October 20, 2015
By Marty Carlino
For the first time in 12 long years, the Chicago Cubs are in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs closed their 2015 season on a torrid pace, going 50-25 in the second half of the season. They finished with the third best record in all of Major League Baseball, posting a season record of 97-65. Their record was only able to earn them third place in the their division, which earned them a one-game playoff against their division rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs rolled into Pittsburgh confident, backed by their ace and Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had a historic second half of the season, pitching to an unheralded 0.75 earned run average, the lowest in Major League Baseball history. Arrieta led the National League with 22 wins and placed in the top three in almost every statistical leader board for NL pitchers.
The one game, winner-take-all playoff proved to be no different for Arrieta as he silenced Pittsburgh’s potent offense. Leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, smoked a line drive single straight up the middle to start the game. Kyle Schwarber proceeded to drive a perfectly placed double, down the left field line to score Fowler. That one run was all that Arrieta needed. Arrieta tossed a complete game shut out, striking out 11 batters and allowing only 5 hits.
After defeating the Pirates, the Cubs squared off with their long time rivals the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis has established an era of dominance within the central division of the National League. The Cardinals won the division three years in a row and have played in the National League Championship Series for four straight seasons. St. Louis was expected to make another championship appearance after defeating the Cubs in game 1 of the NLDS. John Lackey outdueled the Cubs’ 155 million dollar man Jon Lester in game 1 of the series. Lester pitched well into the eighth inning of the game, but the Cardinals’ Tommy Pham crushed a poorly placed fastball that leaked back over the heart of the plate to give St. Louis a what seemed to be insurmountable 2-0 lead. Lackey and the Cardinals finished off the Cubs 4-0 in game 1. After falling short in game 1, the Cubs bounced back defeating St. Louis in the next three games. Timely hitting and stellar late inning relief helped lead the Cubs to a victory in game 2 of the series.
The Cubs returned to Wrigley Field with Arrieta set to take the mound for game 3. Arrieta wasn’t at his best, but the Cubs’ bats picked him up as they slugged a National League record, 6 home runs, in the game. Game 4 proved to be a similar story for the Cubs as a clutch home run from Javier Baez gave the cubs an early 4-2 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Schwarber blasted a monstrous home run later in the game to add a late inning insurance run. Hector Rondon slammed the door shut in the ninth and the party was on. The cubs clinched their first appearance in the NLCS since 2003.
Two days later, the Cubs learned that their NLCS opponent would be the New York Mets. The Mets defeated the heavily favored 314 million dollar payroll of the Los Angeles Dodgers. New York beat two of the game’s best pitchers, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to earn their way through the opening round.
Similarly, the Mets finished their season on a roll. New York made a number of key moves at the trade deadline that helped them get their first National League East title since 2006. The Mets made a huge splash as they acquired all-star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. Cespedes instantly changed the dynamic of the Met’s lineup and made them a credible offensive threat. The newfound offense paired perfectly with the Mets dominant starting rotation. With four of baseballs best starting pitchers, the Mets possessed one of baseball’s best rotations throughout the season. The 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, deGrom won 14 games and is one of the game’s most dominant starters.
During the regular season the Cubs swept the Mets in all 7 games. However, the Mets have changed the outlook of their team from earlier in the season. The 2015 NLCS will come down to the Mets’ power pitching against the Cubs’ power hitting. Will New York’s power arms Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard be able to handle the Cubs’ sluggers Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber? Regardless of the outcome, we should have a memorable series on our hands.