By Steve Silverman
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This has been a magical season for the Chicago Cubs, and with the team about to clinch the National League Central at this absurdly early date, the NL pennant and a shot at the team’s first World Series title since 1908 is legitimately within their grasp.
Of course, much of that was also true last year. The Cubs were the “hot team” when they reached the NLCS, where they were expected by many to handle the Mets.
But that did not happen. The Cubs may have been hitting on all cylinders coming into that series with Jake Arrieta on an incredible pitching roll and rookie Kyle Schwarber making like Babe Ruth, but they ran into a spectacular pitching performance from the Mets. And the long-suffering Cubs and their fans had one more chapter of woe to add to their sad book.
Well, here’s something for the Cubs to consider as they get ready for their next playoff encounter: If it happens to come against the Mets – and that is looking more and more likely – the Cubs could get punched in the gut once again.
The Cubs have a brilliant team, and team president Theo Epstein has put together a group that pummels weaker teams on a regular basis. The Cubs don’t lose to squads like the Phillies, Reds or Diamondbacks very often, often beating them by a huge margins. The tendency to put average and below-average teams away is a good thing, but it doesn’t help when confronting a good team with excellent pitching.
That’s where the Mets come into the equation. They are surging and in the playoff picture right now, and they have a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
After a day off Thursday, the Mets face the Twins, Braves and Phillies before a more testing series with the Marlins, and another three games with Philadelphia to close the regular season.
The Mets should roll into the wild-card game, where they will most likely play the Cardinals. The Giants have fallen apart since the All-Star Game, and back-to-back home losses to the Padres in September are a strong indication that Bruce Bochy’s team no longer has it, despite their even-numbered year success (2010, ’12, ’14 World Series champions).
The Cardinals can hit, and they have their own pedigree. But it’s difficult to see them beating Noah Syndergaard under any circumstances.
That would set the Mets up with an NLDS meeting against the Cubs, and that is the last thing that Kris Bryant & Co. want to see. The Cubs have been brilliant in all aspects of the game this year, and they are a bunch of hard-hitting free swingers. Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and the rest of the Cubs launch long home runs on a regular basis.
But they also swing and miss an awful lot. Rizzo may be the best contact hitter of their home run swingers, but Bryant and Russell are capable of multiple strikeouts in any game they play. That’s what happened last year against the Mets.
Obviously, the New York pitching is not healthy at this point, but by the time the playoffs start, Terry Collins could have Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz to throw at the Cubs. While deGrom and Matz are not fully healthy yet, each pitcher may be days away from returning to the mound, and if there are no further setbacks, they could be ready to pitch on the key nights in October.
That’s nightmarish for the Cubs, who have been trying to play the role of Superman all season. They have been largely successful, but elite pitching is their kryptonite, as it has been for many great teams over the years.
It doesn’t matter how many times you have beaten the Rockies, Braves and Brewers when you get to the postseason and have to face Synedergaard and his partners.
Great pitching has always stopped good hitting, and that’s not going to change in 2016.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy