year, $13 million contract looks better all the time.

    Fowler will get a lot more money than that this winter when he can be a free agent again. But if he wanted so badly to stay with the Cubs after last year, will he really want to leave now?

Worst Performance by a Departing Star: Jose Bautista

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    It was just "circumstances," right?

    Sure, circumstances like a .167 batting average in what were almost certainly the final five games Jose Bautista will play for the Blue Jays. Circumstances like going hitless in his two at-bats against Ryan Merritt, the Indians rookie starter whom Bautista claimed would be "shaking in his boots" in Game 5.

    Forget about those other "circumstances," the umpire calls Bautista didn't like in the first two games of the ALCS and he referred to in interviews before Game 3. Think instead about how much money Bautista cost himself with a subpar final season with the Jays followed by an underwhelming postseason performance.

LCS Cy Young: Jon Lester

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In this postseason dominated by bullpens, where Madison Bumgarner needed 101 pitches to get through five innings and Clayton Kershaw gave up five runs in an elimination game, Jon Lester has pitched like a true October ace.

    He gave up one run in each of his two NLCS starts after going eight shutout innings in the division series against the San Francisco Giants. He dominated the crucial Game 5 against the Dodgers, overcoming a high early pitch count and getting through the seventh inning.

    Lester won a World Series clincher for the Boston Red Sox in 2007, when he was a 23-year-old in his second season in the major leagues. He's 32 now, and just got the Cubs to the World Series.

LCS Most Valuable Player: Andrew Miller

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    So Jon Lester is the Cy Young but Andrew Miller is the MVP?

    Yes, because while Lester was the starting pitcher for two games the Cubs needed to win, Miller was the key guy in all four games the Indians won. Miller has pitched six times in this postseason, and the Indians won all six games. He has pitched 20 postseason innings in his career, with no runs, six hits, three walks and 31 strikeouts.

    There was some talk early in the season that the Cubs might trade for both Aroldis Chapman and Miller if the New York Yankees decided to move them. As it was, the Cubs got Chapman and the Indians got Miller, and now the Cubs need to find a way to keep Miller from dominating the World Series the way he has the first two rounds.

Best World Series Prediction: Cubs Win

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The best prediction was not the one I made when the postseason began. I had the Cubs in the World Series, but I had them losing to the Boston Red Sox.


    Fortunately, we do a lot of predicting, and I made a different one back in March. I had the Cubs winning it all, and since they still have a chance, I'm going to stick with that one!

    The Cubs have plenty going for them. They have the best team, they have the best rotation, their bats got hot in the final three games against the Dodgers, and they showed in the first two rounds of the playoffs that they can deal with adversity.

    The Indians are good; they have a formula that works and a manager who won the only two World Series he has been in. But they built up momentum through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and by the time the World Series begins Tuesday night, their five days without a game may have pulled that momentum away.

    So yes, I'm saying the Cubs win, just as I told you seven months ago (forget what I told you earlier this month).

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