October is won with pitching; and NY's rotation is stacked
By Mike Bauman
NEW YORK -- Dancing in the streets is never recommended after two games in a best-of-seven series. But the Mets have already made their point in this competition.
It was a distinctly chilly Sunday night at Citi Field for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, which the Mets won, 4-1. The game-time temperature was 45 degrees and dropping, and 18 mph winds only added to the cold. But the climate did not matter much to the Mets, the team with the most heat in its starting rotation.
The Mets have been so good in the first two games of this NLCS against the Chicago Cubs that they would have to go into a collective slump to lose. The Cubs had the third-best record in the NL, but they have not been able to start their offense, much less maintain it, against the Mets.
The Mets have demonstrated their quality in every phase of the game. But pitching comes to mind most readily, because that is where October is won, and pitching, conveniently is the Mets' strongest suit.
After Matt Harvey stopped the Cubs in Game 1, Noah Syndergaard stifled them in Game 2. Syndergaard tired in the sixth and required relief help. Four Mets relievers allowed no further damage. But Syndergaard's line reflected his dominance: 5 2/3 innings, one run, three hits, one walk, nine strikeouts. Syndergaard is only 23, but he is a giant walking the earth: 6-foot-6 with a heater that touches three figures. He was too big for the Cubs in this one.
The Cubs have been able to do next to nothing against the Mets' starters, scoring three runs in two games. For the second straight night at Citi Field, the Mets answered the core question of this Series: Can their starting pitching be dominant enough to squelch the imposing power of the Cubs' lineup? For the second time in two nights, the answer was yes, absolutely, certainly and oh, yeah.
With this sort of pitching, the Mets have not had to score tons of runs. But this is the postseason, and any team that comes this far has enough pitching to make runs a precious commodity. The Mets have had the big hits. And Sunday night, they had the big hits against Jake Arrieta, the best pitcher in baseball over the second half of this season.
Arrieta had an 0.41 ERA from the beginning of August through the end of the regular season, the lowest mark for that period since ERA became a recognized statistic.
He gave up two earned runs in August. He gave up two earned runs in September/October. Sunday night, the Mets scored three runs off Arrieta before he recorded an out.
Curtis Granderson singled. David Wright, emerging at least briefly from a slump, delivered an RBI double. Then, Daniel Murphy hit what has become basically his nightly postseason home run. The Mets only scored one more run, but with the pitching they're getting, a three-run outburst will suffice. And against Arrieta, it was both sufficient and amazing.
"The ambush early got us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That was the game right there. It was really hard to recover from that. And then you've got to give a lot of credit to their young pitcher. Syndergaard really was very good today also."
Syndergaard was matter-of-fact and modest about his work.
"I wish I could have gotten ahead of hitters a little bit better," he said, "but it makes pitching a lot [easier] when you go out there and the offense puts a three-spot on one of the best pitchers in the game right now. Kind of takes a little load off my shoulders."
Asked if the cold weather limited his work in any way, Syndergaard replied: "Actually, no. I thought gripping my curveball would be a little difficult tonight, but I didn't have any problem with that. Colder climates just allow me to throw my changeup with more consistency."
Victory in the postseason often requires defense that can be both solid and spectacular. The Mets have been solid defensively. They got the spectacular in the second inning of Game 2, when Granderson leaped at the wall to take a home run away from Chris Coghlan.
"It was huge," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Grandy made a great play on that ball."
But the biggest thing of all is the pitching. Night after night, the Mets go at the opposition with power arms.
"When you look at our pitching staff, you just shake your head," Collins said. "The game is changing. Those power arms, everybody's got them, but they're usually in the bullpen. We have guys, and we're very, very lucky. It seems like they go out there and maintain it. They can maintain 95 to 98 [mph] for six and seven innings at a time. I'll tell you, that's tough on hitters, especially in weather like this, that's really tough on hitters."
It's been tough on the Cubs. And here are two more reasons for Mets optimism:
In Game 3, they will go with their best starter, Jacob deGrom. And, from a historical perspective, 25 teams have taken a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven LCS. Twenty-two of them have gone on to the World Series. It's not over, but the Mets are doing everything they need to do.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.