By Paul DiSclafani:
The Mets (41-37) snapped a nine game regular season losing streak against the Cubs (51-27) with a come from behind 4-3 win, scoring three times in the seventh inning and holding their breath as the Cubs threatened in the ninth inning. Jeuurys Familia worked out of a jam as the Cubs put runners on second and third with no outs.
Trailing 3-0 in the sixth and being held to just two hits by Cubs starter John Lackey, the Mets seemed well on their way to their fifth straight loss when lightning struck in the form of Yoenis Cespedes.
After getting Neil Walker to foul out to first to start the sixth inning, Lackey fell behind Cespedes 2-0 before the Cuban launched a moon shot into the third deck in left field (section 436 to be exact) to put the Mets on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. Nobody has ever hit a home run into the third deck in Citi Field since the park opened in 2009, but Cespedes was among a handful of players that did it during the 2013 Home Run Derby.
The homerun energized not only the crowd but the Mets as the bench erupted.
Mets starter Steven Matz, who was pitching with an extra day’s rest, put them in a 2-0 hole after just five pitches when Kris Bryant followed Ben Zobrist’s leadoff single with a home run. He later gave up a solo home run to Javier Baez in the sixth. Matz pitched just 5 1/3 and issued three walks and seven hits to go along with six strikeouts.
Eric Goddel (W, 1-0), who relieved Matz in the sixth and got the final two outs, threw just 10 pitches to finish the seventh inning when the Mets offense went back to work.
With Lackey still on the mound, Travis d’Arnaud singled to left with one out after Wilmer Flores opened the inning with a line drive out to center. That was it for Lackey, who was replaced by Joel Peralta. Peralta got ahead of pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza 1-2, but eventually lost him, putting runners on first and second.
Rookie Brandon Nimmo, making only his fifth start for the Mets, also fell behind Peralta 1-2, but he kept battling, fouling off three straight before singling up the middle and collecting his first major league RBI as d’Arnaud scored to make it 3-2. With De Aza racing to third, center fielder Albert Almora threw to third late and Nimmo alertly took second on the throw.
“I’m just trying to stay calm, act like nobody is on base,” Nimmo said about his RBI single. “… I was absolutely ecstatic. It is hard to put into words because this is just something I dreamed about ever since I was a kid. To be able to come through and help the team win, you always need it, but tonight was really, really big. To just be able to help the team somehow and be able to come up here, it feels good to contribute.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon then summoned Pedro Strop to pitch to Walker and decided to play the infield in to try to cut down the tying run at the plate. Strop got ahead of Walker 1-2 and he grounded it slowly to second base. Even with the infield in, Baez had no play at home, so he fired to third to get Nimmo as he tried to advance. But Bryant, who was also playing in at third, didn’t get back to the bag in time and the throw went off his glove and into foul territory, allowing Nimmo to score along with De Aza and the Mets took a 4-3 lead.
Now it was up to the bullpen to hold the lead and get the Mets a win they desperately needed. But the Cubbies were not going to go quietly into the night.
Wilson Contreras greeted Addison Reed with a single to lead off the eighth and moved to second on a wild pitch. Reed struck out Baez and Chris Coghlan, but then walked Addison Russell and Terry Collins brought in Jerry Blevins to face pinch hitter Jason Heyward. Why not bring in Familia for a four out save in that situation? Blevins got behind Heyward 2-1, but got him to ground one back to the mound and the Mets were out of the inning, still clinging to a 4-3 lead.
That set the stage for Familia as he tried to nail down his 27th save of the season and 43rd in a row. After getting ahead of pinch hitter Miguel Montero 0-2, he walked him on four straight pitches, then gave up a booming double to Zobrist over Nimmo’s head in right field and the Cubs were in business with second and third and no outs and Bryant coming up.
“I’ve been in that situation before”, Familia said, “I try to calm down a little bit, don’t get too high, control my emotions and make my pitch.”
Familia pounded Bryant with splitters out of the strike zone and struck him out for the first out. After intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo, Familia pounded Countreras the same was as Bryant, getting him swinging for the second out. He then got Baez to pop up an 0-2 pitch to end the game.
