Saturday, October 17, 2015

Once Lovable Losers, Mets & Cubs battle in NLCS

Tell anyone before the 2015 season ever began that the Mets and Cubs would be sitting here in late October in the NLCS, they would suggest the nearest shrink. While most thought the Mets and Cubs would eventually find themselves in the spot, nobody thought it would come this year. Both teams ushered youth movements, and logic would say that after years upon years of losing, that both franchises were still at least a year or so away.

So much for preseason prognostications.

Yes, both the Mets and Cubs, lovable losers as they have been known to be are now chasing a National League pennant, and much more. For the Cubs they are trying to end the curse of the Billy Goat that began in 1945, the last time the Cubs ever appeared in the Fall Classic. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. 

From Back to the Future Part II, where the Cubs were said to have won the World Series in 2015, to other films like Rookie of the Year, where the Cubs beat the Mets in the NLCS, Chicago fans are grabbing onto every little thing, hoping its a clue. 

For the Mets, the last time they were here, nine years ago, Carlos Beltran watched an Adam Wainwright curve ball dip into the strike zone for a called strike three. From that point on, it has been nothing but down hill for the Metropolitans ... until now. 

One of these all time losers is heading to the World Series, and with the way these two teams are built, Cubs-Mets might be the rivalry to watch in the National League for some time. 

Starting Pitching: Like the NLDS, this NLCS will all be about pitching, pitching and more pitching. For the Mets they will once again feature their Big Three, in Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Harvey gets the start in Game 1 for the Mets, and is coming off a rather disappointing outing to the Dodgers in Game 3. He needs to pitch like the ace he is supposed to be, especially in Game 1, where he fill face veteran John Lester. 

There is some question as to how the Mets plan to use their starters after Syndergaard threw over 100 pitches in warming up three separate times for Game 5 against the Dodgers. If Syndergaard can't go in Game 2, then Steven Matz might. That could be huge as the Cubs counter with Jake Arrieta. 

Both Syndergaard and deGrom had huge performances in the LDS, especially deGrom who won both games he started. deGrom right now is on line to pitch in Games 3 and 7 of this series which helps the Mets big time. 

As for the Cubs, they are led by both Arrieta and Lester, with Arrieta setting the tone. The 29-year old Arrieta has been phenomenal this year, and is in line to win the Cy Young award. He also been extremely hot in the playoffs, winning both starts and striking out 20 batters 14.2 innings pitched. Like they did with Kershaw and Grienkie, the Mets will have to win at least two games against the combination of Arrieta and Lester if they have any hope of winning this series. 

The Cubs round out their rotation with Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel, both of whom are hot and cold. Both can be had especially if the Mets match-up with deGrom and Syndergaard when the series heads to Chicago. EDGE: Mets. 

Bullpen: Neither team wants to leave this up to their respective bullpens. For the Cubs they are trusting guys like Fernando Rodney, Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill to get the ball to Hector Rendon in the ninth. The bullpen for Chicago is very hittable, especially if they have to come in early in games. The Mets bullpen is no better. They had no choice but to use Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard out of the pen against the Dodgers. It could be more of the same this week with Colon and Jon Niese coming out of the pen, as Terry Collins can't trust Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and company to get the ball to Jeurys Familia in the ninth. EDGE: Even

1st Base: Anthony Rizzo vs. Lucas Duda. There is no question that the Cubs win this match-up. Rizzo is one of the best hitters in the game, as he has powered the Cubs with 31 home runs, 101 RBI, and a on base percentage of .387 this year. In the playoffs, Rizzo hasn't hit as well, but did belt two home runs against the Cardinals. As for Duda, he has been mired in an ugly slump, hitting only .111 in the playoffs. There is even rumors he might sit out Game 1. EDGE: Cubs. 

2nd Base: Starlin Castro vs. Daniel Murphy. This is a tough one to call, because both players are good. Castro had a rough postseason, but he's got a very explosive bat, he might ultimately be the one with the edge in this matchup. However, Murphy gets a slight edge because he has been red hot in the month of October. In addition to belting three homers against the Dodgers, Murphy has been getting clutch hits for the Mets. He is a guy the Cubs can't let beat them. EDGE: Mets. 

