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Major League Baseball 2016 – a season to remember

“Game of the Century” is what many fans called the Chicago Cubs’ 8-7 final game win over the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 Major League Baseball World Series. Trailing 3-1 in the seven-game series, Joe Maddon’s guys stunned Cleveland to win the title for the first time in 108 years. It capped a wonderful MLB season, with over 73 million fans attending the 2,425 games across the American League and National League. Even Barack Obama, himself a White Sox fan, revelled in this baseball party and made a cheeky offer to the victorious Cubs to visit the White House and celebrate their historic triumph.

Before the MLB season started back in the spring, Cubs president Theo Epstein and manager Maddon did some smart business. They signed Ben Zobrist, a 2015 World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals, John Lackey and Jason Heyward to their roster. That gave the Cubs more bite in the ballpark and helped them make a strong start to the season. April 21 was a special day for pitcher Jake Arrieta. He recorded a no-hitter, the second of his career, during a 16-0 routing of the Cincinnati Reds as the Cubs finished April with a 17/5 record.

May wasn’t quite so strong for the Cubs in the National League Central Division, as they went 18/10. June and July were slightly poorer (16/12 and 12/14 respectively) but August was a hot month for the Chicago outfit. They went into it with MLB’s best record (63-41) and picked up 22 wins in the month – the most victories for the Cubs dating back to 1945. The fans were beginning to feel that World Series success could finally be coming their way come late October as the likes of Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell ripped it up on the diamond. The final game of the regular season clocked up win number 103 for the Cubs (103/58) to give the franchise its best figures since 1910.

The Cubs successfully saw off Wild Card Winners San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series. They couldn’t quite clean sweep the Giants, but in game four Aroldis Chapman closed it out in the ninth and set up a National League Championship Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That became a six-gamer – the Dodgers taking a surprise 2-1 lead before Chicago levelled at 2-2 – but 8-4 and 5-0 wins in game five and six secured the Cubs’ first World Series appearance since 1945. Javier Baez and Jon Lester were crowned joint MVPs during the NLCS.

Cleveland Indians dominated game one of the World Series, with Terry Francona’s team winning 6-0 at Progressive Field. The Cubs pulled it back to 1-1, but Cleveland flexed some muscle to pull away a dangerous 3-1 series advantage. Chicago held their nerve during game five at the Wrigley, eeking out a tense 3-2 win, and it was back to Ohio two days later where the Cubs needed another dominant display in match six. That was never in doubt, racing to a 7-0 lead by the third innings before finishing 9-3 on top – Bryant, Russell and Anthony Rizzo all clocking homers. So, to the seventh game and winner-takes-all glory. It was a ding-dong battle, nip and tuck with the Cubs opening a 6-3 lead in the sixth but the Indians striking back in the eighth innings to square it 6-6. Extra innings were forced, but only after a dramatic 17-minute rain break. That rest seemed to fire up the Cubs as they ran out 2-1 winners in the tenth to seal a heart-stopping 8-7 win and their first World Series since 1908. Amazing stuff to cap a truly memorable season on the ballparks of MLB.

With the Epstein-Maddon axis in place, many punters will back the odds on 888sport for the Chicago Cubs to go all the way again in 2017. This season’s MVP, Ben Zobrist, will be fired up for World Series number three and with talented young players and a long-term plan for success at the franchise, it could be tough to halt their dominance. The New York Giants – so used to World Series glory and three times winners this decade – won’t be happy with not going beyond the NLDC. The Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox and New York Mets are all in that group of outfits looking to chase down the Cubs next year. But don’t expect Donald Trump to be inviting his beloved New York Yankees to the White House for a World Series celebratory beer.

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