By Steve Silverman
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Mets fans are in heaven after Thursday night’s win over the Dodgers moved them into the National League Championship Series.READ MORE: MTA, Union Leaders Call For More NYPD Officers To Patrol Subways After Off-Duty Conductor Nearly Blinded By Attacker
It was a brilliant win that featured the gutsy pitching of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia, and the sharp and clever baserunning — as well as the power — of Daniel Murphy.
Rest assured that the Mets have gotten the Chicago Cubs’ respect. Joe Maddon and his team swept the season series against the Mets, but that was before the power surge — which began with the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes — infused the rest of the lineup.
The Cubs will not take the Mets lightly, nor will they be overconfident when they take the field Saturday night at Citi Field.
But rest assured that this team is like no other Chicago Cubs team that the Mets have ever seen. These are not the stumbling, bumbling Cubs of yesteryear, and they certainly have nothing to do with the 1969 Cubs that played such a big part in the Mets’ legacy.
These are a sharp bunch of sluggers who eliminated their archrivals from St. Louis. The Cardinals were not just the standard-bearers for the National League who had led baseball with 100 wins this season. They had tormented the Cubs with multiple World Series wins and an ability to win late, close games. Overcoming the Cardinals in four games has cleared the team’s historically troubled psyche.
If the Mets are going to beat the Cubs, they are going to have to step up against Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta and make them blink. Lester is a proven postseason performer who has taken the mound in big games on the road and laughed. He may not have had the same kind of season as his partner Arrieta, but he pitched well for the Cubs this year even though his numbers were not stellar (11-12, 3.34 ERA and 207 strikeouts).
Arrieta was simply otherworldly, and he will pitch in Game 2 Sunday night. There are many reasons why Arrieta has been so spectacular this year, with his 22-6 record, 1.77 ERA, 236 strikeouts and .865 WHIP. But what most hitters say is that the explosive power on his pitches seems to come out of nowhere.
The ease of his motion sends the subliminal message to hitters that the guy on the mound is a soft tosser. He is anything but, as he throws his fastball at 97-98 miles per hour and his slider breaks a foot-and-a-half with regularity.
But don’t call the 29-year-old Arrieta a natural. He is a self-made phenom who started to emerge last year with a 10-5 record and 2.53 ERA. He has gotten himself into amazing physical condition and has developed into a brilliant pitcher who is at the peak of his powers.READ MORE: New Jersey Native Jovan Collazo Accused Of Hijacking School Bus At Gunpoint, Holding Elementary School Students Hostage In South Carolina
But it’s the Cubs’ lineup that has made this team so dangerous. They were playing good baseball early in the season and appeared to be on a path to play championship baseball in 2016 or 2017 as their young players developed. However, that all changed when they brought up left-handed slugger Kyle Schwarber.
He is a banger of legendary proportion. If he was a boxer, he would be Joe Frazier, taking opponents out with that big left hook. Schwarber has phenomenal power, and he put that on display in the wild-card game in Pittsburgh when he hit a ball in the Allegheny River. He then followed that up with a home run that landed on top of the Wrigley Field scoreboard against the Cardinals.
His swing is short, compact and explosive. He has been impervious to pressure at this point and has thrived in big moments.
He is not just an all-or-nothing slugger, either. His ability to go to left field has allowed him to start rallies and upset the rhythm of opposing pitchers.
Kris Bryant is the almost-certain Rookie of the Year, and he has game-changing power as well. His face will likely be the image of the Cubs for a decade or more, along with Anthony Rizzo. Add in Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler, and you have a team capable of lighting up good pitching.
The Cubs are strong and powerful, but they have a few problems. Once you get past Arrieta and Lester, the starting pitching is barely worth a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Maddon is just thoughtful enough to possibly eschew starters like Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks and assign the game to his bullpen.
The other problem is even worse. Star shortstop Addison Russell will not play in this series. Russell may not have the eye-catching all-around offensive numbers of Schwarber, Bryant and Rizzo, but he may be the best of the young players on the team. The Cubs have more than adequate depth at shortstop with Baez filling in, but they will miss Russell at some point in the series.
The Mets, of course, have the starting pitching to survive and advance. Matt Harvey, Syndergaard, Steven Matz and deGrom give the Mets a tremendous chance to throw a gem in every game of this series. The depth of the pitching and the back-end brilliance of Familia gives them a legitimate chance to neutralize the Cubs’ tremendous power.
These teams could form one of the greatest lineups in recent memory, if you combined the Cubs’ young hitting with the Mets’ young pitching.
Neither Maddon nor Terry Collins will be able to make mistakes in this series. Maddon has to figure out what he is going to do when neither Arrieta nor Lester is on the mound, while Collins has to be concerned about the Cubs’ relentless power bats.MORE NEWS: NYPD Investigating Possible Hate Crime After Statue Of Polish Hero Father Jerzy Popiełuszko Is Vandalized
It’s a classic series that will have New York and Chicago on the edges of their seats. It’s a battle that may come down to the ninth inning of the seventh game, and may end up with a powerful young team going to its first World Series since 1945.