Cleveland has a better chance than Chicago to return to the World Series in 2017

The youth of the Cubs, epitomized by the selection of Kris Bryant as the National League MVP, has many people discussing a return to the World Series next year and beyond for the team from Chicago’s North Side. In fact, it looks like his opponents in this past Fall Classic have a better chance than the Cubs to catch him again in 2017.

Several key members of the Cubs face free agency, most notably closer Aroldis Chapman and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler. Postseason pitching hero Jon Lester will return, but veteran drummer partner David Ross has dropped out. The loss of his longtime personal catcher, who was brought from Boston to Chicago primarily at Lester’s request, may cause the lefty to be less effective in 2017.

Cleveland, on the other hand, will add a star player to a lineup that somehow managed to win the pennant without him. Outfielder Michael Brantley, the team’s 2015 MVP, will return after missing most of last season due to injury. They will also get catcher Yan Gomes back, who also missed much of the season.

The road to the playoffs promises to be easier for Cleveland next season. Two of the perennial powers that rival the Indians in the AL Central, Detroit and Chicago, will be considerably weaker as they enter rebuilding mode. The Tigers are looking to trade veterans like Julio Iglesias and Ian Kinsler in hopes of landing top prospects, and the White Sox are trading ace lefty Chris Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton.

Also weaker are the teams the Indians beat in the playoffs, in which Cleveland won seven of eight games in the two rounds. Boston, which was swept in three games by Cleveland, will most likely miss the presence of “Big Papi” David Ortiz. The perennial All-star and probable Hall of Fame designated hitter retired after the season.

Toronto, who was dumped by Cleveland in five games in the ALCS, will lose at least one of its key sluggers, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Both All-Stars are free agents this winter, and each will have contracts so big it would be impossible for the Blue Jays to sign the duo.

On the other hand, the Cubs’ most likely playoff opponents will likely be stronger. Washington, which finished behind Chicago for the most wins last season, is looking to acquire Sale from the White Sox. That acquisition would bolster an already formidable starting rotation anchored by Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The Nationals are also on track to sign Fowler away from Chicago.

The Dodgers, who came just two games away from wresting the pennant from the Cubs, are actively pursuing several power hitters who could push them past Chicago in the playoffs. Milwaukee outfielder and former National League MVP Ryan Braun remains linked in a potential trade with Los Angeles.

While there’s no doubt the Cubs will be the favorites to win the pennant again in 2017, Cleveland might be an even better bet for a repeat. After all, they won it last year without two of their best players, who should be healthy come spring.

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