Column: Foltynewicz and Duvall, in minors this summer, save Braves postseason in October

During the dog days of summer, Mike Foltynewicz woke up 43 mornings as a minor leaguer, as recently as Aug. 5. Adam Duvall spent 136 days in the minors, as recently as Sept. 5.

But come October, on a hot Georgia night that felt like those same dog days of summer, Mike Foltynewicz and Adam Duvall may have saved the Atlanta Braves’ postseason.

The pair of former All-Stars played to their full capability Friday night, leading the Braves to a crucial 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals to even the NL Division Series at one game each.

Foltynewicz pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits. When Duvall pinch-hit for Foltynewicz in the bottom of the seventh, he hit a two-run home run to stretch a 1-0 lead to 3-0, giving the Braves some huge insurance runs.

With the win, the Braves avoided the ominous fate of a 2-0 series deficit in the best-of-5 series ahead of the next two games in St. Louis.

Foltynewicz entered the season as the Braves’ top starting pitcher, but his season was delayed by injury, then plagued by ineffectiveness. On June 22, with a 6.37 ERA after 11 starts, he was optioned to AAA Gwinnett less than a year removed from his 2018 All-Star appearance.

The right-hander worked on both the execution of his pitches and the harnessing of his emotions, both of which were part of the early-season problems, and on Aug. 5 he was recalled to the major leagues after a successful run of starts.

In the 10 starts since his recall, Foltynewicz regained his 2018 form, pitching to a 2.65 ERA; the Braves won each of the first nine of those starts.

In Friday’s game, he made arguably the best start of his career, becoming the first Braves starter to throw seven or more shutout innings in a playoff game since Tom Glavine in the 2001 NLDS. In doing so, he outdueled the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty, the NL Pitcher of the Month in both August and September, all on the heels of a poor performance in last year’s playoff-series loss to the Dodgers.

“(It’s) pretty special,” Foltynewicz said. “(I) keep talking about it, the kind of year I had, just for the Braves to have trust in me. And I kind of proved what I went down to work on that I’m still the pitcher that I was last year.”

Foltynewicz was so strong that some fans at SunTrust Park booed when Duvall pinch-hit for Foltynewicz in the seventh inning. With two out in the inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker was trying to give his team the best chance to add on some runs, especially considering that Foltynewicz is a light hitter even by a pitcher’s standards. The trade-off was that Foltynewicz was out of the game at 81 pitches.

But Snitker had pushed the right button — Duvall’s home run gave the Braves some much-needed breathing room as the game was turned over to a bullpen which had struggled the night before in Game 1.

Duvall, a 2016 All-Star while with the Cincinnati Reds, had seasons of 33 and 31 home runs in 2016 and 2017, but struggled mightily at the plate after being traded to Atlanta in mid-2018. He hit .132 with no home runs in 53 at-bats, and was left off last year’s playoff roster.

Entering 2019, the Braves were hopeful that Duvall could regain his own form, but simply didn’t have a roster spot for him out of spring training. So he began his age-30 season at Gwinnett, waiting for an opportunity, and all he did was hit: 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in 101 games.

That opportunity did eventually open when the Braves experienced some injuries, and Duvall hit five home runs in the first six games after he was promoted back to the big leagues. He totaled 15 extra-base hits in 41 games, and this time around earned a playoff-roster spot as a right-handed-hitting reserve.

“This guy’s a former All-Star, he’s getting Gold Glove votes … last year didn’t go the way he wanted it to,” Snitker said. “Out of Spring Training, we optioned him down and he went down and hit I don’t know how many homers, and stayed the course and worked. I have so much respect for a guy like that.”

Duvall earned a hit and a walk in Game 1, then Friday did what he does best: hit a Flaherty fastball 423 feet to center field, landing in a raucous red-draped crowd.

After Foltynewicz went deep on the mound and Duvall went deep at the plate, the last six outs were earned by pitchers with noteworthy routes to Game 2 in their own right — Max Fried won 17 games as a starter, second most in the NL, but is being utilized as a reliever in the postseason; Mark Melancon was 12-for-12 in saves in the regular season but blew the save in Game 1, only to find redemption in Game 2 — and the Braves had evened the series.

