It has the makings of a memorable and historic NLCS. Two long suffering franchises, with the Mets looking like the Yankees next to the Cubs woeful history. It’s the first post-season meeting ever between the teams. The Cubs won its last World Series over a century ago in 1908, sweeping the Detroit Tigers in 4 games. They last won any post-season series, the NLDS, against the Braves in 2003, 3-2. All other post-season series resulted in losses, more than half of those represented by losses in the World Series before the Mets were born. In fact, as a friend & fan reminded me, the last time the Cubs won the World Series the Ottoman Empire was still in existence!
By comparison, the Metropolitans of New York, born in 1962 from the ashes of the the New York/San Francisco Giants (Orange) and Brooklyn Dodgers (Blue) who relocated from East to West Coast in that great MLB bi-coastal expansion, have two World Series championships to their name: 1969 and 1986, both in the latter half of the 20th century. In addition, the Mets lost to the Athletics in the ’73 World Series and again to the Yankees in the 2000 Subway Series. They came very close to another WS opportunity in 2006, dropping Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals at Shea Stadium. The Mets have never lost a post-season series at Citi Field.
Starting tonight October 17, 2015, we again test the adage: Great pitching beats great hitting in the post-season. Here, the Mets Young Guns face the Cubs Young Bats. There have been many examples of that test of Arms vs Bats through the decades of Major League Baseball. The first that springs to mind is the dominance of future Hall of Famers Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, The Big Schill and the Big Unit, for the Diamondbacks over the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, a year after the Yankees dismantled the Mets. In that series, Schilling and Johnson traded games and innings and tamed the great Yankee bats of the 2001.
Forget the 7-0 Mets-Cubs Season Series: The Cubs swept the Mets, 7-0, this season. However, those games were all played prior to early July when the Mets lineup was transformed. In addition, several of those games were decided by 1 run. When the Mets last played the Cubs on July 2, Darrell Ceciliani started in center field, Eric Campbell started in left field, Johnny Monell was the catcher and John Mayberry Jr. was the first bat off the bench. Who, you say? Right. The Mets lost to Jake Arrieta, and Jacob deGrom punched a Gatorade bucket in the dugout.
Mets Roster Changes: By the end of July, the Mets had added center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, promoted left fielder Michael Conforto, activated catcher Travis d’Arnaud from the DL and added Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the bench. David Wright returned in August. You know what has happened since then.
The Pitching: It’s not as if the Cubs, Perennial Post Season Losers, do not have their arms. First, they have Jake Arrieta, de facto NL Cy Young with spectacular numbers, 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA in the regular season. Then they have Jon Lester (Below). The other starters, Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74 ERA), Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95 ERA), are mere mortals.
The Cubs #2 in rotation, pitching tonight, is Jon Lester, 11-2 with a 3.34 ERA, the 2-time Cy Young Award winner in the AL with the Red Sox who will be starting the 14th postseason game of his career. Lester’s 6-5 overall post-season record doesn’t look all that impressive, but his 2.66 ERA looks fine. In the 2015 NLDS he held the Cardinals to three runs over 7.1 innings in Game 1 and set the tone for the Cubs’ 3-1 series win. Lester was part of two championship teams with the Red Sox, winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series and dominating the postseason in 2013. He wasn’t part of the history-making 2004 team but would sure like his shot at making history with the 2015 Cubs.
Lester vs. the Mets Superhero, the Dark Knight. Matt Harvey is currently the Mets third option in the rotation as he is recovering from last year’s Tommy John surgery. Harvey caused some late season drama among his team by raising the issue inning limits through his agent Scott Boras. That drama seems to be behind him and the team as Harvey is back with a full heart and a willing arm to help lead the Mets to an NLCS championship. This is a guy who was first to see Terry Collins after Game 4 in the NLDS to tell him he was available to assist in relief in Game 5 in LA. Harvey also was instrumental in Game 3 at Citi Field when he pitched 5 gutsy innings to beat the Dodgers, when the Mets bats worked easily against LA starter Brett Anderson. Harvey allowed 2 ER in 5 innings with help from the pen, including his mates 42-year old Bartolo Colon and saver Jeurys Familia, in the most electric atmosphere in the history of Citi Field. [UPDATE: The Inning Limits issue raised its ugly head again today 10/17/15 but we think it will have no effect on tonight’s game.]
