It Could Happen Tonight

MLB: World Series-Chicago Cubs at Cleveland IndiansThe fact that I am writing the words “the Cubs can win the World Series tonight” still does not seem real to me. This is a day I’ve thought about ever since I became old enough to understand baseball, the Cubs, and everything that comes with being a Cubs fan. To make it simple: today is the biggest day of my entire life, and I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

I can’t help but think about all those times I played this game out both in my head and in my backyard as a kid. Game 7, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, two outs, and the winning run coming to the plate in front of a delirious Wrigley Field crowd. Obviously tonight’s game will be played in Cleveland, but still. The thought of the Cubs winning the World Series is one that has passed through my head on average of at least once a day for nearly the last 18 years of my life, and now here we are about 8 hours away from the first pitch of Game 7 of the World Series.

From the moment the Cubs recorded the 27th out in Game 6 Tuesday night, I’ve been trying so hard to not get caught up in the moment, to not think about what is at stake in Game 7. I have been rather unsuccessful thus far in blocking those thoughts from entering my brain, and therefore I am working on minimal sleep today.

Now I’ve got to be honest. I have never actually been able to picture the Cubs winning the World Series. I can’t get an image in my head of what it would look like if they storm the field and create a dogpile on the pitcher’s mound and hoist that trophy. As hard as I’ve tried, I just keep coming up empty. And honestly, I’m fine with that. I want to see it actually unfold in real life, not in my head.

I also can’t help but think about everything that has preceded this day.

My dad’s parents, my grandparents, and my great grandma were all diehard Cubs fans who came and went without ever seeing their team win it all. One of my uncles, who passed away far too soon and whom I never had the opportunity to meet, was also a diehard Cubs fan and was even drafted by the Cubs out of college to pitch and play the outfield; a dream come true. He never saw the Cubs make the World Series.

Then there are people like my dad, one of my other uncles, and my dad’s friends who have suffered through over 50-60 years of disappointment with the Cubs. I can guarantee you they will all agree that waiting so long for a World Series title was well worth it if the Cubs can pull it off tonight.

And even I, almost 25 years old, can’t help but recall my earliest memories of being a Cubs fan and everything that has happened between then and now. From my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field against the Marlins in 1997, Sammy Sosa’s historic 1998 season, all the vacations that my dad and uncle took my brother and I on to see the Cubs play in different parks across the country (22 of them), the heartbreak that came with the 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2015 seasons, to now being one win away from winning it all. I can’t help but get emotional when thinking about everything that has led up to tonight’s game. And really, that’s kind of what this is all about. Years upon years of waiting for this moment while making memories along the way, and now it could all come to fruition in just a few hours.

I don’t know how I am going to make it through the rest of today knowing what is waiting for us at 7:00 CT tonight. But I do know this:

IF, and it’s a big if, the Cubs can pull off the impossible tonight and win the World Series for the first time since 1908, the scene that will unfold here in Chicago will be unlike anything this country has ever seen before with regards to a sports championship. The emotions and built-up stress in us fans will all be unleashed at once. Some people may go crazy and go out partying. Some people will celebrate by hugging each other. Others may break down into tears, and some might even go silent in disbelief. As for me, I don’t know what I would do if the Cubs were to win it. I’d probably lose my mind for a minute and go bouncing off the walls, but then I would likely regroup, sit down, maybe even shed a tear, and just soak it all in. It’s a moment you cannot prepare for.

So I guess I’ll leave it at this. Tonight is the biggest night in the history of Chicago sports. It’s a night we’ve dreamed of for what seems like forever. Watch the game with people who will at the very least appreciate this as much as you. And if they do win tonight, make sure to remember those who are no longer around to see it.

Tonight, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to win the World Series.

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Cubs living up to the hype

2015-11-07 13.59.52For the first time in a long time, we were expecting big things from the Cubs coming out of Spring Training this year. Talks of a division title and even, dare I say it, a World Series became common throughout the baseball world. Finally, us Cubs fans were seeing everything seem to perfectly align with their roster.

Here’s the thing: saying that the Cubs have the best lineup in baseball, (arguably) the best pitcher in baseball, and that they are likely the best overall team in baseball is easy. For the Cubs to then go out and perform well and live up to those expectations, however, is a completely different animal.

Not only do this year’s Cubs have the weight of a 108-year World Series title drought resting on their shoulders, but now they have the biggest expectations in franchise history joining that drought on their shoulders. Dealing with that kind of pressure directly out of Spring Training is no easy task, yet this Cubs team has embraced it.

Expectations for this year’s Cubs were/are incredibly high, and somehow they have met those expectations through the first full month of the season.

We knew the offense would be good, and possibly historically good with the additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, as well as the re-signing of Dexter Fowler. So far, we’re seeing pretty much what we had expected.

Through 25 games the Cubs have scored 153 runs, which is good for a tie atop the entire league with St. Louis, and they lead the league with a 6.12 runs per game average. They rank second in the Majors with a .362 on-base percentage. Their 134 walks are 18 more than any other team in baseball. And how about their run differential of +89. The next closest team in that category is +40. In fact, the Cubs current run differential is the best baseball has seen through 25 games since 1905. Let that sink in.

Let’s not only focus on the offense though. The Cubs’ pitching is more than deserving of recognition.

The 2.29 team ERA of the Cubs is the best in baseball, as is their grand total of 57 earned runs allowed (64 runs including unearned). Also the best in the Major Leagues is their .195 batting average against. The next closest in that department is Washington at .215. And just for kicks, they have allowed the fewest hits in baseball (153), and the fewest total bases against (239). They are tied with Cleveland for the fourth fewest walks allowed.

So not only has the offense performed well, but the Cubs’ pitching has been just as good, if not better.

As for individual performances thus far, Dexter Fowler leads all of baseball in on-base percentage at a .473 clip and is tied for fourth with a 1.8 WAR. On the mound, Jake Arrieta is second in the MLB among starters with a 0.84 earned run average, and is tied for the league lead with 6 victories. His .142 batting average against is second best in baseball, and he was the first pitcher this year to throw a no-hitter; his second since last August. In the big picture, Arrieta is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of starting pitching in Major League history.

The scary thing about this Cubs team is the fact that offensively, they haven’t hit their peak yet. Only two “everyday” players, Fowler and Bryant, have a batting average over .300, and only one other everyday player, Zobrist, has an average over .250. Jason Heyward, the prized free agent signing, has yet to hit a home run and has just a .211 average. When the weather in Chicago turns to summer and the temperature warms up, this offense has the potential to explode.

Expectations are one thing. Going out and meeting those expectations is another, and that is exactly what the Cubs, as a team, are doing. With a 5-game lead in the Central Division (7-game lead over St. Louis), the Cubs are in the best spot of any division-leading team in the game heading into the warmer months.

Sure there is still lots of time left in the season and virtually anything can still happen. However, there is no denying that the Cubs are scary-good this year with still lots of room to improve on the offensive side. This is shaping up to be an unforgettable summer and, hopefully, fall as well.

Cubs sign Zobrist, trade Castro

130107_gq_trout_aWell as is generally the case, where there is smoke, there’s fire. And on Tuesday, there was a lot of smoke rising up above the city of Nashville where the MLB Winter Meetings are taking place. Lots of rumors began popping up involving the Cubs in multiple capacities, and sure enough they made the headlines by the end of the day.

The Cubs had been linked to Jason Heyward throughout most of Tuesday, and they still are (we’ll get to that later), but Tuesday evening the focus shifted to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, one of the game’s best, if not the best, utility men was reportedly nearing a final decision as to where he would ultimately sign. Recent reports all indicated that the Mets were the heavy front-runners, however the Cubs made a late push and signed Zobrist to a four year deal worth $56 million. It is worth noting that of all players Cubs manager Joe Maddon has ever managed at the big league level, no player has played more games for him than Ben Zobrist. Also add in the fact that Zobrist was born in Illinois and still has family in the area, and you begin to understand why he chose the Cubs (aside from the obvious reason of them being a contending team).

What Zobrist brings to the Cubs is versatility. He wants to play second base, and he will, but the fact that he can literally play any other position outside of catcher and pitcher gives Joe Maddon extreme flexibility with his lineup decisions. He is also great at getting on base, with a career .355 on base percentage, and bats from both sides of the plate. If the Cubs don’t end up signing an obvious leadoff hitter, you might want to pencil Zobrist into that spot in the lineup.

Aside from his physical abilities, Zobrist is a winner and a leader. He has played in two World Series now, having won one last year with the Royals, and is generally looked up to by younger teammates. The Cubs, a team with relatively little postseason experience in the field, will definitely benefit from having Zobrist in the lineup come crunch time next season.

So while signing Zobrist was a big move, it may not have even been the biggest news to come from the Cubs on Tuesday. Shortly after agreeing to a deal with Zobrist, the Cubs dealt Starlin Castro to the Yankees in exchange for 28 year old pitcher Adam Warren and veteran infielder Brendan Ryan. The Yankees will take on the remainder of Castro’s contract.

Warren, the main piece coming back to the Cubs in the trade, started 17 games for the Yankees last year and posted a 7-7 record with a solid 3.29 earned run average. He figures to be a number 5-6 starter and/or long reliever. This now gives the Cubs four pitchers who can pitch in relief and make spot starts when needed. Their bullpen depth, which was problematic at times last year, is quickly turning into a strength of the team.

Getting back to Castro, his departure was one that we were all somewhat anticipating for quite some time now. Despite getting off to a horrendous start in 2015, he became a completely new player once being moved to second base, which is where the Yankees plan to start him. While his bat and clubhouse presence will be missed, it was a move the Cubs had to make for two reasons. One, they needed to open up the second base position in order to sign Zobrist. Two, they needed to dump some salary to sign Zobrist. As Theo Epstein said Tuesday night, consider the Cubs’ transactions as a “Castro for Warren and Zobrist trade.”

Looking ahead now, the Cubs are still heavily linked to Jason Heyward as well as Denard Span and, if all else fails, Gerrardo Parra. All three are either center fielders or are capable of playing the position. If the Cubs could have it their way, the belief is they would sign Heyward today.

The Cubs had also shown interest in dealing for Shelby Miller, but the Braves reportedly had too high of an asking price. Tuesday night, the Braves and Diamondbacks agreed to a trade that sent Miller to Arizona, and Dansby Swanson (number one draft pick in 2015 MLB draft) and Ender Inciarte (among a couple other prospects) to Atlanta. Given what Atlanta got in return for Miller, it is clear now why no deal was made with the Cubs. The Braves got an almost unbelievable return in that trade. It’s likely their asking price was for something much more significant than Jorge Soler.

While the Cubs are definitely in the hunt for an outfielder, rumors of their pursuit of a good, young starter have died down a bit. It is unclear if the acquisition of Warren put a halt to that or not, so those rumors could potentially pick up again at some point.

A lot more could happen today and as we approach the weekend, and it should be fun.

Rumors heating up around the Cubs

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago CubsReports have surfaced today that the Cubs are zeroing in on the top free agent outfielder, Jason Heyward. After not signing David Price or Jordan Zimmerman, it appears that the Cubs are using the money they saved to try and lure Heyward into joining the North Side. We have already talked about why Heyward would be a great addition for the Cubs, but now it appears as though the Cubs are actively pursuing him.

Along with the reports of the Cubs chasing Heyward came the numbers 8 and 200 million, and yes, those are in reference to the type of contract he is reportedly seeking. Whether or not the Cubs are actually willing to pay him $200 million over eight years remains to be seen, but it gives us an indicator as to what Heyward is looking for. However, should the Cubs spend that kind of money on Heyward?