Who could’ve known, in the 100-degree heat of Lawrenceville, Ga. during some mundane Gwinnett Stripers game in July, that the two most integral players in the Braves’ first 2019 playoff win would come from that team and not the more acclaimed one 30 miles away in Atlanta?

As disappointing as Game 1 was for the Braves — and as much as they could be leading the series 2-0 — Friday’s must-win was won and the team’s postseason aspirations were, at least for now, saved.

All because a couple of guys who were playing in front of a couple thousand people in July got the job done in October on the postseason’s grand stage.

Column: The last time the Cubs were in the World Series

Saturday night, the Chicago Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 to win the National League Championship Series in six games to meet the Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic, starting Tuesday.

In that 1945 World Series, the Cubs met the Detroit Tigers.  It was the Cubs 10th World Series appearance in the first 42 editions of the World Series, although the North-Siders had only won in two of their previous appearances (1907-08), and would end up losing to the Tigers in seven games.

When that World Series was contested, Harry S. Truman had just become president six months earlier after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Between then and the World Series that October, Truman had already overseen the end of World War II, winning in Europe 25 days after Roosevelt’s death, and in Japan in August.

(Outspoken Cub fan Steve Goodman, known for writing “Go Cubs Go,” pointed out that parallel history in a lyric in his song “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” saying “You know the law of averages says anything will happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.”)

In the month before the 1945 World Series, Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and American military occupation of Korea began, with both events setting the stage for major conflicts over the coming years.

The average house cost $4,600 in 1945, and a gallon of gas costs 15 cents.  The Bells of St. Mary’s starring Bing Crosby was the top-grossing film of the year, and Crosby won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Going My Way, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Animal Farm and Stuart Little were among the novels published in 1945.

Microwave ovens and cruise control were invented in 1945, and less than 10,000 homes had television sets, while the credit card, defibrillator, and hair spray were all invented over the next three years.

Don McLean was born the day before the World Series, while fellow entertainers Tom Selleck, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, Steve Martin, Neil Young, and Bette Midler and journalists Chris Matthews and Diane Sawyer were all also born in 1945.  Sports figures Pat Riley, Walt Frazier, Gary Williams, Hale Irwin, Phil Jackson, Jim Palmer, and Larry Bowa were also born in 1945, and Hall of Famer Rod Carew was born two days before the World Series.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would not be born for another year and two years, respectively.  My grandparents were between 9 and 18 years old.

World War II resulted in the deaths of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Anne Frank in 1945, while general George Patton died shortly after the war’s conclusion.

As the 1945 World Series was played, no black players were on either team, as Jackie Robinson would not break baseball’s color barrier for another two years.  The first Cubs player to appear in the 2016 World Series opener on Tuesday in Cleveland will likely be African-American outfielder Dexter Fowler, the Cubs usual leadoff hitter.

The years 1945 and 2016 are quite different, as society, culture, and even the timeless game of baseball have all seen big changes.  But in 1945 and 2016, one thing is the same:  The Chicago Cubs are National League champions.

The curse of the billy-goat, the black cat, and the Bartman game have blocked potential World Series appearances for the Cubs, but now, finally, 71 years later, the Cubs are back in the World Series.

It’s been a long time coming.

 

 

World Series Schedule (all games on FOX, at 8:08 pm ET unless otherwise noted)
Game 1:  Tuesday, October 25

Game 2:  Wednesday, October 26
Game 3:  Friday, October 28
Game 4:  Saturday, October 29
Game 5:  Sunday, October 30, 8:15 pm ET (if necessary)
Game 6:  Tuesday, November 1 (if necessary)
Game 7:  Wednesday, November 2 (if necessary)

MLB Playoffs: NLDS Preview

After the Blue Jays and Indians took a 1-0 series lead in the two American League Division Series yesterday, each of those series will play Game 2 this afternoon, setting the stage for two series openers tonight in the National League.

(For a preview of each ALDS matchup, click here.)

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71, NL West champion) vs. Washington Nationals (95-67, NL East champion)
(Game 1:  Friday, 5:38 pm ET, FS1)

This series matches a pair of teams notorious for postseason struggles in recent years, and that will continue for one of them.  The Dodgers won the season series, 5-1, but that doesn’t do justice to how good a matchup this should be.

