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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Mets NLCS Preview

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It’s time for the National League Championship Series, with the Cubs getting ready to square off against the New York Mets.

Next stop: Citi Field on Saturday night.
Next stop: Citi Field on Saturday night.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After a couple of days of celebrating and recovering from an emotional win in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, the Cubs got their answer on Thursday night as to who their opponent would be in the National League Championship Series: the New York Mets.

And now it's time to get back to work.

It is true that the Cubs had a tremendous regular season against the Mets, winning all seven games that the two teams played. The two teams have not faced each other since July 2, however, and the Mets that the Cubs faced at that time were a different team than they are today. Their hitting has improved significantly, rising from a .233 batting average and a .660 OPS in the first half to a .257 average and a .770 OPS in the second half. A major factor in that improved hitting is the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, who posted a .287 average and a .942 OPS since joining the Mets on August 1. They have also been buoyed by the return of David Wright, who hit .277 with an .818 OPS since returning on August 24 from a back injury that sidelined him for four months. So while the regular-season record may look impressive, the postseason version of the Mets will likely be a much more formidable opponent.

THE PITCHING:

Here are the pitching numbers for the four starters that will be pitching for the Mets in the NLCS:

  • Jacob deGrom, 14-8, 2.54 ERA, 0.979 WHIP regular season / 1.38 ERA, 1.154 WHIP postseason
  • Noah Syndergaard, 9-7, 3.24 ERA, 1.047 WHIP regular season / 3.68 ERA, 1.364 WHIP postseason
  • Steven Matz, 4-0, 2.27 ERA, 1.234 WHIP regular season / 5.40 ERA, 1.600 WHIP postseason
  • Matt Harvey, 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.019 WHIP regular season / 3.60 ERA, 1.800 WHIP postseason

Aside from the 13-7 slugfest in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, the Mets' bullpen has been very good in the postseason, allowing only five hits and three earned runs in just under 11 innings of work in the other four games. Closer Jeurys Familia has been perfect in four outings, having not allowed anyone to reach base in 16 plate appearances.

And for the Cubs:

  • Jon Lester, 11-12, 3.34 ERA, 1.122 WHIP regular season / 3.68 ERA, 0.818 WHIP postseason
  • Jake Arrieta, 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP regular season / 2.45 ERA, 0.818 WHIP postseason
  • Kyle Hendricks, 8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.161 WHIP regular season / 5.79 ERA, 0.857 WHIP postseason
  • Jason Hammel, 10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.160 WHIP regular season / 6.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP postseason

The Cubs' bullpen has also performed well in the postseason, allowing five runs in just over 14 innings of work. The important stat, however, is that the bullpen has stuck out 21 batters in that span while only walking one. That's a ratio that will get you places. Trevor Cahill leads the way with six of those strikeouts, while Pedro Strop and Travis Wood have recorded four each.

The only matchup which has been confirmed on the MLB.com website is Game 1, which will put Lester against Harvey.  Arrieta is listed for Game 2 while the Mets' starter remains undetermined.  The decision would be between Matz and Syndergaard. The latter pitched an inning of relief in Game 5 against the Dodgers.

THE OFFENSE:

Here are the postseason numbers (batting average / OPS) for the Mets with 10 or more plate appearances:

  • Daniel Murphy, .333 / 1.143
  • Curtis Granderson, .389 / .976
  • Wilmer Flores, .300 / .817
  • Yoenis Cespedes, .250 / .800
  • Travis d'Arnaud, .158 / .466
  • David Wright, .063 / .348
  • Lucas Duda, .111 / .311

Not included on that list is Juan Lagares, who is hitting .429 with a 1.214 OPS so far in the postseason. He started in two games in the NLDS and came off the bench in two others.  Murphy had a hit in each of the five games of the NLDS, including three homers, and also drove in five runs.

And the postseason numbers (batting average / OPS) for the Cubs with 10 or more plate appearances:

  • Jorge Soler, .571 / 2.341
  • Kyle Schwarber, .538 / 1.831
  • Dexter Fowler, .300 / .983
  • Anthony Rizzo, .167 / .711
  • Starlin Castro, .222 / .652
  • Kris Bryant, .150 / .590
  • Miguel Montero, .077 / .327

And yes, you did read those numbers for Soler and Schwarber correctly. They are not misprints. This list does not include Addison Russell (.250 / .667), who will not be available in the NLCS with a hamstring injury.  The good news is that his backup, Javier Baez, is currently 4-for-5 in the postseason with a 2.200 OPS.

SERIES THOUGHTS: Similar to the series against the Cardinals, I'm not going to attempt to make a prediction here. (And whoever hit "Cubs in four" with the dart against the Cardinals, good job!) It'll be interesting to see just how well the Cubs handle all of the Mets' hard-throwers in this series. The Cubs did face Syndergaard and deGrom three times in the regular season and had a good deal of success against them, but they weren't able to muster up much offense in their one game against Harvey -- only winning the game 2-1 thanks to two runs scored off of the Mets' bullpen -- and they have never faced Matz. One way or the other, I think the series goes at least six games.

NEXT STOP: Similar to what I wrote last time, it's either the first World Series in 70 years against the Royals or the Blue Jays, or it's the end of a magical 2015 season. And if it's the World Series, expect the celebrations to be even bigger than they were last Tuesday. If such a thing is possible.