Begins Saturday, October 17
5:97 pm PT on TBS
Chicago Cubs (97-65) @New York Mets (90-72)
In the preseason, I compiled standings projections from eight sources: Clay Davenport, Sports Illustrated, Fangraphs, PECOTA, Bleacher Report, Rant Sports, The Sporting News, and Eastside Sports. The Chicago Cubs were projected to finish with a record of 83-79 by an average of all the sources I used. Of course, the Cubs far exceeded expectations, coming in at 14 more wins than expected. The New York Mets are in the NL East and they were not expected to have a chance to win that division because the Washington Nationals were expected to be a powerhouse. The Mets weren’t even picked to finish in second place by the majority of those sources. Overall, these sources pegged the Mets to finish right at .500, with a projected record of 81-81. They actually won nine more games than their pre-season projections.
Looking at run differential, these two teams are fairly close. The Cubs scored 81 more runs than they allowed. The Mets were at +70. The Cubs’ runs scored and runs allowed suggests they are closer to a 90-72 team than the 97-65 record they actually had, while the Mets’ run differential would peg them as an 89-win team.
How They Got Here
Before this season, the Chicago Cubs hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008. From 2010 to 2014, the Cubs averaged 69 wins per year. They bottomed out with a 61-101 season in 2012. Over the last few years, they developed a very good farm system and most baseball analysts expected the Cubs to be a good team in the near future, but not this near. Much like the Astros in the American League, the Cubs had success very much ahead of schedule.
The Cubs were over .500 for most of the first few months of the season, but they really took off in July. On June 28th, the Cubs were 39-35. From that point forward, they went 58-30 and easily ran away with the second wild card spot. Their best stretch was a nine game winning streak in August.
In the wildcard game to determine who would advance and who would go home, the Cubs got a terrific game from ace Jake Arrieta and a key two-run home run from Kyle Schwarber to beat the Pirates, 4-0.
The Cubs then lost the first game of their series against the Cardinals but came back to win the next three games to advance to the NLCS.
It’s been almost a decade since the Mets made the playoffs. Back in 2006, they lost the National League Championship Series four games to three to the St. Louis Cardinals. They followed that season with good years in 2007 and 2008 but didn’t make the playoffs. Then they hit a down period that coincided in part with the Bernie Madoff scandal and hurt the team’s finances because their owners were heavy investors with Madoff. The Mets averaged just 76 wins per year over the six-year period from 2009 to 2014.
Coming into this season, the Mets had a good group of young pitchers in their organization but didn’t look to have the hitting to be a division-winning team. They had a good start, going 15-8 in April, but were mediocre in May, June, and July, going 38-42 over those three months. At the All-Star break, the Mets ranked 26th in baseball in offense, with a team batting line of .233/.298/.363 and were scoring an average of 3.5 runs per game. Then they acquired Yoenis Cespedes in a deadline deal and their hitting took off. In the second half of the season, the Mets were the second-best hitting team in baseball, hitting .257/.328/.443 and scoring 5.1 runs per game. In August, September, and October, the Mets went 37-22 and finished seven games ahead of the Nationals to easily win the NL East.
In the NLDS, the Mets beat the Dodgers three games to two, as Jacob deGrom outdueled both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and Matt Harvey enjoyed some healthy run support in his Game 3 victory over Brett Anderson.
Hitting, Pitching, Fielding Rankings
Rankings are based on Fangraphs statistical data. For offense, I used the metric wRC+, which means “weighted Runs Created Plus.” This looks at how a team’s offense compares to league average and takes ballpark effects into account. I used Fangraphs pitcher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for starting pitchers and relief pitchers. The defensive rankings are based on Fangraphs’ metric for defense.
They both have terrific pitchers in the starting rotation. The Cubs feature Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester as their top two. The Mets have Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard leading the way. The Mets arms go deeper, with Matt Harvey and Steven Matz as guys with tremendous potential, but they are also young and not necessarily reliable at this stage of their careers. Harvey has a media circus surrounding him because his agent wants to limit his innings and fans of the team would like to see him out there more than he has been down the stretch.
The Cubs have a better bullpen and are better on defense. The key to the Cubs’ bullpen is their depth, while the Mets will hope their starting pitchers can take them deep into games and they can get to closer Jeurys Familia without too many pitchers in between.
The Cubs have a great group of young hitters in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler, while the Mets counter with the terrific pitching arms of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndegaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. This should be a fun series to watch. In the end, I like the Cubs to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
My Prediction: Cubs over Mets, 4 games to 3