Both teams, and especially the Dodgers, have overcome injuries throughout the season, making Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Nationals manager Dusty Baker the two favorites for NL Manager of the Year (I’d give the advantage to Roberts).

Both pitching rotations are very strong, although the Dodgers may have a slight advantage.  Washington, with a 3.51 team ERA, has NL Cy Young contender Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA) to start Game 1, underrated Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA) in Game 2, and Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57 ERA) in Game 3, but are without Steven Strasburg (15-4, 3.60 ERA).  The Dodgers, with a 3.70 team ERA, have the very strong trio of Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA), Rich Hill (for the season with OAK/LAD combined:  12-5, 2.12 ERA), and Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) lined up for the first three games.

The two bullpens have nearly identical ERAs (3.35 for Los Angeles, 3.37 for Washington), and each have lockdown closers who will be tough to come from behind on in the ninth inning, with deadline acquisition Mark Melancon (for the season with PIT/WAS combined:  47/51 saves, 1.64 ERA) for the Nationals, and Kenley Jansen (47/53 saves, 1.83 ERA) for the Dodgers.

Offensively, both teams have a blend of exciting young talent and experienced stars in their lineup.  The Dodgers (.249 team BA) feature likely NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager (.308 BA, 26 HR, 72 RBI) and veteran leaders Adrian Gonzalez (.285 BA, 18 HR, 90 RBI) and Justin Turner (.275 BA, 27 HR, 90 RBI).  The Nationals (.256 team BA) are led by NL MVP contender Daniel Murphy (.347 BA, 25 HR, 104 RBI), while rookie Trea Turner (.342 BA, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 33 steals) has made his mark in just 73 games, and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper (.243 BA, 24 HR, 86 RBI), even after a down year, is always a threat.

 

The Nationals have never won a postseason series in franchise history, while the Dodgers have won four straight division titles and only have one series win to show for it (and that was against another team known for postseason struggles, the Braves).  One team has to win this one, and this is the toughest pick for me of all four LDS matchups, as I can see reasons why both teams can win, and why both teams can lose.  That said, the Nationals do have home-field advantage, and fit more of my criteria for teams that do well in the postseason, including playing better than the Dodgers away from home and in one-run games.  I expect this series to be really close, with the Nationals squeaking out a victory.

Prediction:  The Nationals will win the series, 3-2.

 

San Francisco Giants (87-75, NL Wild Card Game winner) vs. Chicago Cubs (103-58, NL Central champion)
(Game 1:  Friday, 9:15 pm ET, FS1)

This highly-anticipated series matches the Cubs, who seem to be considered a team of destiny, against the Giants, the Wild Card Game winners who have won the World Series in the last three even-numbered years.  The Cubs won the season series, 4-3.

This series features two very good pitching rotations.  The Cubs, led by the trio of Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA, Game 1 starter), Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA, Game 2 starter), and Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA, Game 3 starter) have a ridiculously good rotation ERA of 2.96, with an overall team ERA of 3.15.  The Giants counter with Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79 ERA, Game 1 starter), former Cub Jeff Samardzija (12-11, 3.81 ERA, Game 2 starter), and Wild Card Game hero Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA, Game 3 starter; complete game, 4-hit shutout in Wild Card Game).

The Cubs have the overall pitching edge, however, because of the differences in these two bullpens.  The Cubs bullpen, led by closer Aroldis Chapman (for the season with NYY/CHC combined:  36/39 saves, 1.55 ERA), have a 3.56 ERA as a unit.  The Giants bullpen had a 3.65 ERA for the season, but struggled mightily in the second half, blowing 13 games for the Giants.

While the Giants have a higher team average than the Cubs (.258 for the Giants, .256 for the Cubs), the Giants dropped from .263 in the first half to .252 in the second half of the season.  The Cubs are clearly the more explosive offense of the two, as they ranked second in the NL in runs, fifth in home runs, and second in OPS (on-base plus slugging), while the Giants were ninth in runs, 13th in home runs, and 10th in OPS,

No one in the Giants lineup particularly stands out, although Brandon Crawford (.275 BA, 12 HR, 84 RBI) led the team in RBI, Brandon Belt (.275 BA, 17 HR, 82 RBI) led in homers, Hunter Pence (.289 BA, 13 HR, 57 RBI) led in batting average, and team leader Buster Posey (.288 BA, 14 HR, 80 RBI) is strong all around.  The Cubs have arguably the best assemblage of young hitting talent in baseball, featuring likely NL MVP Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI), Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI) and Addison Russell (.238 BA, 21 HR, 95 RBI).

