Major League Baseball Preview: Why the Chicago Cubs Could Have a Classic Fall

Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs

Play ball! The Major League Baseball season begins Sunday night—a week later than last year, which will force the World Series into November for only the fourth time in history. Though the weather could be chilly, ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe forecasts the Chicago Cubs will snap their cold spell and win their first Fall Classic since 1908. “They’re drastically improved,” says Sutcliffe, pointing to the maturity of young minor-leaguers like Kris Bryant and how Chicago spent the money to acquire ace pitcher Jon Lester (above), a two-time World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox. “You don’t make that move if you don’t think you can win right now.”

Even a weird statistic favors the Cubbies, who finished worst in their division last year and haven’t won the National League pennant since 1945. “The last six World Series winners have all missed the playoffs the previous year, so I can’t pick Washington or Kansas City because they were in [last season’s] playoffs,” says Sutcliffe.

The Washington Nationals, who had the best record in the National League last year, could buck that trend, though. With injury-plagued Ryan Zimmerman moving from third base to first and Max Scherzer added to the pitching rotation, Sutcliffe says, “They’ll be even more of a complete team than they were in 2014.”

And for the first time in 20 years, the New York Yankees will play a season without “Mr. November.” Derek Jeter, who hit the first November home run in MLB history in 2001, retired last year. “It’s going to be a huge void,” Sutcliffe says. “Jeter has laid out the floor plan for what a big-leaguer is supposed to act like and I think a lot of people have learned from watching the things that he’s done. I’m going to miss him personally. I’m going to miss that smile. I’m going to miss the levity that he always had. I think more than anything the Yankees are going to miss his toughness. I don’t think people talked about that enough, but it’s certainly going to come up from time to time this year.”

The 2015 MLB season begins Sunday with the Chicago Cubs hosting the St. Louis Cardinals (April 5, 8/7c, ESPN2). Then ESPN has a full slate of Opening Day games on Monday, April 6:

1:00pm/ET: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees

4:00pm/ET: New York Mets at Washington Nationals

7:00pm/ET: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros

10:00pm/ET: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks (ESPN2)