The answer is no. And honestly, no team should. Heyward has been a solid MLB player in his six seasons in the league, winning three Gold Gloves during that timeframe, but his offensive numbers are not worthy of $25 million per year. A more realistic contract would look something like six years and $108-$120 million, which if he would agree to, the Cubs should definitely sign him. In Heyward’s defense though, he is entering his prime years as he is just 26 years old, but $25 million per year is an awful lot of money for a guy who puts up just “decent” offensive numbers. The most logical reason for him supposedly asking for a contract worth $200 million is because there are lots of teams who would like to have him in their lineup. Look at it as a low supply, high demand situation.

In other Cubs news, Ken Rosenthal has reported that at least for the time being, the Cubs don’t appear to be in the Shelby Miller discussion. They are definitely interested in him, but it sounds more like the Braves are saying no to whatever the Cubs and multiple other teams are offering. At the same time, however, other reports indicate that Miller could be dealt soon, but no specific team has been definitively mentioned. This is without question a situation to keep an eye on.

Other than kicking the tires on Shelby Miller, rumors have the Cubs inquiring on a handful of other young pitchers. Carlos Carrasco (CLE), Danny Salazar (CLE), Alex Cobb (TB), and Matt Moore (TB) have all been mentioned as possible trade targets of the Cubs. All of the above are young and have loads of potential, but both Moore and Cobb have already had Tommy John surgery, which may or may not lower their appeal.

Simply put, things are heating up with the Cubs right now. With the Winter Meetings now well underway, it seems like only a matter of time before the Cubs strike a deal with another team and/or a big free agent, like Heyward.

Stay tuned.

With Price and Zimmermann Gone, Cubs can Zero in on Other Targets

130107_gq_trout_aThe Cubs entered this offseason with the main goals of adding depth to their starting rotation and bullpen, as well as signing a center fielder. Many believed that David Price was the Cubs’ number one target, but he signed a record-breaking deal with Boston yesterday that the Cubs simply could not (nor should they have) matched. Another supposed target of the Cubs, Jordan Zimmermann, signed with the Tigers over the weekend. So now two starting pitchers that the Cubs were believed to have had serious interest in are gone. Where do they go from here with regards to adding pitching, and what free agent outfielders may they heavily pursue?

Let’s start with the pitching.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are not going to hand out a $150 million contract to a starting pitcher. Not with Lester already making more than that and Jake Arrieta set to earn a major pay raise in the next year. What the Cubs are likely looking for is a pitcher who will accept a two to three year deal worth anywhere from twenty to fifty or sixty million. John Lackey’s name has come up quite frequently in Cubs rumors, and honestly it makes some sense.

Lackey is 37 years old, but he is coming off of a great season in St. Louis where he went 13-10 with a 2.77 earned run average. While age is a bit of a concern with him, he doesn’t seem to be showing many signs of slowing down. At least not yet, which is why signing him to a two-year contract worth somewhere around twenty million makes sense for both sides.

In addition to John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija’s name has begun popping up as a potential target of the Cubs. When the Cubs dealt him to Oakland two years ago at the trade deadline, Epstein and Hoyer did not rule out the possibility of re-signing the big righty when he became a free agent. Well, that time has come, and it appears the Cubs’ brass may be sticking true to their word. Samardzija had a pretty rough season in 2015 with the White Sox, going 11-13 with a career worst 4.96 ERA. Despite having some of the best “stuff” in the game, he lacks control of his fastball with regularity. When this happens, he becomes extremely hittable.

One other possible starting pitcher that could potentially end up on the north side is Shelby Miller. This could only happen via a trade. Rumors have been swirling of a possible Jorge Soler/Javier Baez for Shelby Miller trade. I would assume there would be more pieces to that puzzle if it actually happened. And if it did happen, it would be a great pickup by the Cubs.