The Cubs are the best team in baseball, and won 103 games this season for a reason.  While the Giants are certainly a talented team, Bumgarner can’t pitch every game for them, and while Cueto and Samardzija are certainly worthy starters, I’m not sure the Giants bullpen can hold a lead against this potent Cubs lineup.  I’m also not sure how many leads they will get, as I expect their offense to struggle against the Cubs starting pitchers.

Prediction:  The Cubs will win the series, 3-1.

World Series Recap: Royals Take the Crown for the First Time Since 1985

Kansas City Royals def. New York Mets, 4-1
Game 1:  Kansas City 5, New York 4 (14 innings)
Game 2:  Kansas City 7, New York 1
Game 3:  New York 9, Kansas City 3
Game 4:  Kansas City 5, New York 3
Game 5:  Kansas City 7, New York 2 (12 innings)

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are baseball’s champion, winning the title in a five-game series that was much less one-sided than the 4-1 result would indicate.

All four Royals wins in the Series were after Kansas City trailed, and all featured late-inning heroics which have come to be expected from the team, as they came up clutch for the entire postseason.

Starting Point:  A Classic Opener and a One-Way Sequel
In the opener in Kansas City, the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the eighth when Wilmer Flores scored on an error by Eric Hosmer.  Alex Gordon tied it in the ninth with a solo homer, and after five excruciating extra innings, Hosmer went from goat to hero when his sacrifice fly won it for the Royals in the 14th.  The game was the longest opener in World Series history, and included a little bit of everything, including a leadoff inside-the-park home run by the Royals’ Alcides Escobar, and a power outage in the television production truck that caused a blackout of the game’s broadcast.  In Game Two, after the Mets led 1-0 halfway through, the Royals took a 4-1 lead with consecutive RBI singles by Escobar, Hosmer (2 RBI), and Mike Moustakas.  In this contest, their late-inning magic wasn’t to take a lead, but instead to put it away, as three runs scored on the eighth, with one each on an RBI double by Alex Gordon, a sacrifice fly by Paulo Orlando, and a triple by Escobar, making it 7-1, and sending the Series to the Big Apple with the Royals up 2-0.

Turning Point:  The Mets Defense
After the Mets won Game 3 by scoring nearly as many runs in that game (9) as they did in the rest of the Series combined (10), and David Wright starring with 4 RBI, they went into Game 4 looking to even the Series at 2-2.  Instead, New York ended up down 3-1 and a game away from elimination.  In the eighth inning, with the Mets up 3-2, an error by NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy allowed Ben Zobrist to score, tying the game.  Ensuing RBI singles by Moustakas and Salvador Perez gave Kansas City a 5-3 lead, and the Royals got within a win of the title when Lucas Duda lined into a game-ending double play as Yoenis Cespedes was caught wandering too far off first base.

In Game 5, Curtis Granderson’s first inning homer and Lucas Duda’s sixth inning sacrifice fly gave the Mets a 2-0 lead through eight innings.  Starter Matt Harvey went out for the ninth after talking his way back into the game, but allowed a walk and an RBI double by Hosmer, and was pulled with a 2-1 lead.  With one out, Perez grounded out to Wright, the third baseman, but when Wright threw to first, Hosmer, who was on third, broke for the plate.  Hosmer would have clearly been out with a good throw, which would have been the final out of the game, but Duda rushed the throw home and threw it away wildly, allowing Hosmer to tie the game, 2-2.  Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who had relieved Harvey, became the first player to blow three saves in one World Series, although this one wasn’t the most fair blown save, as he didn’t allow a hit.

