Well, well, well. Here we are: 77 games into the 2016 season and finally we get a rematch of the 2015 NLCS.
In case you forgot, the last time these two teams squared up, the Mets ripped every single one of your dreams away from you like candy from a toddler – just to waste their World Series opportunity against the freakin’ Royals. I’m a little salty.
But you know, it’s funny. Being that my Cubs fandom began around the summer of 1998, I never used to share the Mets hate of the generation(s) before me. I hated the Marlins a little, the Cardinals a lot, the Yankees because why not, but the Mets? Not really. They never came across my radar enough to yield the response that I witnessed from the older Cubs fans in my life. Suffice it to say, that’s changed. Go get ’em.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (51-26) just swept the Cincinnati Reds in three of the weirdest (but fun) games in a while, and I think we really needed that. They’re still just 4-6 in their last ten, but their three loses paired with the Cardinals past five games (2-3), extended the Cubs’ first place lead to 11.0 games.
The New York Mets (40-37), on the other hand, were just swept by the Washington Nationals, after being outscored 20-6 in the three-game set. They are now in third place of the NL East by a full 6.0 games. It’s early in the season, of course, but that was a huge swing of a series. Consider, had it gone the other way, the Mets would have been just a game and a half back. Tough.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Thursday, June 30 at 6:10 CT on CSN, MLBN 670 The Score
- Friday, July 1 at 6:10 CT on WGN, MLBN 670 The Score
- Saturday, July 2 at 6:15 CT on Fox, 670 The Score
- Sunday, July 3 at 12:10 CT on WGN, 670 The Score
Expected Starters and Lineups
These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what actually gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.
- John Lackey (3.29 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.62 xFIP; 3.78 K/BB)
- Jason Hammel (2.58 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 4.35 xFIP; 2.59 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (2.10 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 3.31 xFIP; 2.78 K/BB)
- Jon Lester (2.03 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 3.41 xFIP; 4.29 K/BB)
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Kris Bryant, LF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Javy Baez, 3B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Miguel Montero, C (or David Ross, Willson Contreras)
- Albert Almora Jr., CF
New York Mets
- Steven Matz (3.29 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 3.20 xFIP; 4.87 K/BB)
- Jacob deGrom (2.67 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.39 xFIP; 4.05 K/BB)
- Bartolo Colon (2.86 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 4.02 xFIP; 4.14 K/BB)
- Noah Syndergaard (2.49 ERA, 1.92 FIP, 2.29 xFIP; 7.67 K/BB)
- Alejandro De Aza, RF (Curtis Granderson is day-to-day with a cal injury)
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, CF
- James Loney, 1B (Lucas Duda is on the 15-Day DL)
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
- Wilmer Flores, 3B (David Wright is on the 15-Day DL)
- Brandon Nimmo, LF (Michael Conforto was sent to Triple-A)
- Travis d’Arnaud, C
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that Jon Lester isn’t *currently* the best pitcher on the Cubs. After a strong start to the season, he had an even stronger month of June. In six June games, he threw 44.2 innings while allowing just 7 earned runs (1.41 ERA). He struck out 44 batters (26.5%) while walking just 7 (4.2%) and allowed just 28 hits (.178). The BABIP (.213) is low, sure, but when you’re allowing just 23.0% hard contact (which would be third best in baseball if he kept it up over the whole season), it’s not hard to imagine why.
Hector Rondon, on the other hand, isn’t having the best month of June. After being essentially perfect to start the season, Rondon has blown three saves in the last two weeks alone. And even though his results aren’t terrible in June (2.70 ERA), his peripherals are a good deal worse (3.46 FIP, 4.33 xFIP) and confirm what we’ve been able to see with our eyes. But, he is still a very good pitcher and by far the Cubs best option out of the pen. He’ll tighten up and finish strong just like he has in each of the past three seasons with the Cubs.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Have ya heard of this Kris Bryant fellar?
On the season, Bryant is slashing .280/.372/.560 with 21 home runs and just a 22.7% strikeout rate (already worth 4.0 WAR!). But since the beginning of the Marlins series, Bryant has been even hotter: .407/.486/.963 (.553 wOBA) with four home runs and three doubles in just 35 plate appearances. His ISO is a laughable .556 during that stretch. He’s simply locked in at the plate and looks better every day.
Addison Russell, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. If you watch his plate appearances, he really feels like a good hitter. His overall approach is sound, he makes contact and can hit for power, but rarely does it all come together. For example, on the season, he’s hitting just .236 AVG with just a .388 SLG, despite getting on base often (.331) and walking 11.5% of the time. His BABIP (.304) is perfectly normal and even his ISO (.152) is solid. Somehow, though, we’re left with a 91 wRC+ player at the end of the day. And don’t get me wrong, with his defense in this line, that’s perfectly fine, it’s just frustrating because the potential is so obviously there. Then again, he is just a 22-year-old sophomore (gold glove calibre) shortstop. Maybe that’s all just swell.
Javy Baez has been quite good lately, but he’s going to get some special attention later on. Hold that thought.
New York Mets – Pitching
Well, you knew this part was coming, didn’t you? The Cubs starters may have surprised everyone with how good they’ve been this season, but the Mets’ staff surprised no one. And that’s not because they haven’t been good. Instead, it’s because they’ve been just as good as advertised.
In particular, Noah Syndergaard has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of baseball. In fact, behind Clayton Kershaw, he is the most valuable pitcher in all of baseball. On the season, Syndergaard has a 2.49 ERA, but a 1.92 FIP that suggests he’ll continue to get better results. More impressively he’s striking out batters over 30% of the time, walking them just 4.0% and getting ground balls 54.4%. In almost every way, he’s been utterly dominant. He has been pitching with a bone spur lately, but it’s a fairly common occurrence in pitchers and he claims he can and will pitch effectively and without pain.
But it’s not as though he’s the only one realizing success on the Mets staff. Each of Bartolo Colon (2.86 ERA), Steven Matz (3.29 ERA) and Jacob deGrom (2.67 ERA) are having nice seasons, as well. What a weird, weird world we live in, where I’m bummed the Cubs are missing Matt Harvey this series (4.55 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 4.22 xFIP).
New York Mets – Offense
But offense is where the Mets falter. Their position players are bottom ten in terms of WAR (6.4), boasting the sixth worst wOBA (3.04), fifth worst strikeout rate (23.7%) and worst batting average in baseball (.233).
Yoenis Cespedes has essentially been everything to the Mets lineup, slashing .289/.359/.555 with 18 home runs (.384 wOBA) this season. With David Wright out, the next best hitter has been James Loney (.284/.336/.451), but to be fair, he’s been working on an eight game hitting streak and has looked quite a bit better over his past 11 games (.325/.386/.625). Even still, the Mets offense (like 2015) is their achilles heal. It may not be easy to score runs off of their pitchers, so it will be up to the Cubs staff to shut things down.