If there was ever a “must” win game for the Mets this season, this was it. Coming off a moribund 2-5 road trip in which they had more injuries than runs scored, facing the best team in baseball for a four game set was not what they had in mind. Even though the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS, the Cubs were much improved and the Mets were not.
“It sure came at the right time, to come back against that team the first game of this 11-game homestand,” Collins said. “I think it’s huge for us. It lifted the spirits of everybody in there that they could come back and win a game, which we haven’t done in a while.”
As the Mets say good-bye to a miserable June, Jacob deGrom (3-4, 2.67) faces off against Jason Hammel (7-4, 2.58) on Friday night. DeGrom is 0-4 in his last 10 starts and hasn’t won a game since April 30th. Hammel has never beaten the Mets in five starts (0-3).
POSITIVES: Familia leads all of baseball with 27 saves … Mets had lost nine straight to the Cubs dating back to 2014 … Cespedes has 19 home runs … Mets had just six hits, but d’Arnaud had two of them …
NEGATIVES: Granderson was out of the lineup after an MRI revealed a mild strain of his left calf. He may miss a couple of games, but Juan Lagares is ready to come off the DL.
Leave it to Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to shake things up. Yesterday he drove into Chicago’s Mesa, Arizona spring training camp with a 70’s era van, replete in a tie-dye T-shirt and bandanna. Earth, Wind, & Fire music blasted from the van, as Madden’s prank stirred things up.
The Chicago Cubs are full of optimism this spring. And why not? Loaded with off-season acquisitions, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward, The Cubs figure to be the front-runners in the NL Central.
Based on a torrid Summer, the Cubs made the wild-card and beat the Pirates behind Jake Arrieta’s brilliant game. Arrieta, who picked up the NL’s Cy Young Award, is back with a newly minted contract.
Left-handed pitcher Travis Wood is expected to take the ball for the opening game of the Spring Training season. The frontline starters of Arrieta, John Lester, and John Lackey are not expected to see action until next week.
The Cubs want to start off this Spring Training — this –feeling out process — in a managed way. The team knows what it has. It just wants to start out slowly.
By: Paul DiSclafani
On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the National League Manager of the Year, selecting from three candidates: Joe Maddon from the Cubs, Mike Matheny from the Cardinals and Terry Collins from the Mets.
All three of these managers led their teams to success in the regular season and the Mets and Cubs played in the National League Championship Series, with the Mets representing the National League in the World Series. But this award is not based on postseason success or failure. The Manager of the Year is usually the skipper that led his team beyond their preseason expectations.
Was there anyone out there who thought the Mets would be able to not only make the playoffs, but win the National League East? Most baseball pundits felt that Collins would probably not even finish the season with the Mets.
Granted both the Cardinals (100-62) and Cubs (97-65) had better regular season records than the Mets (90-72), but what was expected of the Mets this year? There was talk of a possible Wild Card run, but so many things needed to happen. When the Mets lost projected starter Zack Wheeler in Spring Training and then closer Jenrry Mejia was suspended for 80 games, both the media and the fans had to lower expectations and would have been happy with an 81-81 finish.
Someone had to juggle that pitching staff. Someone had to fill out that lineup card game after game. Someone had to keep all their heads in the game and help them tread water and hang in there.
All three of these managers had a lot of baggage to shed to get their teams into the post season. Matheny ran his team out to a huge lead, then patched his injury riddled team together and limped to the finish. Maddon battled the huge black cloud that is The Curse all season long, but his team was a lot like the Mets in that their kids came through in the clutch. All three of them are worthy candidates.
As a field tactician, I always thought Collins was a little behind the curve. His use or overuse of the Mets bullpen is also well documented. But somehow the players respond to him.
The phrase “The Mets win in spite of Collins” was uttered a lot during the course of the season and a lot of his moves late in the season were questionable, yet they all seemed to work out in the end, didn’t they?
But if the criteria were exceeding preseason expectation, then Collins should win hands down. It is one thing to be the “surprise” team of a baseball season and a feel good story. The Mets were that plus a surprise Division Champion.
