Less than twenty-four hours from the start of the National League Championship Series, one can only think how surprising this match up is. Prior to the season almost no one was picking either the Chicago Cubs or the New York Mets to even be in the playoffs, let alone facing off in the NLCS. The Cubs dispatched both of their division rivals in a surprising five game stretch over the last week and a half. For the Mets, after surprising the Washington Nationals to win the National League East, they shocked the $300 million machine that is the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.
This year, in the National League, youth has been the evident storyline more than any other. Both the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets exemplify the youth revolution in baseball better than perhaps any other team in either league. The Cubs, with their many young and talented bats, versus the Mets, with their many young and talented pitchers. In a battle to decide the 2015 National League Champion, young talent may just be the deciding factor.
For the Cubs, their playoff run has relied on the offensive firepower of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber, among others, as well as the opportunistic pitching of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and the rest of the pitching staff. For the Mets it has been all about power pitching and timely hitting, an almost perfect contrast for the Cubs success so far. With this contrast in mind, this should certainly be an interesting match up between the two clubs.
Game 1: CHI: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34) vs. NYM: Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71)
Game 4: NYM: TBD vs. CHI: TBD
Keys to Victory:
New York Mets
1. Rely on Young Pitching Staff
The Mets relied on their pitching staff heavily in the division series against the Dodgers and will need to do the same if they want to beat the 97-win Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey were all electric in four starts against the Dodgers, winning three of the four games. Steven Matz struggled a bit in his start but will look to bounce back with a chance against the Cubs. With Bartolo Colon coming out of the bullpen, and deGrom, Syndergaard and Harvey likely getting at least five starts if the series goes seven games, the pitching will be very important for the Mets to have a chance at overcoming the Cubs.
2. Count on Daniel Murphy
If not for Daniel Murphy, the Mets might not have even made it out of the first round. Murphy was nearly the sole reason the Mets won game one, behind a magnificent pitching performance by Jacob deGrom, and Murphy also hit the game winning home run in the fifth game off of Zack Greinke. Hitting home runs off of both Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the same series is quite a feat and the Mets will hope Murphy has some magic left against the strong duo of Lester and Arrieta for the Cubs.
3. Don’t Fold Under Pressure
For a team with so much young pitching talent, and quite a few players with limited playoff experience, the biggest key for the Mets’ success in the NLCS will be not folding under the pressure. The Mets won two, almost three, big games in Los Angeles in the NLDS so it seems this will not be an issue. With that being said, the Mets can expect an absolutely crazy crowd in both New York and in Chicago, so they will have to maintain their composure if they hope to succeed.
1. Continue Swinging Hot Bats
The Cubs came out swinging in the first round of the playoffs and simply outhit the Cardinals over the four games played. For the Cubs to overcome the Mets’ sterling, young pitching staff this trend is going to have to continue. It is definitely going to be a tall task to overcome the Mets’ pitching, but the Cardinals’ pitching was just as good if not better than the Mets this year and the Cubs had no trouble dominating that series. Expect this matchup to be a key to who ends up winning this series.
2. Count on Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester
For the Cubs to overcome the Mets’ starting pitching trio, they are going to have to count on both Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, hopefully getting good outings from each of them. The Mets lucked out and will likely only see Arrieta in two games in this series but they still will have to face both of the Cubs aces at least twice each. The Cubs are going to need strong starts from both guys if they hope to have a chance against deGrom, Syndergaard and Harvey in the series.
3. Expect Production from Unlikely Sources
With the injury to Addison Russell, the Cubs may need to rely on some production from unlikely places. It seems that Javier Baez and Starlin Castro will be the middle infield duo with the absence of Russell. Both guys may be slightly overlooked in this series, although both have a good chance at making a huge impact for the Cubs. The Cubs have gotten by on strong production from the top four or five spots in the order but will need to have more production from the bottom of the lineup to overcome the Mets top-of-the-line starting pitching.
In a series between two teams that seem to be evenly matched, this series could very well go the distance. Despite the Mets strong young pitching, the Cubs may have too much offensive firepower to overcome. Cubs in seven games.