Ending Point:  A Big 12th Inning for the Champs
As Game 5 continued into extra innings, neither team posed a strong threat to score through the 10th and 11th.  In the 12th, after Perez singled to lead off the inning, pinch runner Jarrod Dyson stole second, and advanced to third on Gordon’s groundout.  Christian Colon, in his first at-bat of the postseason, singled to left to score Dyson, and the Royals led for the first time in the game, 3-2.  After another Murphy error on a fielder’s choice, Colon scored on an Escobar RBI double, before, two batters later, Lorenzo Cain’s three-RBI double cleared the bases and gave the Royals a 7-2 lead.  Closer Wade Davis, who allowed just eight runs all season, and none in the postseason, got three outs, and the Royals were World Series champions.

The Royals title provides a happy ending to a long stretch for this franchise after its last title in 1985.  There were no playoff appearances, and only seven winning records, from 1986-2013, and while the drought ended last year with the team reaching the postseason as a Wild Card team, and winning eight straight to reach the World Series, it ended in heartbreak, with the tying run stranded at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7.

This year, the Royals led the AL Central nearly wire-to-wire, as they were on a mission to win one more game than last year–the clinching game of the World Series–and won a division title for the first time in 30 years.  This team with such an aptitude for coming from behind to win close games in the postseason used its skills in doing so to avoid elimination in a classic series against the Astros, before beating the Blue Jays in six games to reach the Fall Classic again, and winning the world title in five games over New York.

Therefore, while a lot of things can be said about this Royals team, one thing is for sure about both the team and its fan base:  they have unquestionably earned a title they’ve waited an entire generation for–World Series champion.

World Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

111th World Series:  New York Mets (NL Champion) vs. Kansas City Royals (AL Champion)
Game 1:  Tuesday in Kansas City
Game 2:  Wednesday in Kansas City
Game 3:  Friday in New York
Game 4:  Saturday in New York
Game 5:  Sunday in New York (if nec)
Game 6:  November 3 in Kansas City (if nec)
Game 7:  November 4 in Kansas City (if nec)
All games are at 8:07 pm ET on FOX

This year’s World Series is a bit of a throwback, as the Fall Classic is between two teams trying to win their first title since the mid-1980’s, with the Royals trying to win their first since 1985, and the Mets trying to win their first since 1986.  Both franchises are in their second World Series since then, with the Mets losing to the Yankees in 2000, and the Royals losing in seven games to the Giants just last year.

At the same time, this World Series has a very modern feel, as it is the first World Series ever between two expansion franchises, after the Mets were founded in 1962, and the Royals in 1969.  In addition, both teams are made up of fairly young rosters (particularly the Mets), adding to the contemporary feel, as the game continues to get younger.

By the accounts of most this series is very even and should be very close, although these teams got here two different ways.  The Mets started 49-48, before catching fire on their way to the NL East title, and sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals led their division for 164 days, and never trailed by more than one game, but played a closer, six-game ALCS.  Here’s a breakdown of who will have the advantage:

Starting Pitching:
The Royals had the worst starting ERA of all 10 postseason teams (4.34), although they did pitch very well in the ALCS.  However, the Mets have baseball’s best young rotation, and will send Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA) to the mound in Game 1, followed by Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54), Noah Snydergaard (9-7, 3.24), and Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27).  Collectively the Mets rotation posted a 2.16 ERA in the four games of the NLCS against a good Cubs lineup.
Advantage:  Mets

Bullpen:
The Mets have a very solid relief unit, sporting a 3.48 relief ERA, led by Jeurys Familia (43 saves, 1.85 ERA).  However, they are matched up against a relief corps for Kansas City that has a 2.72 ERA, the second best in baseball, but one I will call the best bullpen in the game.  Wade Davis (17 saves, 0.94 ERA) showed his value as the leader of this ‘pen with a strong ALCS performance.
Advantage:  Royals

Lineup:
Both of these teams have been hitting well during the postseason, with the Mets averaging 4.8 runs per game in the playoffs, and the Royals averaging 5.7 per contest, and scoring 38 runs in the six games of the ALCS.  In the regular season, the Royals had a team batting average 25 points better than the Mets (.269 to .244), and although the Mets’ average is a bit misleading, as they were much better offensively in the second half (.257, after a .233 first half average), there is still an edge for the Royals, even when they can’t use the DH in the games under NL rules in New York.
Advantage:  Royals (barely)