Why the Mets Win the NLCS:
- A Super Rotation: How many managers would love these options? If Harvey delivers in Game One, start Bartolo Colon in Game 2 and have deGrom and Syndergaard available for Games 3 and 4? Then there is also Steven Matz, who pitched well in Game 4, allowing only 3 ER in one subpar inning. That night the Mets bats could not conquer Kershaw and dropped the game 3-1. Take note: Jacob deGrom experienced frustration against the Cubs in the regular season, going 0-2, so don’t rely on The Hair to carry the Mets through the NLCS. Chances are deGrom will be ready for action but Mets fans should delight in that he is not pitching Game 1. In the NLDS, Steven Matz combined for a 3.07 earned run average as starters against the Dodgers, and closer Jeurys Familia retired all 16 batters he faced. Season stats of the 4 Mets Expected Starters: deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA), Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24 ERA), Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA), and Matz (4-0, 2.27 ERA) Colon is a real possibility to start a game or pitch again as he did in the NLDS–apart from an inconsequential home run he gave up to Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the Mets’ 13-7 rout of Los Angeles in Game 3, and a run he was charged with in the controversial seventh inning of Game 2 (Utley Broke Tejada’s Leg Inning), Colon has been practically unhittable in this post-season.
- Murphy on Fire: Daniel Murphy almost single-handedly beat the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine on Thursday night. Kudos to Mets pitching again of course, as deGrom struggled through 6 innings but Collins could hand off the ball confidently to a dominating Syndergaard for the 7th and and Familia for the final 6 outs. However, Daniel Murphy, the Man now dubbed as Dan-tastic! by that entertaining New York rag media, sealed the Mets 3-2 victory with heads up baserunning, stealing third on a walk!, and delivering the game-winning blast to right field that will be seared in Greinke’s memory forever.
- The Invisible Bats Return? In what is more a question than a declaration, it seems impossible that Duda, Wright, Cespedes and others will all continue slumping in the NLCS. At least one or two of those bats will come alive, the odds say, and in my opinion Wright may still struggle but Cespedes will come alive and Collins may have to call on Cuddyer instead of Duda. I also look to rookie Conforto and Wilmer Flores to contribute in this series.
- The Grandy Man Can: Curtis Granderson, the steady Captain-like leadoff man of this team, had a great NLDS series. He is steady, smart and knows a little something about the post-season himself. He is that special former Yankee who also fits well with the Mets.
- We Are Familia: He retired all 16 batters he faced in the division series.
How the Cubs Could Steal the NLCS from the Mets:
- Bats, Bats, Bats: With a lineup that includes the Cubs’ wrecking crew of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and more, who easily beat their nemesis Cardinals in 4 games (against lesser pitching than the Mets, however), Mets pitching needs to be at its very best to tame this young and talented lineup. The Cubs bruised the Cardinals for 10 home runs in a four-game division series victory, after homering twice off Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole in the wild card game. These bats cannot be taken lightly and the Mets arms must have their best stuff.
- Arrieta-Lester with Closer Rondon: If #s 1 and 2 of the Cubs lineup are lights out, the Cubs also have a great closer in Hector Rondon, who joined the Cubs in the winter of 2012. The Cleveland Indians’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, before Tommy John surgery in 2010 and an elbow fracture the next year, he has developed well for the Cubs Rondon earned 30 saves in 34 this season. So the Cubs have their own version of Familia, both had a 1.00 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) with an ERA below 2.00 this season. The Cubs other starters in the division series, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel, should be hittable. Hendricks has not thrown more than 93 pitches in any of his last 12 starts, and Hammel has gone past five innings just once in his last eight starts.
- Destiny: This is the reason that should scare Mets fans most. At some time or another it has to happen. Cubs fans say, why not this year? In fact, the 1989 movie “Back to the Future Part II” predicted the Cubs would win the 2015 World Series, and the man who wrote the screenplay and imagined this unlikely scenario is Bob Gale, a lifelong die-hard Cardinals fan. It’s strange but is it prophetic? At the same time, while “Back to the Future 2” decreed that the Cubs would win the 2015 World Series (against a team from Miami with an alligator mascot) the Mets have their own omen: when Familia closed out the Dodgers on Thursday, it was the Mets’ first two-inning save in the postseason since October 27, 1986, the night Jesse Orosco secured the Mets’ last World Series championship.
So tonight, the Mets bring on the Dark Knight to lead the way into the Light. Citi Field will no doubt be at least as electric as it was for Harvey and the Mets in Game 3, and let the NLCS begin! There will be no shortage of drama and excitement.
Prominent Play Prediction: Mets in 6, possibly 7. Mets Pitching will dominate, bats will return and the Murph will continue the Razzle Dazzle. Look to Thor to play a major role in this series, whether as a starter or Super Reliever. Granderson will continue his great leadership, and expect one of the big bats to return (Cespedes) and heroics from the unexpected (Conforto or Flores)
History should be on the Mets’ side in this clash. They roared back to overtake the Cubs in 1969 on the way to their first title, and clinched the N.L. East with a victory over the Cubs in 1986 as they stormed toward their other crown.
Game 5 Celebration, Mets Clinch NLDS in Dodger Stadium (Newsday, J. Conrad Williams)