The Manager of The Year has been awarded by the BBWAA since 1983 and no Mets Manager has ever won it. Davey Johnson won it twice (1997 with Baltimore and 2012 with Washington), but not in 1986 when his Mets won 108 Regular Season games. The Mets had begun their run in 1984 and almost made it in 1985. They were expected to get over the hump in 1986. The winner that year? It was Hal Lanier and the surprising (remember that word) Houston Astros. If there were an award in 1969, I’m sure Gil Hodges would have won it for the Miracle Mets.
This year it should go to the pilot of the surprising NY Mets, Terry Collins.
Let the post-mortem commence.
While there has been talk about the Cubs being “ahead of schedule” and that “they weren’t even supposed to be here yet!” The problem is, they WERE here, and this just hurts.
The Chicago Cubs were stymied in the NLCS by the New York Mets, and it wasn’t pretty. The Mets consistently attacked from the first pitch and never trailed even once in any of the games. The vaunted duo of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were no match for the solid four of the Mets (Harvey, Syndergaard, DeGrom, and Matz). For every Kyle Schwarber moon shot home run, David Murphy came back with one of his own. For most of the 2015 season, the Cubs were one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. For about a week in mid-October, the New York Mets were. It is that simple. The Cubs were outhit. Out-pitched. Out-fielded. Just outplayed.
Lest Cubs’ fans get too despondent, this was not a “one and done” for their favorite team. This is a young and hungry team. This is a team built for the long haul.
This lineup is young and dumb. The core of this team (Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant) are young and under team control for a few years. Add to them Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and you see a lineup which will be quite scary for a while. On the mound, Jake Arrieta had the best season of his career, and is still, at the age of 30 (by Opening Day 2016) looking at quite a few productive years. Kyle Hendricks quietly had a solid season, and can only get better (age 26 in December). The bullpen has young power arms such as Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Justin Grimm. The majority of contributing players on this roster will remain, and grow, together for at least another 3-4 years.
The New York Mets exposed a lot of the flaws on this Cubs team. For one, they are a free-swinging bunch. All post-season, the Cubs relied a bit too much on the long ball. While long home runs are pretty, it is also nice if a team can manufacture runs.
Second, especially with Addison Russell out nursing a hamstring injury, the defense is just not very good. This was particularly evident in the outfield, as Scharwber and Soler continually misplayed balls into doubles and triples. There is also a problem behind the plate, as Miguel Montero did contribute with his vaunted pitch framing, he was, at times, awful at throwing out base stealers and looked like a deer in the headlights against the Mets, particularly in Game 3.
Third, their youth may have worked against them. Some of these kids really seemed to be pressing under the pressure of the NLCS. Rizzo and Bryant, in particular, were practically non-existent. Bryant salvaged a bit of respect with his late home run in Game 4 to end up at .214 in the series.
There just was nothing for the Cubs after the first two spots in the pitching rotation. Jon Lester had a pedestrian win-loss record, but was otherwise quite effective. He had the misfortune of poor run support all season. Behind him (although ahead, as the second half moved on), Arrieta was phenomenal. He gave up few base runners and even fewer runs while producing a masterful 22-6 record with 1.77 ERA. This most likely will garner him the National League Cy Young Award next month, small solace for a disappointing playoff run. After that, it was quite murky. Jason Hammel was quite good early on, but suffered a hamstring injury just before the All Star break and was just never the same thereafter. He didn’t even make it out of the second inning in Game 4 against the Mets (and it was a surprise to this writer that he even started that second inning). Hendricks was OK. Not good. Not bad. Just OK. As for the fifth spot in the rotation, that was mostly just a spot to hope to get through with the promise that Lester and Arrieta were up next.
