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Cubs/Indians

Everything ends. Tonight, not only does the 2016 baseball season come to its long-awaited conclusion, but one team will end a championship drought spanning a period of time best served by using the term “century.” For Cleveland, that is “almost a century”–68 years. For Chicago, that is “over a century”–a reign of error that has cemented itself in the annals of baseball history unlike any other.

Either way, tonight is the end of an era. Either the Indians win and Cleveland no longer has any tenuous claim to the title of “worst sports city,” no matter how bad the Browns are. Or the Cubs win and baseball no longer has either of its twin long-reviled playoff droughts, with golden boy Theo Epstein shepherding both the Red Sox and the Cubs to the promised land.

Before any of that, before any of the ends, there will be a little baseball. Just like the mighty Zaza Pachulia once said: “Game 7 baby!”

Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks) vs. Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 8:00 PM ET

PECOTA Odds of Winning: 51% Indians, 49% Cubs

Projected Starting Lineups

Cubs vs. Kluber (R)

Indians vs. Hendricks (R)

Dexter Fowler (S), CF

Carlos Santana (S), DH

Kyle Schwarber (L), DH

Jason Kipnis (L), 2B

Kris Bryant (R), 3B

Francisco Lindor (S), SS

Anthony Rizzo (L), 1B

Mike Napoli (R), 1B

Ben Zobrist (S), LF

Jose Ramirez(S), 3B

Addison Russell (R), SS

Lonnie Chisenhall (L), RF

Willson Contreras (R), C

Rajai Davis (R), CF

Jason Heyward (L), RF

Coco Crisp (S), LF

Javier Baez (R), 2B

Roberto Perez (R), C

Injuries/Availability

Nothing gets held back here. Corey Kluber isn’t fresh–this is his third start in nine days–but that almost doesn’t matter. Look for the Indians to ride him up until the moment he looks like he’s losing a hint of effectiveness, and then it’s on to the Andrew Miller and Cody Allen show, where they’ll throw as many pitches as they can. Maybe Danny Salazar comes back or Bryan Shaw is needed, but more than likely this is a game for the Indians’ three best pitchers, and no one else unless there’s an emergency.

On the other side of the ledger, Aroldis Chapman threw a lot of pitches last night, but one has to imagine that he’ll be called on for two innings or more tonight. Jon Lester appears to be some kind of available–he’d be a great change-of-pace lefty weapon against Kipnis or Chisenhall in the middle innings–but Jake Arrieta probably can’t pitch and John Lackey probably won’t. It’s all hands on deck, and judging from these two managers, we’re likely to be looking back and wondering if they pulled a pitcher or hitter too early rather than too late. They’ll run with their absolute best players, and likely not many middle relievers.

Tyler Naquin's brutal Game 6 defensively gets him benched against a right-hander for the first time in months, as Francona turns to Davis.

Outlook

It’s time.

There’s poetry in the fact that one of these two teams will get to move past all those seasons of historical disappointment in a World Series that went all the way to Game 7. Each team will load up with their best starter from the season–Kluber versus Hendricks–with each team’s strengths on full display. The Indians have the pure pitching talent, with one of the game’s most dominant starters going first and the most dynamic postseason bullpen in history right behind him. The Cubs have enough offensive firepower to choke Earl Weaver himself and feature both a pitcher who allows soft contact and a defense capable of smothering anything allowed.

Throughout this series, the Cubs have had the on-paper advantage. Even now, on the road, facing the other team’s ace, they may still have a very slight edge. At the same time, the Indians have found a way to optimize every inning, and probably hold a significant pitching advantage for this game in addition to claiming home court. So as we get to the end of whatever it is that ends tonight–a curse, a season, even a career–it’s hard to pretend that the PECOTA projections and the stat lines are predictors rather than possibilities.

The margins are close enough that, at least for one game, we may be looking at the flip of a coin. So we come to our climax, the breathtaking moments before the end when colors are brighter, sounds are louder, and everything more urgent. We can talk about how the endings have dragged out, what they mean, and what comes next tomorrow. Before everything ends, everything begins.