National League Championship Series Preview: Can the Cubs Actually Do This Thing?
If someone had told you at the start of the season that the New York Mets would face the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series, they would have asked you what kind of 'shrooms you were on and where they could score some.
No one in their right mind thought these two teams would get this far, yet here they are, with the Mets looking for their first World Series appearance since the 2000 Subway Series against the Yankees. Chicago hasn't been to the Fall Classic since 1945. That was the same year World War II ended.
So yeah, it's been a bit of a long stretch for the Cubbies, who got close a few times before, in 1984, 1989 and 2003. But here they are, all young and ignorant of history and, you know, just the way the world works in general.
Chicago got here after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Game and is coming off a 3-1 NLDS victory over the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals -- not bad for a team that finished in third place in the National League Central. Meanwhile, the NL East champion Mets put down a the champs of the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in five tense games.
Both teams were on fire the last two months of the season, with New York going 39-22 (.639) since August 1 and Chicago going an insane 42-18 (.700). Yes, the Cubs won 70% of their games since the trade deadline.
Why the New York Mets Will Win
That long-haired kid. The Dark Knight. Thor. Three pretty good reasons to like New York's chances.
Jacob deGrom wasn't nearly as unhittable in Game 5 as he was in Game 1, but he gutted out a six-inning, two-run performance in the clincher to move the Mets into the NLCS. Matt Harvey is still having his pitch count watched, and perhaps the lack of steady work has hurt his ability to find a groove, yet he still has dominant stuff. And Noah Syndergaard has been a beast, throwing in the upper-90s and reaching triple digits in the NLDS against Los Angeles. All three starters are capable of shutting down any opponent on any given day.
The Mets' rotation probably has more depth than Chicago's. While Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta are a dynamic duo at the top of the rotation, the lesser-heralded Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, while both are fine pitchers, aren't as good as whoever will pitch Game 3 for New York. So, Joe Maddon will likely use both Hammel and Kendricks back-to-back in Game 3 and treat it as a bullpen game, with Lester and Arrieta likely then going on short rest.
Of course, the Mets may be catching Arrieta as he reaches a fatigue point. In the regular season he threw 229 innings, by far the most of his career (156.2 was his previous high in 2014). Tack on another two high-stress starts here in the postseason (the latter of which he gave up four runs in Game 3) and you've got a guy who may be starting to tire.
New York's offense has been on fire since the Yoenis Cespedes trade, scoring the most runs in the National League in the second half of the season (373). Of course, the Chicago Cubs were right behind (354). Daniel Murphy is the man everyone is talking about right now, 7-for-21 in the playoffs with 3 home runs (against two Cy Young winners) and five RBI in five games. Curtis Granderson has been terrific too, 7-for-18 with 3 walks, and Cespedes is 5-for-20 with 2 longballs. David Wright and Lucas Duda haven't done much yet but are still dangerous bats in the middle of the New York lineup.
New York also has home field advantage, which could be key to the Mets' getting off to a quick start in the series. There's no doubt Wrigley Field will be rocking, so playing one extra game at Citi Field sure goes a long way.
Why the Chicago Cubs Will Win
There is something magical about this young Cubs team. Yes, they finished third in their division but won more games than the Mets this year and seem to have an edge in a couple different categories.
If Arrieta is not tired and simply had an off night in Game 3, then Chicago features a pitcher that was unhittable for the last two months of the season. In the 10 starts before Game 3 he had allowed just two runs total. If he's still on, the Mets basically have no shot in either game he pitches. And while Lester has trouble preventing runners from stealing because of a problem throwing to bases, New York doesn't steal, just 29th in baseball in stolen bases this year.
Chicago has the superior bullpen. Yes, the Mets traded for Tyler Clippard at the deadline, but his 6.14 ERA in the last month of the season has manager Terry Collins a little gun shy. Chicago, however, has a solid middle relief corps with Trevor Cahill, Fernando Rodney and Clayton Richard all acting as a bridge to their late inning guys, Pedro Strop, Travis Wood and Justin Grimm. Closer Hector Rondon is a beast in the ninth.
And of course, Chicago's offense is unbelievably hot right now. Kyle Schwarber is 7-for-13 with an NL-best 3 homers this postseason (tied with Murphy and Stephen Piscotty), Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Anthony Rizzo each have 2, and Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro each have 1. As a whole, the Cubs have hit 12 homers in the playoffs, one better than the Astros, and are slugging an MLB best .506, with a playoff-best .823 OPS.
A key will be the play of Javier Baez filling in for the injured Addison Russell, out with a moderate hamstring injury. Baez has already homered once in this postseason but is a downgrade defensively from Russell.
And the Mets' best pitcher, deGrom, did not have much success against the Cubs this year, going 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA against them, walking 6 in 10 1/3 innings while giving up 3 home runs. It's always beneficial when the opposing team's ace has trouble with you.
Still, as hot as the Mets' bats were in the second half, Chicago's offense was just as hot and now may be even hotter here in October.
What numberFire's Algorithms Say
The Cubs swept the season series from the Mets 7-0 and have won 9 straight overall against New York, outscoring them 27-11 this year. However, all seven of those games were played before Cespedes was acquired by New York. And this is the first time they've ever met in the playoffs.
Our projections suggest the Cubs have a 54.28% chance to win the series, giving the Mets a 45.72% chance. And the most probable outcome is that Chicago will win the series in six games, a bit tighter than what we're predicting in the ALCS.
The Cubs have an incredible array of young hitters that will be going up against a phenomenal rotation of young Mets starters. Whoever gets the better of this matchup will likely win the series.
It should be a fascinating matchup of two teams who both believe this could be the first of many postseason battles against one another.