It has long been posited that baseball games are won “up the middle”. While center field (Dexter Fowler) and the infield (Russell, Baez, and Castro) were good, behind the plate (Montero and David Ross) they were, well, not. Montero was moderately productive offensively (.248, 15 HR, 53 rbi), he struggled defensively (career low 20% CS percentage and 12 errors). His shortcomings were even more evident in the series against the Mets, as he mustered only a single and 4 strikeouts in 8 at bats. His backup David Ross (.176, 1 HR, 9 rbi) was better at throwing out runners (26%), but was pretty much a non-factor as Lester’s personal caddy. Ross has value to a team as a defensive backup and veteran leader, but his days as a productive Major League player are well behind him.
The Autopsy Results
Cause of death for the 2015 Chicago Cubs: exhaustion. This group expended a lot of energy to just make it to the post season in a year in which pundits expected them to be better, but not necessarily that good. They were able to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Game because they had a pitcher who still had a bit left in the tank (Arrieta) and an offense up to the task. The Cardinals went down, I believe, because of the adrenaline rush. What Cub or Cubs’ fan didn’t revel in the excitement of taking down their chief rivals in the first-ever post-season meeting between the two? The Cardinals and their bows and arrows came up against the Cubs and their nuclear arsenal. They never had a chance. This Cardinals team could have come in to the Series with a 162-0 regular season mark and would have lost. Every last bit of energy this team had was used to defeat the Cardinals. And that is was did them in against the Mets. There was just nothing left to give.
On second glance, they are only mostly dead. The 2015 NLCS was one hell of a learning experience for these guys. While there has been a lot of “well, they weren’t even supposed to be here…” talk, there is a problem with that. Yes, they were not expected to do this well in 2015, but they DID do that well. Losing in the NLCS is no small consolation. This is a team which will be back and ready in 2016 and beyond.
By: Paul DiSclafani
For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Mets have swept a seven game playoff series, brushing aside the Cubs, Marty McFly and Murphy the Billy Goat to reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years with an 8-3 win.
The Mets did exactly what Chicago manager Joe Maddon was hoping to avoid, scored early and often, never giving the Cubs a chance to catch their breath. They scored four times in the first and followed it up with two more in the second for a surprising and devastating 6-0 lead.
The Mets never trailed in the short four game series.
Lucas Duda, who set a record for strikeouts in the NLDS with 12, hit a three run home run in the first inning, then followed it up with a two run double in the second and before you knew what was happening, the Mets had a 6-0 lead after just two innings.
As the Met fans began counting down the outs and shaking their head in disbelief that this team is on the precipice of the World Series, the only drama left was – would Daniel Murphy hit another home run? Of course he would.
With the Mets leading 6-1 in the eighth, Murphy came up, most likely, for the last time in the game. He tied a major league record in Game 3 by hitting a home run in five consecutive games. Murphy, who already had a 3-4 night, took a 1-1 pitch from Fernando Rodney to center, plunking it into the screen in front of the front row for a home run, and now stands alone. Daniel Murphy is now the only player in baseball history to have hit a home run in six consecutive postseason games. Let that sink in for a minute.
Murphy, who was voted as the NLCS Most Valuable Player, hit an unconscious .529 in the NLCS and has hit seven home runs in just nine postseason games.
Steven Matz gave up just four hits and two walks while working with a big lead, but he was lifted with two outs in the fifth when the Cubs, trailing 6-1, put two runners on with two outs. Manager Terry Collins was not about to nurse the rookie through the inning to get him the win, so he went immediately to Bartolo Colon to face rookie Kris Bryant.
Colon went to 3-2 on Bryant before getting him to swing and miss on a pitch in the dirt, ending the inning. The portly right-hander then pitched a scoreless sixth inning and got the win in relief.
Although the Mets had a 6-0 lead, the Cubs failed to capitalize on their best chance in the fourth inning when they loaded the bases with no outs against Matz. Starlin Castro jumped all over the first pitch, lining a shot to third, but David Wright leaped to make the catch, saving what would have been a game changing, bases clearing double. Instead, Matz limited the Cubs to just one run on a groundout.
Jeurys Familia came on in the night with an 8-3 lead to close things out. He has faced 33 batters in the postseason and allowed just two hits and walked two, recording a franchise record six saves.
