ROUND 2: A TALE OF THE CURSED TEAMS
Brought to you by knower of every insignificant sports stat you can think of, Superb Sperb.
The League Championship series commences tonight, and it features two of the most cursed teams in baseball. Of course the Cubbies have had it way worse than the Mets – Billy Goats, Bartman, Black Cats, Bernie Mac’s 7th inning stretch, and of course 107 years of overall torture – nonetheless Met fans have not had the easiest time to say the least. I will put it to you this way; if there was ever going to be a series in which no team advanced due to a series of unfortunate events; this would be that series.
Without further ado, here is my 2015 NLCS preview. Full disclosure.. it’s going to be a tough one for the Mets.
Game 1: Matt Harvey vs. Jon Lester
Game 2: Noah Syndergaard vs. Jake Arrieta
Game 3: Jacob deGrom vs. Kyle Hendricks
Game 4: Steven Matz vs. Jason Hammel
Analysis: Much like the Dodgers had a dynamic 1-2 punch in Greinke and Kershaw, the Cubs have Arrieta and Lester. Also like the Dodgers, after that electric 1-2 punch, the Cubs’ pitching reaches its plateau as they throw out two mortals in Hendricks and Hammel.
Once again, the Mets are far superior in their starting rotation depth. The Mets will have the clear pitching advantage in games 3 and 4, which will do them good. Furthermore, we just saw the Mets beat the Dodgers in a five-game series that featured either Greinke or Kershaw in four of the five games, a miracle in itself. Arrieta has been pitching on the Greinke-Kershaw level all season and his second half was possibly the best statistical half season a pitcher has ever thrown up. The NL CY Young race is as tight as it ever will get, and the Mets will have faced all three candidates on the biggest stage.. maybe they should just decide the award. Lester has always been a gamer, but his stuff is not on the level of Greinke/Kershaw/Arrieta. As I said in my NLDS preview, even though Arrieta has been downright filthy all season and Lester is a great postseason pitcher, I still like my chances whenever Harvey or Syndergaard is on the mound. Throw in the clear depth advantage that the Mets have and this is easy.
Bullpen Cubs Projected ‘Pen: Justin Grimm, Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill, Fernando Rodney, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon Mets Projected ‘Pen: Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Sean Gilmartin, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, Jeurys Familia Analysis: After one postseason series, the Mets bullpen – aside from Familia – has earned the trust of nobody. Bartolo looked good in his outings and maybe it’s time for Terry to consider him in more high-pressure situations. Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed were both uninspiring, Hansel Robles was not used, and the Mets just added Gilmartin to the LCS roster in favor of Erik Goeddel. Joe Maddon has shown he will turn to his bullpen early, and they were fantastic in the LDS. Maddon needed his bullpen for 21 outs in Game 4, and getting that kind of production from your bullpen is huge. However, the Mets are better in one area of the bullpen, and that is the closer role. Jeurys Familia has been absolutely filthy – he has retired every batter he has faced and has proven he can be trusted to get more than just three outs. With that being said I still like the Cubs pen, as they have proven that they can handle the pressure of the postseason, and they are deeper.
STARTING POSITIONAL PLAYERS
Catcher: Miguel Montero vs. Travis d’Arnaud
Analysis: Montero is a veteran who has some pop; he is a solid all-around catcher who gets the job done. With that being said, d’Arnaud’s production was better than Montero’s, and d’Arnaud played in half as many games. From a pure talent standpoint, it is clear that d’Arnaud has the edge. While people might want the veteran in a playoff game, at 26 years old d’Arnaud is no spring chicken (even if this is only his second season in the big leagues). Throw in the fact that David Ross will play whenever Lester is pitching, and the advantage is clear.
First Base: Anthony Rizzo vs. Lucas Duda
Analysis: Duda, you are my boy, but you have been more lost than the people in the show “Lost” at the plate this postseason. Fortunately, I do not think Duda can do worse than he did the last series. Rizzo though is going to finish in the top-4 in MVP voting and has been a monster all season. Duda is a solid hitter, but Rizzo is a star, this decision is easy.
Second Base: Starlin Castro vs. Daniel Murphy
Analysis: Is there a more Jekyll and Hyde player then Starlin Castro? The guy was atrocious the entire first half of the season; then Joe Maddon moved him to second base and for the past two months it looks like Castro has returned to his near all-star form. I expect a lot of swings and misses coming from Castro, who has a propensity for striking out, especially against power pitching. What more is there to say about Murph? He was the heart and soul of the Mets in Game 5 and delivered time after time when the Mets needed it most last series. The only thing left to be seen is how much more money Murph can make for himself as he is an impending free agent. Murph has been a Met through the good and the bad; I think we can all see his focus and how bad he wants this. Expect more big hits from Mr. Murphy as it is apparent that if it is indeed his final days in a Mets uniform he is going to go out with a bang.