The Cubs have an overload of middle infielders with elite talent, and if they could trade one of Baez or Castro and get Shelby Miller in return, it would be a huge move. Miller, who is just 25 years of age, was brought up by the Cardinals and pitched with them from 2012-2014 before ending up in Atlanta. His career numbers are pretty good, and also a bit misleading. Have a look:

2013: 15-9, 3.06 ERA

2014: 10-9, 3.74 ERA

2015: 6-17, 3.02 ERA

Notice that he had a career best earned run average this year, but also had the fewest wins and most losses of his short career. Despite pitching extremely well in 2015, he had no run support in Atlanta. Miller averages about 94mph on his fastball, with a good two seamer. He also throws a curve, changeup, and cutter. He threw more cutters in 2015 than in any other year of his career, and it worked out pretty well for him.

Alright, so that’s the breakdown of the Cubs’ top pitching targets that I think they could realistically end up with. And if they do land any of those three, it will be two of them at most.

Now to the outfielders.

Let’s not mess around here, and get straight to the point. With Zimmermann and Price off the market, the two guys that the Cubs were most likely to spend big on, they now have some extra cash to throw at a center fielder. Enter Jason Heyward, the most sought-after outfielder on the market.

130107_gq_trout_aAfter playing his first five seasons in Atlanta, Heyward was traded to St. Louis in a deal that included none other than Shelby Miller going the other way. In his six seasons in the league, Heyward has averaged about a .270 batting average, 19 home runs, and roughly 70 runs batted in. Not eye-popping stats, but still good ones. This past season was one of his best, as he hit .293 with 13 dingers, 60 RBI, and a career best 6.54 WAR (wins above replacement), which was good for fifteenth in all of baseball. He also won his third career Gold Glove in just his sixth season.

Heyward will get a lot of money from whichever team signs him. The specific amount remains to be seen. The biggest question that the Cubs have regarding signing Heyward is his ability to be a full-time center fielder. Odds are that Dexter Fowler will not return to Chicago, meaning Heyward, who played a handful of games in center while in St. Louis, would take over that position. If the Cubs believe Heyward can handle that permanent role, they will aggressively pursue him, and rightfully so.

Another option that the Cubs have is Denard Span, who has New York Mets v Washington Nationalspatrolled center field for the Nationals over the last three seasons. Span, who is 31 years old, has a career batting average of .287 and a .352 on-base percentage. Both of those numbers are very ideal for a leadoff hitter, which is where he’d bat if in the Cubs’ lineup. He is also an above average defensive player, with a career .991 fielding percentage.

So after all of that, here’s how I would like to see things unfold over the next month:

  • First, I think a Castro/Baez for Shelby Miller trade would be huge for the Cubs. What the Braves will likely want, however, is Jorge Soler, which I would still be in favor of. Miller is young and has a very good arm. Put him to work with Chris Bosio (a pitcher guru), and he could become a star.
  • Second, the Cubs would be smart to sign John Lackey to a two-year deal worth roughly twenty million, as I previously discussed. Given Lackey’s age, this is a good deal for both the club and the player. Imagine a starting rotation of Arrieta, Lester, Miller, Lackey, and Hendricks… Not bad.
  • Jason Heyward. The Cubs need to sign him ASAP, meaning whenever they can. He would be a great addition to the lineup without question.
  • If the Cubs fail in getting Miller or Lackey, then I’d be okay with them turning their focus to Samardzija.
  • Like with Samardzija, Denard Span should be the Cubs top outfield target if they miss on Heyward.

This is likely going to be a fun December for Cubs fans as the front office has made it clear that they’ll be looking to upgrade their starting rotation and add a replacement for Dexter Fowler. In terms of the bullpen, there are a lot of candidates out there and speculating as to who the Cubs may pursue is a crapshoot at this point.

Stay tuned.

Cubs’ Top Five Free Agent Targets

10-171460575-smallThe Cubs just finished up what will go down as one of the more memorable seasons in recent franchise history. Yes, it ended at the hands of the hated New York Mets (again), but don’t let that take anything away from what this team did this year. Did anyone honestly expect the Cubs to make the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not. Did anyone think they’d win 97 games? Absolutely not. Yet they did, and they went on to win the NL Wild Card game and then the NLDS. There’s no way that this season can be viewed as anything less than encouraging and a sign of what may lay ahead of us down the road.

