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.

On to the Pennant

1383642_616596775058148_1814435643_nTuesday was a historic day in Chicago and at Wrigley Field on the city’s north side. For the first time in the history of the Friendly Confines, a postseason series was clinched on its turf. And given how the Cubs won their National League Division Series, you may say it was worth the wait.

This series also marked the first time ever that the Cubs and Cardinals squared off against each other in the playoffs. Each franchise has been around for over a century, but never had they met in the postseason until this year. The fact that the Cubs were able to win their first ever playoff series at Wrigley Field and that it came at the expense of the Cardinals made this victory that much sweeter.

Cubs fans have been told all about these promising young prospects down on the farm for the past three years or so, and how they would one day be the faces of the franchise. Well, we weren’t lied to. It was those once “promising prospects” that won this series over St. Louis in four games.

10-171460575-smallBaez, Bryant, Castro, Rizzo, Schwarber, and Soler all went deep at least once in the NLDS and accounted for 9 of the team’s 10 home runs hit in the series. It was a power-barrage unlike anything that we’ve ever seen before. If teams around the MLB weren’t already aware of who the Cubs are and just how good they can be, they sure are now.

By defeating the Cardinals, the Cubs won just their second postseason series since 1908 and are now returning to the NLCS for the first time since 2003. Let those stats sink in for second.

These last two games played at Wrigley Field were unlike anything any of these Cubs players have ever witnessed before. The stadium was deafening for each home run, big hit, two-strike count on an opposing hitter, and basically for every out made by the Cardinals. Word on the street is that the Wrigley Field press box even shook a few times due to the bedlam taking place in the stands, and that was just for the NLDS. The atmosphere at Wrigley from here on out might be something that none of us, not just the players, have ever seen before.

And rightfully so.

The Cubs haven’t played in a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won one since 1908. Over the course of the last century, the Cubs and their fans have been tortured time and time again by bad breaks and bad luck. It’s been a tradition of heartbreak and losing for the Cubs, thus their old nickname of the “Lovable Losers.”

I say “old” because this is a new team with a new attitude and a new identity. Just a year ago, they won only 73 games while finishing in last place in the NL Central Division. Jump ahead to this season, and they’re a 97-win ball club with unparalleled confidence and swagger. They are too young and too dumb to realize the amount of pressure that they’re actually under to finally win a championship. They also couldn’t care less about any goat, black cat, fan interference play, or anything else that people like to stack on to that list. It is because of that mindset, due in large part to their manager Joe Maddon, that this team may just be the perfect combination of players to finally win a World Series for the Cubs.

The Cardinals were without a doubt a stiff challenge, but with the stakes raised even higher now in the NLCS, the Cubs can expect their toughest opponent yet in either the Mets or Dodgers. People want to say “I’d rather play the Dodgers!” or “I want to play the Mets!” To me, that’s the worst thing you can do. The second you wish for a certain opponent, they beat you. Just let that other series play out and take whoever you get. Have confidence in the Cubs for once, and quit worrying about their opponent.

The Cubs are on to the the National League Pennant, and now is when things start to get real. This should be a fun couple of weeks.