3rd Base: Kris Bryant vs. David Wright: There was a day when David Wright was looked upon as the game's bright, young star at third base. Now a veteran, Wright is just looking for better results in the LCS, after going 1-for-16 against the Dodgers. However, that one hit was huge, a two-run single that pushed the Mets to a  Game 1 victory. Wright has waited a long time for this moment, this is his chance to grab it. Meanwhile, Bryant hasn't had a great postseason either, but he did have a monster campaign in his first year with the Cubs, belting 26 homers and driving in 99. He will be fine in this series as will Wright. EDGE: Even

Short Stop: Javier Baez vs. Wilmur Flores. Addison Russell is a budding star at short for the Chicago Cubs. Only 21 years-old, Russell cracked 13 homers and drove in 54 in his rookie campaign. In a League where big time power short stops are at the ultimate premium, Russell has a chance to put up A-Rod type numbers at the position if he stay there. Russell's presence will be missed, as he is expected miss the NLCS with an ankle injury. Therefore the Cubs turn to Javier Baez. Baez has put up good numbers in the postseason, granted a small sample size at 4-of-5 with a homer and four RBI, so the Mets can't sleep on him.

 Flores, the Met-fan favorite, is now the the Mets short stop for the duration after Ruben Tejada was lost of the year on the controversial Chase Utley slide. Flores has good power in his bat, but is a question mark defensively. EDGE: even

Outfield: 
Right Field: Chris Coghlan vs. Curtis Granderson. Granderson is having a big postseason thus far. The veteran outfielder gives the Mets both strong leadership on the field and in the clubhouse, plus has really made that lead-off spot his own this year. In the LDS alone, Granderson hit .389 with five RBI. He will have the edge over Coghlan, who has some pop, but didn't play much in the LDS. EDGE: Mets

Left Field: Kyle Schwarber vs. Yoenis Cespedes: Oh my! This is a match-up of all match-ups. In fact these two guys might be the X-factors of the entire series. Schwarber who came up from the minors in August is an absolute beast, with a capital B. The guy cracked three home runs and hit .538 against the Cardinals in the LDS. In fact one of his home runs almost left Wrigley Field, when it hit the top of a Budweiser sign! He has to be accounted for at all times. With the windy Wrigley, and the short porch in Citi Field, schwarber could do some serious damage. 

As for Cespedes this is a big series for him. He had a tremendous regular season since being acquired by the Mets on July 31. He is the reason the Mets made the playoffs this year, but disappeared in the LDS. While he hit one home run against the Dodgers, the Mets need to see the Cespedes who was a MVP candidate in the month of August if they are going to win this series. EDGE: Cubs

Center Field: Dexter Fowler vs. Juan Lagares: Both guys have speed, but Fowler is the more polished player, and as the Cubs lead-off man, expect him to use his legs a lot in this series. He stole on 20 bases in the regular season, but the Mets are challenged defensively up the middle, and Fowler could take advantage. Lagares had an inconsistent 2015, but when he does play for the Mets, is one of the most electric outfielders in the game. Lagares covers a lot of ground, so any fly ball in his direction might very well get caught. Edge: Cubs. 
Catcher: Miguel Montero vs. Travis d'Arnaud: The veteran Montero is only back there for the Cubs to call balls and strikes, simple as that. He is not the offensive player he once was, even though he has occasional pop, and has not hit at all in the playoffs. Plus Montero has a .202 caught stealing percentage, meaning the Mets can run on him. As for d'Arnaud, he has a lot of upside, and has already produced in the playoffs. The Mets catcher hit only .158, but still hit a home run and drove in four in the LDS against the Dodgers. While he has defensive limitations, he calls a very good game, and catches the Big Three. Edge: Mets

Manager: Joe Maddon vs. Terry Collins: The two long time friends now face one another for all the marbles in the National League. Collins had a good series against the Dodgers, pressing all the right buttons like leaving Jacob deGrom in for the duration in Game 5, and going to Familia for a six-out save. He believes in his guys, and they do him. That being said, nobody is better at game planning and Xs and Os than Maddon. While he has yet to win a World Series as a manger, Maddon is the ultimate baseball doctor. He turned around the Rays and made them into World Series contenders, and in just one year has done the same in Chicago. He breaths confidence into his players, and they play their hearts out for him. In a sport where the manager doesn't always make the difference, Maddon does. He just needs the ring. Edge: Cubs. 

Intangibles: Nobody has an edge here. Both teams know what this is all about. The winner heads to the World Series and ends years of total misery for their fan base. You don't need any more motivation than that. Edge: even

Prediction: Such a great series that is very even. While the Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season, it means nothing now in the playoffs. This series is a classic example of good pitching (Mets) against good hitting (Cubs). The Mets need to keep the Cubs in the yard, and need to hit the baseball if they want to win. For Chicago they need to ride the arms of Arrieta and Lester four times in his series. If they do, and can squeeze out a game at home, they will be sitting pretty. Like I said, a very even series, but I think we see Game 7. Pick: Cubs in 7. 

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