Looking down that road, it’s pretty clear that the Cubs need to add to their current roster if they truly want to contend for a World Series championship. And lucky for them, this offseason’s free agent class is pretty jam packed with star players.

Without being completely unreasonable, here’s a look at the top five players the Cubs may target this winter in order of importance.

  1. David Price: Price is one of the game’s best left-handed starting pitchers, and if it wasn’t for Clayton Kershaw, he’d likely be the best. While his career postseason numbers are less than ideal, his talent and ability to dominate any and every game make him possibly the number one free agent pitcher this offseason. The Cubs, without any doubt, must add another quality starter to their rotation. Their lack of starting depth is one reason why they were swept by the Mets. Having a 1-2-3 punch of Arrieta, Price, and Lester would be huge and scary. Add in that Price has made some comments in the past about possibly wanting to join the Cubs and reunite with Joe Maddon, and this scenario is far from unlikely.
  2. Zack Greinke: No one was expecting Greinke to be a free agent this winter, but he is after opting out of the remainder of his contract with the Dodgers. You may be asking why he isn’t ahead of Price on this list, and the reason for that is his age (Price is two years younger) and money. Greinke is likely to sign for a higher dollar amount than Price given what he just did this season, and the Cubs aren’t going to want to pay that amount if Price is still a possibility. Otherwise, they’d likely go for Greinke first. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the Cubs will not sign both Price and Greinke. If they lose out on one, they’ll pursue the other. If they sign one, they’ll give up on the other. The Cubs will go after a starting pitcher, likely one of these two, before anyone else.
  3. Dexter Fowler: Fowler is set to become a UFA, and many believe he played himself into a big contract this season. Depending on what the market becomes for Fowler and the numbers of years and dollar amounts being thrown around are, the Cubs may or may not try to re-sign him. They’ll need to sign a center fielder one way or another, whether it’s Fowler or not. They would like to bring him back, but won’t overpay him to do so.
  4. Jason Heyward: This is a tricky situation. Odds are that Heyward will get more money than Fowler, but Heyward brings a bit more to the table too. He’s not a natural center fielder, but can play the position. Whether the Cubs choose to go this route before the Fowler route remains unknown. Like Fowler though, the Cubs will not overpay for Heyward. If he’s asking for a ridiculous contract, you can count the Cubs out. It all depends on whether or not Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer believe Heyward can be a full time center fielder, and an effective one. Another thing to think about with Heyward is if the Cubs go after him over Fowler, they are now without a lead off hitter. There’s positives and negatives to Heyward.
  5. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27)Jordan Zimmerman: It isn’t out of the question that the Cubs could potentially sign Price or Greinke, as well as Zimmerman. He likely pitched himself out of a huge deal this year (3.66 ERA and a career high WHIP), so his price may be more affordable now than say a year ago. Signing him along with one of the two previously mentioned pitchers would give the Cubs a formidable rotation and one that could be deadly in the playoffs. If the Cubs can sign Price or Greinke, a potential Zimmerman signing could be the key offseason acquisition.

Starting pitching is one hundred percent the first area the Cubs will address this offseason. Once they sign a quality starter, they’ll likely shift their focus to a center fielder, and then back to another starting pitcher. If the Cubs are able to sign any of the three guys I listed above, that will be big. If they can sign two or even three of them, that’ll be massive. I wouldn’t rule out signing three of them either as long as the money involved isn’t an astronomical amount. Epstein, Hoyer, and Ricketts are determined to bring a World Series championship to the franchise, and they’ll go to extreme, but reasonable, measures to do so.

This should be another fun offseason for the Cubs, and it’s only the beginning.

Cubs-Mets Preview

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York MetsIf someone told you on Opening Day that either the Cubs or Mets would represent the National League in the 2015 World Series, you probably would have looked at them like they were crazy. Here we are though, just hours before the first pitch to Game 1 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets. Last year, neither team even won 80 games. This season, both won at least 90, with the Cubs winning 97. Needless to say, this was quite a turnaround season for both franchises.

