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CHICAGO- We’re two games into the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians (tied 1-1) and it’s already one of the most memorable fall classics of all-time — the Cubs haven't been in a World Series since 1945. While there are many storylines in this year’s edition of baseball’s championship, the Latino players from both teams have become centerpieces in this best-of-seven series.
From Puerto Rico, to the Dominican Republic, to Venezuela, to Cuba, Latin America is on full display as the battle for the Commissioner’s Trophy continues. Here are some players to watch heading into Friday night’s game three.
One player standing out this October is Cubs second baseman Javier Baez. After being named co-MVP of the National League Championship Series, the 23-year-old has reached base in each of the first two games against the Indians.
The native of Bayamón, Puerto Rico is batting .319 this postseason with seven runs batted in and seven runs scored. Baez was initially entered into the lineup for his superior defensive skills, but it’s his bat that has put the Cubs on the verge of winning their first title since 1908. Could Baez wind up being the savior of this franchise?
Another player to watch for is Baez’s former training partner, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor. The 22-year-old led the charge in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory by going 3-for-4 with a run scored and a stolen base.
Hailing from Caguas in eastern Puerto Rico, Lindor excelled through the Tribe’s minor league system in just four seasons and has played a key role in helping this team return to the postseason. The Indians will go as Lindor does and if they want to win their first championship since 1948, he’ll need to put this franchise on his back and lead the way.
Next we shine the spotlight on Venezuela, the homeland of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. The original plan called for the right-handed hitter, who can also play first base and roam the outfield, to spend the season with the Cubs Class-AAA franchise. But thanks to a string of mid-season injuries Contreras was called up to the big league roster in June — and he wound up staying for the rest of the year.
Manager Joe Maddon felt confident enough in the 24-year-old’s abilities to add him to the playoff roster. That move has paid off as Contreras’ postseason slash line stands at .360/.429/.949. Contreras will start game three behind the plate and he has gotten on base in the Cubs last two home playoff games.
Dominican-born Carlos Santana is the wild card for the Indians in this game. Normally the team’s designated hitter, the seven-year veteran will start in left field for game three (a position he last played in 2012) thanks to Wrigley Field being a National League ballpark.
To add to the uncertainty, Santana has also had a rough October in the batters box (4-for-35, .143 average). The world will be watching to see how he adjusts to the atmosphere in the Windy City.
Of course we can’t talk about the World Series without mentioning some pitching. The Indians' Danny Salazar and the Cubs' Aroldis Chapman play different roles for their teams but are also some of the most important arms on their respective staffs.
Salazar, who’s normally a starter, has been converted to a reliever for this series after spending the final three weeks of the regular season and the first two playoff rounds on the disabled list with a forearm injury. Chapman is arguably the most effective closer in the game.
The Indians will call upon Salazar –one of only two Hispanic pitchers on Cleveland’s roster- for no more than an inning or two of work. He’s being eased back into the game so as not to risk further injury. But when/if he does pitch, Salazar can be a strikeout machine when he’s on point.
If Chapman gets in the game that’s usually a bad sign for opposing teams. The Cubs only call upon their Cuban import when they have a lead in the ninth inning.
But regardless of whether or not you’re a Cubs fan, Chapman’s 100 miles-per-hour fastballs have become a sight to see.
Either the Cubs will make history this weekend or the Indians will force this series back to Northeast Ohio. Either way, these next three games will be fun to watch.
Gabe Salgado is a multimedia sports journalist based in Chicago.