For the third time in the last few weeks, the Mets celebrated on the opponent’s field. There is just one more hill to climb beginning next Tuesday in either Kansas City or Toronto. Don’t think it will matter.
This Mets team has a solid starting rotation and they are all getting hot at the same time.
The New York Mets are going to the World Series. How cool is that?
By: Omar Gobby
The 2015 Cubs came out of the gates with a new fire in their eyes. This was not a team sitting back and waiting for Theo Epstein to set them up for “The Future”. This was a team looking for blood from the get go. They have refused to back down from any fight. Just ask Sean Rodriguez.
And they are plain good.
Now, they are headed to new heights as they prepare to face off against their mortal enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the National League Divisional Series. If it were ever possible for a 100 win team to be an underdog, this may be the time, as many pundits see the Cubs as simply being the stronger and better team right now. This is a Cardinals team that limped through September/October with a 15-16 mark, including not even bothering to show up against the Braves in the closing weekend. The Cardinals are vulnerable, and the Cubs are primed to be the ones to administer the killing blow.
St. Louis won the season series against the Cubs, 11-8, but the Cubs won 4 of the last 6 in September, taking 2 games each in Wrigley and St. Louis. The Cubs proved they could beat the Cardinals. More importantly, Ace Jake Arrieta pitched exactly 0 innings in those last 6 games. There is no way Arrieta skips the Cardinals in this best of 5 NLDS. With Jon Lester likely to throw both games 1 and 4, and Arrieta likely to go Monday in Game 3, the Cubs are in good shape to keep things rolling.
Without further adieu, let us look at the match ups.
While the Cubs’ rotation is really good at the top (Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta), there has been a lack of consistency after that. Jason Hammel had a very good first half and has been pedestrian in the second. Kyle Hendricks has ranged between adequate and good, and never overwhelming. Trade deadline acquisition Dan Haren was rather unremarkable until shining in 3 of his late season starts (against St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee). For the Cardinals, electric right hander Carlos Martinez’ season ended with a shoulder strain. Add to that the Achilles injury suffered by ace Adam Wainwright (who has since returned in a relief role), and the Cardinals rotation looked to be a mess. Yet, Manager Mike Matheny has seemed to keep this staff together despite all the adversity. While the star power at the top of Chicago’s rotation is missing in St. Louis, there is an admirable top to bottom consistency. There may not be a clear #1 right now, but there also is not a bad one in the bunch. For overall consistency, the edge goes to the Cardinals. Slight Edge: St. Louis
This is flashy vs functional. The reliability of that 2001 Toyota vs the pizzazz of a brand new Lamborghini. The Cardinals, led by closer Trevor Rosenthal, converted 62 of 77 saves (80.5%) and was generally quite effective. Kevin Siegrist (7-1, 2.17, 6/10 with 90 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings) confounds hitters regularly. Behind that, there is a stable of steady performers such as Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Villanueva, Seth Maness, and Steve Cishek. Add to that Wainwright, and this is a relief corps which would have no problem providing quality innings when needed.
The Cubs’ pen was prone to some spectacular blow ups and equally spectacular domination, converting 48 of 67 (71.6%) save chances. Closer Hector Rondon (6-4, 1.67ERA, 30/34 saves) made fans quickly forget the frustrating days of Carlos Marmol while energetic set-up man Pedro Strop (2-6, 2.91, 3/5) often made many wonder if Marmol was back as he would counter a 1-2-3, 3 strikeout inning with a meltdown of 2 walks, a couple hits, and a run. To that end, it appears that Jason Motte (8-1, 3.91, 6/7) assured himself a spot on the NLDS roster because of the post-season success (career 1-1, 8 saves, 2.08 ERA) and experience (19 appearances). After that, there are some intriguing names. Seattle castoff Fernando Rodney (2-0, 0.75, 0/1 as a Cub) was quite effective in his 14 appearances in a Cubs uniform. He is a Joe Maddon favorite and could be key. Justin Grimm and former starters Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard round out the staff. The Cubs’ advantage here is only in the better ability to throw strikes than the Cardinals. Otherwise, I like what the Cardinals have here.