Back in the ’60s and ’80s (both were bad in the ’70s), the Cubs and Mets were pretty big rivals with one another as they both played in the National League East division. When the Cubs moved to the NL Central, the rivalry dissipated as the number of games played between the two teams each season was significantly cut back.

Now, the rivalry will likely be making a comeback.

The Cubs got to this point by drafting and trading for the top hitting prospects available to them. They stockpiled top youngsters such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber to go along with players they already had like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The hope was that these guys would all reach the majors by the end of 2016 and then theoretically become everyday players in the Cubs lineup. No one anticipated the whole group of them to arrive this early to be this good so fast. The Cubs now have themselves one of the best offensive lineups in the game and are loaded with power from top to bottom. Signing Jon Lester and having Jake Arrieta pitch a Cy Young-worthy season solidified this ball club as one of the best by early August.

As for the Mets, they followed the same formula as the Cubs, only they went after the best arms available. Guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromm, and Noah Syndergaard were once just “big name prospects,” but now they’re three of the game’s best pitchers. To go along with that three-headed pitching monster, the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline to bolster their offense. Since that point, the Mets have had the best offense in baseball.

What this series will ultimately come down to is the Cubs’ hitting versus the Mets’ pitching. Here are my keys to a Cubs’ series victory:

  1. Do not let the pressure affect performance. That the Cubs have reached this point of the season is a huge deal for this city and is making national headlines. There is bound to be enormous pressure from the fans and media for the Cubs to win this thing, but they have to ignore all of that and focus on playing baseball.
  2. Be patient at the plate. The Mets know that the Cubs’ hitters led the league in strikeouts this year, and they will no doubt try and get the Cubs to chase pitches out of the zone. It is imperative that the Cubs be patient in the box, see as many pitches as possible, and ultimately drive up the Mets’ pitch counts. The Cubs did a great job at this during the second half of the season, and they need to keep it up.
  3. Javier Baez. Addison Russell quickly became one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops since moving over there from second base. Now, he’s sidelined for at least the whole NLCS with a hamstring injury. Enter Javy Baez. When Baez replaced Russell at shortstop midway through Game 3 against the Cardinals, he made a couple of bad errors that nearly cost the Cubs. He has always been an elite defender, but it looked like the nerves got to him in Game 3 of the NLDS. He needs to put that behind him and get back to his old ways at short. We know what he can do offensively, but he has to be good defensively as well.
  4. Lester and Arrieta. Kind of an obvious one here, but it can’t be overlooked. If these two do not pitch well this series, the Cubs will likely lose. Lester will get Game 1, Arrieta Game 2. Having them both pitch well right off the bat and giving the Cubs a chance to steal one or both of the first two games would be big. Arrieta did not have his best game in Game 2 against St. Louis, yet the Cubs still won. He needs to get back to dominating the opposition like he did the entire second half of the season. Getting first pitch strikes will be huge for each pitcher.
  5. Hendricks and Hammel. After Lester and Arrieta, the Cubs’ starting rotating takes a hit. Both Hendricks and Hammel were able to pitch just well enough in the NLDS to get the Cubs two wins against a tough Cardinals offense. They’ll need to provide more quality innings against the Mets and get at least one win between them.
  6. Lastly, the bullpen. Again, pretty obvious here, but it needs to be discussed. The Cubs’ pen was very good against St. Louis and a huge reason why they are now in the NLCS. To win the World Series, you need a stellar bullpen. Guys like Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon will inevitably be called upon to pitch in tough spots this series. Their ability to pitch out of those jams could determine the series winner.

These are two opposite teams in terms of how they win games, making it tough to predict who will win. That being said, the Cubs are my favorite to advance. Their one-two punch of Lester and Arrieta, along with their powerhouse offense should overcome the Mets’ pitching. Add in that the Cubs have arguably the best bench in the league, and they’re hard to pick against.

This should be a fantastic series.

-Cubs in six, maybe even five.