Sim Game: Recreating Game 7 of the 2016 World Series

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Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was an instant classic. Two historic franchises long mired in championship droughts, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, looking to finally reach the summit of Major League Baseball once again. For ten innings — and four hours, 28 minutes — the two pennant winners swapped blows until Kris Bryant‘s throw to Anthony Rizzo for the final out ended it all.

It was a baseball fan’s dream: an exciting postseason and an even more enthralling World Series reaching its climax and sending fans all around the baseball world into elation. It captivated the 38,104 fans in attendance and the 40 million that watched the game from their homes in the United States and Canada.

I, like many of you, watched the whole thing despite not having a dog in the fight. It was a surreal environment with raw emotion felt so vibrantly even in my residence over 900 miles away from Progressive Field that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

But what if it never happened? What if the Game 7 we all witnessed was played under different rules and regulations, at a different place, with different players, and different strategies? It feels like an injustice to this game, perhaps the greatest to ever be played, to reanimate it, but come along, we’re going to make this happen.

Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the @Cubs and @Indians was one of the best games ever played. But what if it was played under current home-field advantage rules? @TomDorsa re-simulated the entirety of the historic Game 7.Click To Tweet

The idea for this came to mind as I was watching the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. The annual midsummer classic was played with a laid-back, loose feel to it, and it was a good time because nothing mattered. Maybe the All-Star Game should have some significance to it, but the way it played out in 2018 was cool because the game did not have any implications for what occurred down the road.

The Boston Red Sox got home-field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 World Series by virtue of their regular-season success (108 wins, the best total in baseball), which is the way it should be and the way it is in every other major professional sport on the continent. Boston got off to a great start in the Fall Classic, winning each of the two games in Boston before winning in five games in L.A., which goes to show how important home-field rights can be.

However, before 2017, MLB had a rule that gave home-field advantage to the team that represents the league that won the ASG. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, that’s because it is, but the American League knocked off the National League in the 2016 All-Star Game and gave Cleveland, the eventual AL pennant winners, home-field rights in the Fall Classic. The AL captured a 4-2 victory thanks to a three-run second inning, when San Francisco Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto allowed home runs to Kansas City Royals players Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer.

Corey Kluber, who started Game 7, got the win for the AL, but he really didn’t do anything to earn home-field advantage for his club. Three players that had nothing to do with the 2016 World Series decided where Game 7 would be played, and that’s absurd, so the entire point of this project is to reverse it.

The Cubs (103-58) had a better record than the Indians (94-67) in 2016, so screw this, let’s re-simulate Game 7 as though it was played at Wrigley Field on November 2, 2016. This is kind of ambitious and a little out there, but it’s only right. The thing is: with a game with as many moving parts as Game 7 had, where do we start?

Well, first, we’re playing in a National League ballpark, so neither team can pencil a designated hitter into the lineup. This changes a lot, because the starting lineups in the real-life Game 7 featured Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber and Indians heavy-hitter Carlos Santana. This will likely be the biggest factor in the outcome of the game.

What we have to do to form a lineup for the simulation is create a nine-man sheet using a combination of the real-life Game 7 and Game 5 (the last game of the series that was played in Chicago) lineups.

Here are the lineups from real-life Game 5, and from real-life Game 7.

Starting lineups for World Series Game 5, 2016

 

Starting lineups for World Series Game 7, 2016

Here is what we have come up with for the simulated Game 7.

Starting lineups for simulated World Series Game 7, 2016

Notice that we have to keep Santana in there somehow; he’s raking in this postseason and Terry Francona used him in left field for the games in Chicago already. The only change for Cleveland from real-life Game 5 to simulated Game 7 (besides the pitcher, of course) is Lonnie Chisenhall taking over right field from Brandon Guyer. Chisenhall’s lefty bat provides some danger for his right-handed opponent, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, as opposed to right-handed hitting Guyer.

Chicago replaces David Ross (who hit a home run in real-life Game 7) with Willson Contreras from real-life Game 5 to simulated Game 7. Hendricks has been caught by Contreras basically all season long to this point, and it makes no sense to have Ross in there, even if he hit that home run. Schwarber, a would-be DH, is on the bench for the start of this one, just like in real-life Game 5.

I know what you’re probably thinking: “Wait, but how do we know the series took seven games to decide? Wouldn’t home-field advantage get flipped for the whole series? You imbecile, you’re the worst writer of all-time. [expletives].” For the sake of the simulation, let’s go ahead and imagine the series played out similarly up to this point, and the seventh game is now a requirement.

So, you might be wondering how we’re even able to simulate a game, right? There are way too many variables in a high-stakes environment like this to do it manually. Well, we used a really neat tool on What If Sports to create a baseball game from scratch with lineups, home ballparks, and even custom rules (such as, guess what, there’s no designated hitter). This allows us to let the game flow organically and review the happenings as they occur in the simulation.

So, without further ado, let’s begin. The Cubs start the game on defense, which instantly changes one of the biggest moments of the game, Dexter Fowler‘s leadoff home run. With the Indians hitting first, say goodbye to that towering shot and welcome the alternate reality.

First Inning

Using the What If Sports tool, the Cubs have a successful first inning nonetheless. Hendricks pitched a scoreless first with — in true Kyle Hendricks fashion — three groundouts to the middle-infield.

And in the bottom half of the frame, Dexter Fowler did something he did in real life — scoring the game’s first run — by walking and being driven in on a Kris Bryant double. Corey Kluber is in trouble early, but gets out of the runner-in-scoring position, nobody out jam with a flyout and swinging strikeouts on Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell.

