(AP) — One thing is certain Wednesday night: The Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will finally end a long championship drought.
Much harder to predict is the player most likely to win World Series MVP honors.
After a back-and-forth struggle that’s now gone the distance, both teams have several legitimate contenders heading into Game 7. Whoever takes home the trophy — which started being awarded in 1955, years after Chicago’s and Cleveland’s last championships — will become the first winner in franchise history.
Rarely have so many candidates stood out at once. Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared the 2001 award, two decades after a trio of Los Angeles Dodgers split the prize: Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager.
Perhaps co-MVPs are a possibility again — that’s what happened in the NL Championship Series last month, when Cubs teammates Javier Baez and Jon Lester were selected.
Here’s a look at 12 players who could join a list of October royalty that includes Hall of Famers from Frank Robinson and Johnny Bench to lesser-known surprises like Pat Borders and David Eckstein.
If there’s a favorite going into Game 7, it’s probably the Cleveland ace. Kluber is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA and can become the first pitcher to win three World Series starts since 1968 MVP Mickey Lolich for Detroit. Set to make his second consecutive start on only three days’ rest, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner has struck out 15 and walked one in 12 innings. If he throws another gem and the Indians win, Kluber is a lock. If he falters, the field is wide open.
After a slow start, Rizzo has come on late in the Series and is a big reason the Cubs have won two in a row. The first baseman is batting .364 with six runs, four RBIs and three doubles. He had three hits in Game 6, including a two-run homer. Another big night at the plate could win it for Rizzo.
Just like Rizzo, the Indians’ young shortstop is 8 for 22 in the Series. He’s also walked three times, stolen a base and knocked in two runs.
The hard-throwing Cubs closer has taken on an expanded role with his team facing elimination. Chapman had not entered in the seventh inning since 2012 before doing it in Games 5 and 6. He pitched a career-high 2 2/3 innings Sunday night to save a 3-2 win that sent the Series back to Cleveland. Then he got four outs in Game 6 before exiting in the ninth with Chicago comfortably ahead. He has a 1.42 ERA and nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings and has thrown 62 pitches in three days. But he said he’s “100 percent” ready for Game 7.
After growing up a die-hard Cubs fan outside Chicago, the Cleveland second baseman has been a major thorn in their side. Kipnis is hitting .308 with two homers, four RBIs and five runs.
The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner had a spotty postseason history — until this World Series. He is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA in two road starts, pulling the Cubs even both times. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Game 2 and was handed a large lead early in Game 6. He has allowed five hits and struck out 15 in 11 1/3 innings — and said he’ll be available out of the bullpen in Game 7 if needed.
While bullpen mate Andrew Miller has garnered much of the attention this postseason, Allen has been even more dominant during the World Series. Cleveland’s closer has racked up 10 strikeouts and a save in four scoreless innings. If Game 7 is close, expect to see Allen on the mound in a high-leverage situation.
After helping Kansas City to a title last year, Zobrist is having another strong Series, this time for the Cubs. He is hitting .391 with four runs, three walks and two extra-base hits.
Not to be forgotten is Miller, the ALCS MVP and perhaps the biggest single reason behind Cleveland’s postseason run. The 6-foot-7 lefty is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA and eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings during the Series. He pitched in three of the first four games but has sat out the past two. That means Miller will be well-rested for Game 7 and could be called on by the middle innings for a particularly long outing.
Probably the favorite for NL MVP this season, Bryant began the Series in a 1-for-15 slump. But he homered in Game 5 to get Chicago going and did it again two days later as the Cubs won again. The 24-year-old slugger had four hits in a Game 6 romp and suddenly is batting a respectable .273. He did make a pair of errors at third base.
The 22-year-old Cubs shortstop did most of his damage in Game 6, and what a night it was. Russell hit a grand slam that broke things open and tied a World Series record with six RBIs thanks to a pop-fly double that dropped between two Indians outfielders. He is hitting .250 with eight RBIs.
A great performance in his Game 7 start for Chicago could conceivably make Hendricks the MVP. The right-hander, who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA this season, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings for a no-decision in Game 3. He came up huge in Game 6 of the NLCS, beating Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers 5-0 to give the Cubs their first pennant since 1945.