NLCS Full Preview, Analysis, Pitching and Hitting Breakdown As Mets Have Home Field Advantage Against Cubs

October 17, 2015

By Matt Straub


The 2015 National League Championship Series features two teams which aren’t supposed to still be playing. The Chicago Cubs, a team loaded with young talent, were supposed to be in the playoffs next year. The New York Mets defied every preseason prognostication (and a late season one from yours truly) to put away the Washington Nationals and win the NL East. They then got a win against two of the best pitchers in baseball to fight off the might L.A. Dodgers, improbably winning their NLDS to get within four games of the World Series.


So what happens when two Cinderella stories meet on a huge stage? Let’s break down the keys to the NLCS in order to determine who will play for a World Championship in 10 days.


PITCHING: This is where the Mets have their biggest advantage, despite their own confusion. Matt Harvey starting in Game 1 tonight means he’ll likely pitch twice in the series, but the Mets have said they didn’t want him to work more than once per series as they try to limit his innings. If they don’t use him twice they would need a starter for Game 5, and could use Bartolo Colon. Harvey seems to be shaking off his agent’s shackles, however, and might demand the ball again in Game 4 or five. Where the Mets are in the standings after three games could play a big role in determining his future as well.


What we do know is he’s pitching Game 1, which helps considerably. In Game 2 it should be Noah Synergaard, who will be recovered from the insane amount of warm-up pitches the Mets made him throw before using him in Game 5 against the Dodgers.


Usually New York’s youth and question marks in the rotation would be a bad thing, but the Mets’ young arms showed they were for real against the Dodgers. Stephen Matz and Jacob deGrom will be the other starters. Matz can be decent in a big game, while deGrom’s showing in Game 5 was especially impressive. No, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept the game from getting out of hand and gave his team a chance to win, which to be is a true sign of a good, tough pitcher.


The Cubs rotation is top heavy, but really good. Jon Lester, winner of so many big games with the Red Sox over the years, will start tonight and give the Cubs a good chance. He’s tough in the playoffs, and even though he has had some missteps over the years, he’s good more often than not and is someone to fear.


Speaking of someone to be worried about, Jake Arietta starts Game 2 for the Cubs. He was hit a little bit in his last start, but had one of the best second halves in history to help get the Cubs into the playoffs. He was going to come back to earth at some point,, and his performance against St. Louis may be more in line with what to expect in Game 2, but that’s his floor. His ceiling is a no-hitter, meaning the Mets will have to fight to get a split at home in the first two.


Where the Cubs’ rotation falls apart in after the first two games. Jason Hamel and Kyle Hendricks aren’t bad pitchers by any means, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon has shown no faith in them, which has hurt their confidence considerably. He will turn those games into bullpen specials even if he doesn’t have to.


Which brings us to the relievers. Both teams have a number of names they can call, but the Mets only have two I would put any kind of faith in: Tyler clippard and Jeurys Familia. Familia, the closer, has been great so far in the postseason, but has been shaky enough throughout the season to worry about him keeping this up. The Mets will use some starters in middle relief like Colon and Jonathon Niese, and lefty Sean Gilmartin, a former starter, is a good addition to their NLCS roster to deliver length and another lefty option. Still, the Mets’ bullpen has a patchwork feel to it, while the Cubs seem to know who they’re going to when.


The Cubs don’t have a lot of big names in the bullpen like the Royals do, but there’s plenty of depth there, which is a big advantage.


The Mets get the edge in starting pitching in the middle of the series, but the Cubs have all the other advantages. Is New York’s one strength, starting depth enough?


OFFENSE: Here's where the teams are very different. The Cubs have developed a swing for the fences mentality in the playoffs, and have the young bashers to do it. Chicago strikes out a ton, but it can also hit the ball a mile.


Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are the names you know, but Jorge Soler is on fire right now and Javier Baez can get a hold of one at any time as well. At the top of the order is Dexter Fowler, who is capable of creating chaos on the bases at just about any time.


The Cubs have worked on taking more pitches, but they are who they are. Expect them to try and jump on Mets fastballs throughout the series, making a number of lineouts and strikeouts. Their key will be how many they get into, particularly at Citi Field, where a line drive can bounce or roll all kinds of crazy ways. In Chicago later in the series, the Cubs will be looking to launch homers early and often.


The Mets come at you entirely differently. Yes they have some guys who can hit the ball out of the park, but they're going to try and beat4 you with length and consistency. Curtis Granderson is a power threat on top of the order, and can also still run a bit. He's not quite the intimdating presence Fowler can be when he's on, but the Cubs will want to watch him.


For the Mets, the middle of the order will be huge. For Game 1 it's David Wright, hitting second followed by Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d'Arnaud. Cespedes, who has cooled off great of late, is the only one of the group who is scary on his own, but there's enough quantity there where any of the Mets could jump up and bite the Cubs on a given day. Murphy certainly has made his presence felt against the Dodgers, and Wright is dying to come through in a big spot to cement his legacy as an all-time great Met.


The Mets will do a lot of lineup changing throughout the series, and have a number of options off the bench now, something they sorely lacked before the trade deadline. Losing Juan Uribe hurts, but the Mets should be able to put a servicable hitter up at just about any time, which is crucial this time of year.


X-FACTORS: The Cubs' defense will miss Addison Russell for sure, but shouldn't be too big a concern. The Mets' outfield defense is shaky with Cespedes out there, but he isn't so awful that you worry about him at all times. Losing Ruben Tejada was a blow mentally to the Mets, but he wasn't exactly Ozzie Smith, and Wilmer Flores gives them an emotional lift every time he plays since the botched trade, and his passion will be more evident in the postseason.


The Mets are incredibly hot right now, and the Cubs are too young to be scared of the moment, so I don't think either team has an emotional edge. You'll hear a lot about Billy Goats this week, but most of the Cubs are barely old enough to remember Bartman, never mind the 1940s.


In the dugouts, the Mets seem to love and want to win for Terry Collins. Joe Maddon always finds a way to nuture and develop young players, but I hate the way he handles pitchers and wonder about his track record. He deserves a lot of credit for getting underdogs into the playoffs, but he usually doesn't stay in the postseason too long. This might be the best team he's ever managed, but he has a hump to get over himself. I just trust Collins to make better decisions over the next seven games, and certainly to make sounder choices. Maddon always tends to outthink himself.


One stat which can't be ignored: The Mets didn't beat the Cubs all year. Not once.


I have gained too much respect for the Mets to pick a sweep, but the Cubs seem to have more advantages. The one thing which scares me is the Mets' power arms against a free-swinging team. It's going to be feast or famine at times, making this pick a scary one.


Matt's Pick: Cubs in 6

Brad's Pick: Mets in 7

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