Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Cubs face uphill battle against Mets in NLCS

CHICAGO — Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Hammel played hacky sack with a baseball, and manager Joe Maddon chatted amiably with his players and staff as he made his way around Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon.

Down 2-0 to the Mets in the NL Championship Series, the Cubs are sticking with what worked for them during a breakthrough season.

"We'll come out (today), we'll be ready to play," Maddon said. "Our guys are always ready to play."

It might not matter if the Mets continue to pitch as well as they did in New York. Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard shut down Chicago's powerful lineup in the first two games, putting New York in an ideal position to make it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years — a quaint little drought compared to the Cubs' seven mostly empty decades since they last played in the Fall Classic.

According to STATS, the winner of the first two games of a best-of-seven series has advanced 83 percent (63 of 76) of the time, and the Mets have Jacob deGrom headed to the mound tonight.

"We have a lot of confidence," manager Terry Collins said. "Any night that he pitches, we've got a good chance to win."

DeGrom is coming off two impressive victories in the NL Division Series.

The 27-year-old was dominant in Game 1 at Los Angeles, striking out 13 while pitching seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 win. He came back for Game 5 and pitched six effective innings despite not having his best stuff.

That gutsy start cemented his place among the best young pitchers in the game.

"The second game was definitely a battle," deGrom said. "I feel like it was more impressive just because it wasn't easy. When you have your best stuff, it's a lot easier to pitch."

While deGrom has struggled in three career starts against Chicago, Harvey and Syndergaard provided a road map for the right-hander in the first two games of the series. Harvey and Syndergaard pounded the strike zone, getting ahead of the Cubs' young sluggers and keeping them off balance.

The Mets started the Cubs with a strike in 43 of 68 at-bats in New York, according to STATS. They threw 177 of 274 pitches for a strike, or 64.6 percent.

Those are important numbers against the Cubs, who finished second in the majors to the Blue Jays with 567 walks this season. The Cardinals, Chicago's NLDS foe, threw a first-pitch strike 56.3 percent of the time and had a 59.9 strike percentage for the series, and the Cubs clubbed 10 homers and walked 15 times.

"I don't want our guys to change based on an umpire in the previous game, it could change in the next game," Maddon said. "Regardless of the fact that the strike zone is a static or supposedly a static area, it's not. It's just depending upon the guy.

"So I prefer that we just stay with our normal patterns, and then we have to adjust sometimes during the course of the game. That's it."

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