After falling short against the New York Mets in the 2015 NLCS, the Chicago Cubs have trended up while the Mets continue to disappoint a frustrated fanbase.
The New York Mets etched their place in Chicago Cubs lore – well, further etched it – when they ended the team’s improbable run to the National League Championship Series three years ago.
One team relied on a young position player core. The other, a pitching staff with the potential to become dynastic. As 2016 and 2017 played out, though, it quickly became clear which of these clubs had the brighter future.
New York dropped the Wild Card Game in 2016 – while the Cubs rolled through a 103-win regular season, eventually bringing home that coveted World Series title. Last season, although many Cubs fans labeled an NLCS loss to the Washington Nationals a failure – it was nothing compared to the woes of the Mets.
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Terry Collins‘ club won just 70 games – finishing the year 27 games out of first in the National League East. And, entering Thursday’s opener, they’re once again looking up in the division – three games out of first.
Cubs looking to pick up ground
Chicago (29-23) took two of three from Pittsburgh this week and hope a big weekend will help them pull closer to the top of the NL Central. Sitting in second, 4 1/2 games behind the red-hot Brewers, the Cubs need a strong showing at Citi Field before welcoming back Jake Arrieta and the Philadelphia Phillies early next week.
Jose Quintana takes the ball for the Cubs in the opener opposite Seth Lugo. To say May has been forgettable for the Chicago southpaw is pretty accurate. It’s not just the quality of work turned in, but he’s simply failing to eat innings – putting that load on a bullpen that’s pitching well, but doing more than its share early this season.
As for Lugo, the young right-hander is enjoying a strong start to the campaign with a 2.48 ERA. Thursday marks his first start of the season – so we’ll see what kind of longevity the Mets get from him.
What will we get from Chatwood?
The horribly inconsistent Tyler Chatwood starts on Friday – so it’s anybody’s guess what we’ll get. Some days, it’s swing and miss stuff. Most other days, though, he can’t hit the strike zone to save his life. So far this season, he’s walked nearly a batter per inning: 45 free passes in 48 1/3 innings.
Chicago is yet to announce a starter for Saturday, but, by all indications, Mike Montgomery will get the ball in the Big Apple. He pitched very well in his spot start early this week and with Yu Darvish sidelined, the Cubs don’t really have a better option at this point.
Gritty vet Jon Lester closes out the series on Sunday afternoon. Despite being in his mid-30s, where everyone seemed to have expected some sort of decline, he’s been this team’s ace yet again in 2018. He owns a 2.71 earned run average this year – and looks to continue his success against the Mets.
Heyward, Rizzo both swinging hot sticks
Offensively, Heyward is a big key in this series. Over his last seven, the veteran outfielder put up a .526 OBP. The same goes for Anthony Rizzo, who may soon find himself banned from the Steel City after this week’s series against the Bucs. He’s hitting .444 with seven RBI and nine walks over the last week.
Safe to say his early season woes are in the past.
This series is always a fun one – especially after the postseason battle we all bore witness to. On paper, the Cubs hold the edge. If they can handle their business and get even decent outings from Chatwood and Quintana, Chicago stands a good chance of gaining ground in the division.