Second Inning

The Easy Outs King, Kyle Hendricks, is out here getting easy outs and giving Rizzo a busy inning. Meanwhile, Kluber continues to have a very bad time out there on the hill, and what’s different is that he doesn’t have the hometown fans to pick him back up.

Willson Contreras hit a bomb and Javier Baez scored on a single, sac bunt, and a Fowler RBI hit. You good, Corey?

Third Inning

Lonnie Chisenhall gives Cleveland their first hit of the night, but can’t make it past second base as Hendricks retires the next three hitters. Can Corey Kluber match his pitching counterpart with a clean inning? Haha, nope.

After loading the bases, Javier Baez knocked a two-run single into center field with two outs in the inning. It’s 5-0 after three innings.

Fourth Inning

Cleveland, however, would finally get something cooking in the top of the fourth. With the heart of the order at the dish, Francisco Lindor‘s triple and Mike Napoli‘s walk led to a Carlos Santana RBI, followed by Jose Ramirez bringing Napoli in with a single of his own. Though the deficit is still a large one, they have Hendricks on his heels.

Andrew Miller (who was on deck in the top half of the inning), replaces Kluber here in bottom of the fourth, and induces two infield groundballs and a flyout to left center. Decent.

Fifth Inning

Andrew Miller struck out swinging because he’s a pitcher and guess what, there’s no DH. Rajai Davis and Lindor follow suit in being retired by Hendricks — with a Jason Kipnis double in between — and that’s five innings of two-run ball by the Cubs’ starter.

Miller was relieved by Bryan Shaw after the side-arm left-hander got into a little bit of trouble in allowing an Addison Russell single and a Jason Heyward walk. Shaw would whiff Javier Baez to end the inning without damage.

Sixth Inning

Though they loaded the bases and chased Hendricks in the process, Cleveland won’t be happy about two straight easy outs with the bases full from Roberto Perez and Brandon Guyer — who pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot — to end the top of the sixth. Luckily, their new pitcher, Trevor Bauer, held down the fort with calm outs against Kyle Schwarber (pinch-hitting for the pitcher and then taking over in left field), Fowler, and Bryant.

Seventh Inning

Just like in the real Game 7, the plan all along was to use Jon Lester in relief, and here he is in the seventh to face the top of the order again. He starts his outing with a grounder to short against Rajai Davis, then walks Kipnis, allows a single to Lindor, and lets Napoli take him yard. Baseball champion.

Luckily, he got out of the inning without any additional damage, striking Santana and Ramirez out. But it’s 5-5, and Trevor Bauer has retired six of the seven batters he’s faced in relief, allowing only a walk to Ben Zobrist (who is now playing second, and Baez is out. Also, David Ross is catching Lester now).

Eighth Inning

Carl Edwards Jr. enters the game and promptly forces three easy outs on balls in play against Guyer (who had taken over for Chisenhall in right field), Roberto Perez, and Coco Crisp (who is pinch hitting for the pitcher).

Dan Otero is on after Bauer was lifted for Crisp, and though he gave up two straight hits with two outs to Jorge Soler (pinch hitting for Edwards Jr.) and Dexter Fowler, he got Bryant to ground out to Ramirez to end the frame.

Nine Inning

By chance, we get a rematch of the legendary home run off of Aroldis Chapman by Rajai Davis, but it doesn’t bode as well for Terry Francona’s squad. Davis is merely the first of three straight Indians batters to be retired in quick succession.

However, closer Cody Allen is one in the tied ninth inning and, after issuing a walk to Anthony Rizzo, he gets Zobrist, Russell, and Ross to go down on strikes. Just like on November 2, 2016, we’re headed to extra innings.

Tenth Inning

As Chapman and Allen each stay on the mound, the results are the same. Another 1-2-3 inning for the Cubs’ lefty retires Napoli, Santana, and Ramirez, as Allen gets Heyward, the pinch-hitting Miguel Montero, and Fowler to kneel down in the midst of a Schwarber walk.

Eleventh Inning

Pedro Strop enters the game to face the bottom of the order, and like the real-life Game 7, utility player Michael Martinez is the final Indians out of the World Series. Because in the bottom half of the inning, Kris Bryant pulled a Danny Salazar pitch into the bleachers over the Wrigley Field ivy with a walk-off solo jack.

The 2016 National League Most Valuable Player, in the simulation, hit probably the most meaningful and historic home run in the history of Major League Baseball right there. Game 7, extra innings, an ancient ballpark, two teams that haven’t won a title in over 170 years, and Bryant ended it and sent the Chicago crowd into elation.

Cubs fans wouldn’t change a thing about the 2016 World Series if you asked them now, but this ending is unquestionably better. Sorry, Cleveland fans, I rewrote one of the most significant moments in the history of the sport and your team still lost.

Maybe we could use the process to re-simulate the 2017 World Series, but in reverse. Los Angeles had home-field rights against the Houston Astros with their better record, but the AL won the 2017 All-Star Game; had the rule not been implemented before that season, Houston would have hosted L.A.’s disastrous Game 7.

With simulated Game 7 in Houston, that means Yu Darvish doesn’t blow up right as the biggest game of his life commences, Lance McCullers Jr. doesn’t have an RBI opportunity because the pitcher doesn’t bat, and George Springer can’t take Darvish’s third-inning pitch to center field for a decisive home run. Maybe the Dodgers, who had beaten Charlie Morton in Game 4 of the series, would have had better luck against the right-hander in a simulated Game 7.

But alas, I’m an Astros fan, and I am not erasing the only title in our franchise’s history. Alright, bye.

If I got anything wrong here, should have done something different in the simulation process, or you’re just having a bad time and need someone to take your anger out on, feel free to sound off in the comments.

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