Shortstop: Javier Baez vs. Wilmer Flores
Analysis: The injury to Reuben Tejada (Chase Utley you dirty..) cost the Mets defensively, but they gained offensively as it was never a question that Flores had the better bat. Baez is tough to analyze; he is a good fielder with great power, but also strikes out way more than anybody ever should. He is also very inexperienced. Both teams would really like to have their starters available, let’s just say that. In 290 at-bats Baez has 120 strikeouts. I suspect he will have an extremely difficult time against the Mets power pitching. Baez does have good pop, though, but so does Wilmer. In the long run Baez is easily the better prospect as he is far more talented then Flores; however, Wilmer’s experience and Baez’s propensity to strike out makes this a much more difficult decision. I think Baez gets the slight edge due to defense, but this position can go either way.
Advantage: Cubs (by the slightest of margins)
Third Base: Kris Bryant vs. David Wright
Analysis: In the NLDS Preview, I stated “you don’t bet against a healthy David Wright.” With that being said, a healthy David Wright still might not be as good as an existent Kris Bryant. Bryant is going to be a perennial top-10 player for the next 15 years, he will be the unanimous NL Rookie of the year and is a stud through and through. The one Achilles heel for Bryant is that he strikes out a lot; the Mets pitching will need to take advantage of this. I love David Wright, and he produced a huge hit in Game 1, but I would rather have the wonder kid. David, please make me eat my words and show the world why nobody ever bets against Captain America.
Right Field: Jorge Soler vs. Curtis Granderson
Analysis: Soler has some serious pop if he gets a hold of one; he can hit it to Pluto if he wants to. However, Soler strikes out a ton and is awful defensively. Grandy has been a tough out all season, and that did not stop in the postseason. Grandy has a .476 OBP and has been key in getting the offense going. The Mets have the pitching, they have Cespedes, and more recently they have a steaming Murphy – it always seems that Grandy is overlooked. I will give you the attention you deserve Curtis.. you have been fantastic all season, and we do not expect you to stop now.
Center Field: Dexter Fowler vs. Yoenis Cespedes
Analysis: Fowler seemed like he finally put it all together this season. He might have even played his way into a qualifying offer. He has a little bit to offer in every facet of the game, yet I would not go as far to say that he is a five-tool player. Cespedes looked mortal against the Dodgers, and the Mets are going to need him this series. I expect him to be a big part of this series, and although Fowler had a career year, I would still rather have Cespedes (even in a mini-slump).
Left Field: Kyle Schwarber vs. Michael Conforto
Analysis: This could turn into a debate that could last the next ten seasons. Both drafted in 2012 it was Theo Epstein who passed on Conforto for Schwarber. Schwarber hit an absolute moonshot in the LDS and every time he comes to the plate you fear the worst, a monstrous home run. Conforto also had an impressive home run in the NLDS, a bullet that had an exit velocity of 117 MPH. Both players are going to be really good. Schwarber definitely offers more pop, but Conforto is a better defender – and in my opinion a better pure hitter – meaning that this series may not decide this debate. It’s going to be a fun conversation to have for a long time.
Cubs Projected Bench: David Ross, Tommy La Stella, Quintin Berry, Chris Denorfia, Chris Coughlan, Austin Jackson
Mets Projected Bench: Kevin Plawecki, Kelly Johnson, Matt Reynolds, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Lagares, Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Analysis: Denorfia and Jackson are solid in bench roles, Jackson used to be an all-star and Denorfia offers some pop. La Stella is young and can hit a little bit, but is not somebody to be feared, and Berry’s sole purpose is to steal bases late in games. I think the Mets should have included Eric Young Jr. for the same purpose but overall the Mets appear to be better on the bench. Plawecki is an actual backup catcher while Ross is merely a cheerleader/Jon Lester confidant. The Mets also have two veteran hitters with pop in Cuddy and Jonhson; the Cubs seem to be lacking in this with Denorfia supposedly being the “veteran bat off the bench.”
I do fully expect Cuddy to have a big pinch hit this series, and in turn finally locate his Mets glory. Something along the lines of Matt Stairs’ big pinch-hit home run in the ’08 NLCS.
Additionally, Lagares is a fantastic defensive replacement who could be huge against the Cubs offense in the later innings. In short, the Mets are better defensively and offensively on the bench. The only area they lag behind in is speed, where the Cubs used a roster spot on a player to solely pinch run.
Joe Maddon vs. Terry Collins
Analysis: Terry Collins has been a fantastic manager for the Mets, but plain and simple Joe Maddon is probably the best coach in all of baseball. The Cubs have so many young players that a few games over .500 would have been viewed as a success. Instead, the Cubs won 97 games and then advanced in the wild-card game against the 98-win Pirates and in the NLDS against the 100-win Cardinals. Maddon has the Cubs playing like the team of destiny. Both managers have been great, but any baseball fan can tell you that there is no stat that can project the influence that Maddon has on his club.
The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets this season; however, that was against the Mets of the past. The Cubs played those seven games in the pre-Cespedes, Wright, Conforto era of the Mets season. Let’s just say the Mets are a totally different team now than when they last saw the Cubs. After 107 years, you would think the Cubs are due one, but I say that what’s another year after you’ve already waited 107!
On a serious note, this is going to be a really hard series that the Mets might not win. It will more or less come down to one matchup – the power arms vs. the power bats. Sandy built this team around young power arms for a reason, and this series will prove why he was right to do so.
Let’s do this baby, you gotta believe. Mets in 7.