Atmosphere:
On one hand, the Royals fans experienced the World Series last year, while Mets fans haven’t since 2000, and on the other hand, the Royals have four of the seven games at home.  But both teams are looking for their first title in at or near 30 years, and Royals fans are hungry to go one step further than last year’s loss in Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and won’t be content with just another AL title.
Advantage:  even

Experience:
The Royals experienced the World Series last year, but that’s not solely why I’m giving them the advantage here.  Kansas City has trailed in four of their seven postseason wins this year, taking the lead in the seventh or later in three of those wins, in addition to their clutch hitting to take an eighth inning lead in Game 6 of the ALCS (although they never trailed that game).  Two of the Mets wins in the NLDS were comeback wins, although they were down earlier in the game, and they never trailed a game against the Cubs in the NLCS.  The Royals seem more equipped to win the close games in this series, because they’ve done it throughout this postseason.
Advantage:  Royals

Managers:
Yes, Ned Yost was here with the Royals a year ago, and Terry Collins is in his first postseason, let alone his first World Series, but both of these managers have done superbly with young teams in leading them to get better each year, culminating with the two meeting in the World Series.  Giving an edge to one or the other is both unreasonable and unfair.
Advantage:  even

While the Royals have the advantage in three of these six criteria, and the Mets only do in one, with two even, this series is more even then that would indicate.  However, the Royals have been dominant all year, and although this pick is very close, they look more primed to win the series, and trends show they fit the mold of a champion better than the Mets.  That being said, because of how strong both teams are, I think this series will go the distance.

The Royals will win the series, four games to three.

NLCS Recap: Mets Sweep Cubs

New York Mets 4, Chicago Cubs 0
Game 1:  New York 4, Chicago 2
Game 2:  New York 4, Chicago 1
Game 3:  New York 5, Chicago 2
Game 4:  New York 8, Chicago 3

Back to the Future 2 famously included a newspaper headline “Cubs Sweep Series” on October 21, 2015.  Well, on October 21, 2015, the Cubs were part of a sweep in a postseason series, although it wasn’t the World Series, and they were the ones being swept.  The New York Mets swept Chicago, as the Mets never trailed in any of the four games in the series, to advance to their first World Series since 2000, as they try to win their first championship since 1986.

Since this series was not as back-and-forth as some other postseason series have been, the key points in this series I will outline won’t be individual moments, but the things that helped the Mets throughout the series.

Starting Point:  Daniel Murphy
Murphy, the Mets second baseman, set a postseason record with a home run in six straight games, dating back to Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.  Murphy’s homer in Game 5 of the NLDS was the difference, as the Mets won to advance, and he homered in the first inning of Game 1 against the Cubs to give the Mets a 1-0 lead, and again in the first inning of Game 2 to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.  In the third inning of Game 3 in Chicago, Murphy went long again to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.  In Game 4, after the Mets had already taken a 6-1 lead, Murphy made history with a 2-run shot to center to extend New York’s lead to 8-1, as he set the postseason record for consecutive games with a homer, breaking Carlos Beltran’s record set in 2004.  For the series, Murphy hit .529 with four homers and six RBI, and was named the series MVP.

Turning Point:  The Mets’ Starting Pitching
It is not news to close followers of the game that the Mets have good, strong, young starting pitching, but that was shown off to the world in this series.  Over 25 IP, the Mets starting staff had a 2.16 ERA.  In Game 1, Matt Harvey pitched 7.2 innings, allowing four hits and two runs.  In Game 2, Noah Snydergaard, threw 5.2 innings, allowing three hits and one run.  In Game 3, ace Jacob deGrom went seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits.  In the clincher, Steven Matz only went 4.2 innings, but only allowed a run on four hits.  Each starter except Matz got credit for a win in their game (Matz didn’t pitch the minumum of five innings for a starter to get a win). For the series, the rotation had an incredible WHIP of 0.84.

Ending Point:  Lucas Duda
The Mets’ first baseman was just 1-for-6 in the series going into Game 4, with his lone RBI coming on a groundout, but he took over in the finale, with a 3-run homer as part of a first inning that gave the Mets a 4-0 lead.  In the second, Duda got two more RBI on a double, which made the Mets lead 6-0.  While Duda wasn’t a huge part of the Mets success in the first three games, he helped to put away Game 4 early, and got the party started in Queens as the Mets clinched their first NL pennant in 15 years.

