The Cubs had just swept the Reds and things were finally feeling back to normal. The slump was over, or so we thought, until it was off to play the dreaded Mets. Fortunately, they were ice-cold — injuries were piling up and they had lost four straight games.
That didn’t matter. The Mets took four straight from the Cubs, and fans all over the Chicagoland area trembled at this all too familiar feeling. The Cubs were playing like — well — the Cubs.
A pair of bad series with divisional opponents, the Reds and Pirates, made matter worse, sending the Cubs into the All-Star break as losers of 16 of their last 21 games.
That feeling of normalcy came back to Wrigley Field this weekend after the Cubs took two of three from the AL West leading Rangers. However, a similar quiver was felt across the friendly confines when fans realized who was coming to town next: those pesky Mets.
Joe Maddon downplayed the series in his post-game presser on Sunday.
“Honestly for me it’s just another series,” Maddon said. “You know last year we beat them seven times in the regular season, and they return the favor at the end.”
“It’s just like any other team,” said Cubs’ ace Jake Arrieta, echoing his skipper’s sentiment.
Is it, though?
Sure, on the one hand, they’re both right. In a 162-game season, you can’t get too high or too low for a single series. However, the narrative in the Cubs’ clubhouse was the same before facing the Mets in Queens three weeks ago. Their play didn’t match their words that weekend, losing the four games by a combined 21 runs.
It’s not just another series. If the Cubs want to say that, fine — but it’s time to prove it on the field. Prove this team is beatable, prove that last October is in the past, and it might be cliche, but prove that the metaphorical Mets’ monkey is off your back.
The Cubs get the chance to prove all of that this week at Wrigley. Here’s a preview of what they’re up against.
The Mets have struggled offensively for the majority of the season, ranking 28th in runs scored. Injuries to veterans like Lucas Duda and David Wright have been a part of the problem. Another issue has been the reliance on the long ball (5th in the bigs in HR’s). There’s nothing wrong with hitting homers, of course, but they’ve struggled to produce runs in any other way.
Although it’s a small sample size, July has been a much better month for the Mets’ offense, they rank 7th in runs scored this month.
Asdrubal Cabrera (1.030 OPS in July) and Curtis Granderson (1.088 OPS in July) have provided the formidable Yoenis Cespedes with protection in the lineup so far this month.
Cespedes is the leader of the offense, he’s hitting .299/.370/.577 with 21 round-trippers and 52 runs driven in. Teams have been able to easily pitch around him most of the season, considering no other member of the regular starting lineup has a batting average of over .300 or an on-base percentage of over .350. The success of Cabrera and Granderson will be key to the Mets continued success offensively.
The Mets pitching is what makes them go, they rank 3rd in team ERA.
It’ll be a battle south paws on Monday night: Jon Lester vs. Steven Matz.
Matz started the season hot, earning a 7-1 record with a 2.28 ERA in the first two months of the season. The 25-year-old has come back down to earth as of late, he’s 0-4 in his last seven starts with a 4.87 ERA. His best pitch is his four-seamer, it has heavy sinking action, and he throws it very hard (94 MPH+) and very frequently (61% of his pitches).
Tuesday night will feature the ace of both staffs: Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard.
Syndergaard has bone spurs in his pitching elbow, but said he’s feeling “really good” after the break. The right-handed fireballer dropped out of the All-Star game to rest his arm. He seemed fine the last time these two teams got together, tossing seven innings and allowing just one run.
Veteran righty Bartolo Colon will take the bump on Wednesday for the Mets against Kyle Hendricks. The 43-year-old Colon has surprised many this season, pitching his way to an 8-4 record with a 3.11 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. He’s been able to spot his fastball and sinker very well, helping him to induce ground balls to get hitters out.
It really is time for the Cubs to prove that this is just another series for them. They need to take at least two of three at home, and I think they will.
Arrieta and Lester’s recent struggles have been well-documented. That being said, I’m confident that both can return to their usual form this week. I don’t see either of them struggling with this lowly Mets lineup, and considering Matz’ recent struggles and Syndergaard’s health, I think the Cubs can put up enough runs to finally take down the Mets.
And if they don’t win this series, we’ll all have to wonder: are the Mets truly just another team for the Cubs?
Only time will tell.