The Mets came into this game with a record 31 games better than the Cubs and having won four of their last five. The Cubs, meanwhile, had lost four of their last five, all at home, and looked rather dispirited doing it.
None of that mattered Monday evening at Citi Field, where the Cubs got another excellent outing from Javier Assad and home runs from unexpected sources — Zach McKinstry and Rafael Ortega — and won the first of this three-game series over the Mets 5-2.
Assad got in trouble in the first inning, loading the bases on a single and a pair of walks, but got out of it by striking out Mark Canha.
Then the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second on Ortega’s home run [VIDEO].
That lead got extended to 3-0 in the third. Alfonso Rivas led off with a walk and one out later, McKinstry launched one [VIDEO].
McKinstry deserves a lot of credit for that one. Watch the video carefully, that’s a good pitch location from Chris Bassitt, low and inside, but McKinstry hit it a very long way:
I have been critical of McKinstry in the past, so let me give him credit for some good hitting the last two games — 6-for-9 with a double, triple and home run. If he can keep hitting — not like this, no one can keep that pace up forever — maybe he can be a useful spare part for the 2023 Cubs.
The Cubs made it 5-0 in the fourth. Ian Happ led off with a walk and went to second on an errant pickoff throw. He then advanced to third on a ground out and Ortega singled him in [VIDEO].
Another ground out advanced Ortega to second, where he scored on this single by Rivas [VIDEO].
That’s a lot of good hitting, a varied offense with walks, singles and home runs.
The Mets had a lot of traffic on the bases in the bottom of the fourth off Assad and managed one run, but Assad then settled down for a 1-2-3 fifth. I was actually surprised when David Ross let Assad throw the sixth as well. He allowed a two-out triple to Eduardo Escobar, but got out of that inning scoreless. This was a very good outing for Assad, six innings, five hits, one run, six strikeouts.
So it was up to the Cubs bullpen, and they have not been good lately. Mark Leiter Jr. threw a 1-2-3 seventh, but when he allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, Ross switched to Manuel Rodriguez. Man-Rod did not have a good outing. He allowed a single to Pete Alonso and then walked old friend Daniel Vogelbach, loading the bases with nobody out. (The Mets then lost their DH by sending pitcher Mychal Givens in to run for Vogelbach, an interesting choice.)
Rodriguez got Canha to strike out on a nasty slider, and Ross called on Brandon Hughes. Hughes got Escobar to fly to center, too shallow to score a run, and then ended the inning on this fly to right [VIDEO].
Hughes stayed in the game for the ninth and retired the first two Mets easily. Then Francisco Lindor smashed a home run to make it 5-2, but Hughes then induced this ground ball and the Cubs won [VIDEO].
There are times you watch this team and think, “Maybe they’re not all that far from a contender after all.” This was one of those games. Sure, they need starting pitching, some power and more consistent relief, but there’s talent already on this roster. Add to it and maybe, just maybe, contention can follow in 2023.
In case you’re following the NL East race, the Mets did not lose any ground to the Braves, who lost to the Giants Monday evening. New York leads the division by 1½ games, though as recently as August 10 they led by seven. The teams face each other three more times later this month in Atlanta.
The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Mets Tuesday evening at Citi Field. It will not be easy. Adrian Sampson will start for the Cubs and Jacob deGrom gets the call for New York. Game time is again 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.