Slight edge: St. Louis
The Cardinals have a solid starting unit here. Matt Carpenter is one of the better all-around third baseman in the National League, and Jhonny Peralta has a strong bat for a shortstop. On the right side, Kolten Wong probably had a better overall season than any Cubs second baseman, but more on that later. First base is, frankly, a mess. Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss will not remind anyone of Albert Pujols or Mark McGwire.
For the Cubs, this is their bread and butter. For one, there is tremendous versatility and interchangeability. Kris Bryant showed to be pretty much everything that was advertised at third base and Addison Russell, once he was moved back to his natural shortstop position, basically sucked up every ball hit anywhere in the same ZIP Code. On the other side of the diamond, Starlin Castro suffered miserably from Opening Day through August. And then something clicked. Once the calendar flipped to September, Castro turned into Babe Ruth. All he did was hit .426 with a .750 SLG and 1.202 OPS. While he was erratic defensively (6 errors in only 138 chances at second base), he occasionally came up with a spectacular play. And what can be said that hasn’t been already said about the Cubs’ first baseman? Anthony Rizzo hit .278 with 31 HR and 101 RBI. He added 17 stolen bases and got plunked 30 times, becoming the first player since Don Baylor to accumulate 30+ HR and 30+ HBP in one season. Add to that Javier Baez, and this Cubs infield is really good.
Huge Edge: Chicago
The Cardinals, due mostly to injury, did a lot of mix and match out here. Veteran Matt Holliday battled injuries all year and played in fewer than half the Redbirds’ games. Jason Heyward overcame a brutally slow start to put up good numbers in his walk year (.293, 16 HR, 60 RBI, .797 OPS). Steven Piscotty was called up and had solid numbers in 63 games (.305, 7, 39) and Tommy Pham seemed to come up with every clutch hit for the Cardinals for a stretch of time in July and August. John Jay and a (maybe?) healthy Randal Grichuk round out the group.
For the Cubs, Dexter Fowler (.250, but .346 OBP) gave the Cubs everything they needed in a leadoff man. He scored 102 runs and walked 84 times, both tops on the team. After that, Maddon seemed to stick with whoever had the hot hand from a group including Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, and rookie Kyle Schwarber. For the most part, Maddon’s hunch tended to work just fine.
Any other year, this would be no contest. However, this is 2015. Yadier Molina is now 33 years old (catchers age a bit faster, remember) and is battling a finger issue. He tore a ligament in his thumb in late September and has been cleared to play. That injury will hinder his ability to grasp the bat at the plate and defensively (it is on his glove hand) as well. If he plays, assume the Cubs will try to exploit this by running early and often and by bunting. Backing him up is non-factor Tony Cruz who may be forced to be a factor.
For the Cubs, Miguel Montero had a decent enough offensive year (.248, 15, 53) and was tremendous defensively. For those who still are not sold on the whole idea of “pitch framing”, watch the video of Jake Arrieta’s masterpiece against Pittsburgh in Wednesday’s Wild Card game. Zero walks is the key number. As in, no other pitcher in MLB history has had a post-season complete game of 10+ strikeouts and zero walks. None. While the pitcher throws the ball, the catcher has as much to do with that as anyone else.
Backing him up is crusty veteran David Ross. A perfect example of how a player’s value needs to be measured by something far beyond measurable statistics. Ross was phenomenal defensively, famously ending one game with a walk-off pickoff against the Washington Nationals. Further, he was a true team leader. It was his playing bodyguard for Arrieta in the Wild Card Game scrum against Sean Rodriguez which led to Rodriguez’ TKO of the Gatorade cooler. Ross just would not let the Pirates’ utility man anywhere near his pitcher.
Mike Matheny has been a good skipper for the Cardinals. He keeps them atop the best division in MLB and doesn’t skip a beat through injuries. But Maddon’s influence on the Cubs’ success in 2015 is other-worldly. He plays quirky hunches. He is masterful at negotiating his pitching staff. He seems to pick the right guy at the right time. He may be the best field manager of his time.
Huge Edge: Chicago
It all adds up to a Cubs victory in four games.