The Mets will advance to the World Series to play either the Toronto Blue Jays or the Kansas City Royals, with the Royals currently leading the ALCS, 3-2.  The AL winner will have home-field advantage in the series, so the Mets will host Games 3-5, but many experts are saying the Mets will be the favorites in the Fall Classic, regardless of the opponent.

NLCS Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets
Game 1:  Saturday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 2:  Sunday, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 3:  Tuesday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 4:  Wednesday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 5:  Thursday, 8:00 pm ET in Chicago, TBS
Game 6:  October 24, 4:00 pm ET in New York, TBS
Game 7:  October 25, 8:00 pm ET in New York, TBS

Two teams who haven’t played much postseason baseball recently are playing for the right to play more of it–in the World Series.  The Cubs are in the postseason for the first time since 2008, and the NLCS for the first time since infamous 2003 edition (including the “Steve Bartman Game”), trying for their first NL pennant since 1945, and first World Series title since 1908.  The Mets are also trying to break a title drought, as 1986 was their last world championship, as well as their last NL title, as they return to the NLCS for the first time since 2006, which was also their last playoff appearance.  The Mets host the first two games of this series, after winning Game 5 on the road to eliminate the Dodgers, while the Cubs eliminated the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, marking their first postseason series clinch at the friendly confines on the North side.

Starting rotation:
The Cubs have the better rotation ERA, but not by much, as theirs is 3.36 to the Mets’ 3.44 (both those marks are outstanding).  The Mets do have a slightly better starter’s ERA in the postseason so far, but not enough to give them an obvious advantage.  Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA) for the Mets and Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA) for the Cubs will be the key starters in the series.
Advantage: even

Bullpen:
Like their starters, both teams’ bullpens are very statistically even, with the Cubs having an bullpen ERA of 3.38, with the Mets at 3.48.  The Mets have struggled to a 4.30 ERA so far in the postseason, while the Cubs, whose bullpen’s core consists of pitchers who began their careers as starters but have found their niche in the ‘pen, have been solid, even without consisting of too many overwhelming names.
Advantage: Cubs (barely)

Lineup:
These offenses statistically are very even and very similar in runs (Cubs 689, Mets 683), batting average (both teams at .244), home runs (Mets 177, Cubs 171), an OPS (.719 for Cubs, .712 for Mets).  In the postseason, the Cubs are hitting .237 to the Mets’ .208, and while the run total is similar (Cubs 24, Mets 22), the Cubs are outpacing the Mets in homers (Cubs 12, Mets 7) and OPS (Cubs .823, Mets .650).  I don’t generally rely as heavily on postseason stats, but the offenses were so even all year, that’s the only way to give either side an advantage, but the Cubs clearly have the hotter hand (hotter because both offenses are hot).
Advantage: Cubs (barely)

Atmosphere:
Both cities have waited years for this series, and strutted their stuff for their team’s NLDS home games.  Citi Field in New York and Wrigley Field in Chicago will both have extraordinary atmospheres for this series, as two incredibly passionate and hungry fan bases will be boisterous as they try to will their respective teams into the World Series.
Advantage: even

Experience:
Both of these rosters are centered around strong young talent which has never had the opportunity both of these teams have in this series.  Both teams do have a few veterans to solidify the experience factor and lead their younger teammates through the postseason gauntlet.
Advantage: even

Managers:
The managerial matchup is what such a matchup in the NLCS should be, as the two leading candidates for NL Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon of the Cubs and Terry Collins of the Mets, do battle.  Both led young teams to the playoffs for the first time this decade, despite not being favored to do so.  Maddon was Collins’ bench coach with the Angels in the late 1990’s.
Advantage: even

As you can see above, this series is between two incredibly even teams that practically mirror each other.  Because of that, this should be an excellent series, as everything one team does, the other can easily counter to even things up.  The Cubs have the slight edge, and in the Year of the Goat in the Chinese calendar, will return for the World Series to end the “Curse of the Billy Goat”.

The Cubs will win the series, four games to three.