Despite pressures that come in October, New York's staff is unfazed
By Mike Bauman
CHICAGO -- The autumn sun was shining brightly on Wrigley Field on Monday. The climate was gentle. Even the ivy on the outfield walls remained nearly all green, a slice of summer that politely refused to disappear.
It will now be the task of the New York Mets to bring winter to this pleasant scene, to end the season of the Chicago Cubs, and to once again smash the hopes of Cubs fans, all those millions who have redefined the term "long-suffering."
Based on what happened in the first two games of the National League Championship Series in New York, the Mets are fully capable of that. The pitching matchups for the near future don't appear to offer much pessimism regarding the Mets' march to the World Series, either.
If the central question of this series was whether the Mets' ultra-talented young starting pitchers could stop the Cubs' splendid young power hitters, Games 1 and 2 both were solidly on the Mets' side of the argument. The Cubs scored three runs in two games. They were not able to cope with either Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. Few teams can deal successfully with these fellows when they are on their considerable games.
More good news appears for the Mets when the series resumes in the Friendly Confines on Tuesday night (air time at 7:30 p.m. ET, game time at 8 p.m. on TBS). Jacob deGrom, their very best starter, will take the mound against Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs' third starter.
deGrom just won the first game and the last game in the Mets' Division Series victory over the Dodgers. The two pitchers he bested in those games were guys named Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. deGrom had overwhelming stuff in Game 1, but he did not have his best stuff in Game 5, yet found a way to succeed.
"That's why I think this guy's really moving himself up the ladder," Mets manager Terry Collins said Monday, just before his club worked out at Wrigley Field. "He's one of the elite guys in the game. That's something that's hard to teach. That's engrained in your system that, 'Hey, look, I've got to do it now and make the pitch in big situations.' "
In fact it could easily be argued that the Mets will be favored in the potential pitching matchup for every game that might still be played in this series except if Jake Arrieta starts another game for the Cubs. Yes, yes, Syndergaard and the Mets beat him in Game 2. But a 0.41 ERA over the last two months of the season, the best in the history of ERAs over that period, cannot be dismissed by one loss.
The Mets, it turns out, may have something like the ideal postseason team, because it contains four starting pitchers with stuff so good that they can dominate any opponent, even now, and maybe, especially now.
Collins believes that his confident young flamethrowers, rather than succumbing to nerves under the white-hot glare of the postseason spotlight, have simply gained a higher degree of focus. The results so far tend to support that contention.
"I was pretty comfortable they were going to handle it," Collins said. "I think these guys have tremendous confidence in themselves and their abilities. They know what they have to do to get outs, and they just go out and try to apply it. I think the big stage helps. I think there is a little bit more intensity involved, so a little bit more focus involved, so I think that helps a little bit also."
But this is a two-sided competition and there is an argument to be made for the Cubs. Wrigley is a better hitters' park than Citi Field. The forecast is for mild conditions for Games 3 and 4, warmer weather, hitter-friendlier weather than the cold and windy conditions that prevailed in Queens for the first two games. Plus, Wrigley has not been at all kind to the Mets.
"The Cubs play very well here," Collins said. "We haven't won a game here in two years, so we understand that it's going to be certainly a different atmosphere."
Yes, the Mets were 0-7 in the regular season against the Cubs this year, but all of those games were played in an earlier era, B.C. (Before Cespedes).
And, the Cubs can take some solace from the fact that they defeated deGrom twice earlier this season. These losses came during periods when deGrom was having uncharacteristic difficulties with his sinker, leaving pitches up over the plate.
Asked about those starts on Monday, deGrom replied: "I haven't looked back at it too much. I know they weren't very good starts. I'm going to flush that and I know this is the playoffs, so it's going to be a good start for me."
That is the kind of confidence that these young Mets have. It is early in some of these careers, but they have already earned the right to that confidence.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.