Yesterday, Mauricio Rubio recapped a tough Game One loss, relaying the sadness, dejection, and frustration already thick in the air. At one point, he stopped to explain, “I’ve been the dejected fan wondering why this is happening again even if the series is young and the reasons for my sadness do not sync up with the reality of the situation.”
Tonight, that sadness inched a little bit closer to reality. The Cubs dropped Game Two in Queens, 4-1, the young bats falling silent as they stared back at their mirror image in the form of Noah Syndergaard.
Top Play (WPA): The Mets secured the lead early versus a clearly less-than-stellar Jake Arrieta, and they never looked back. Curtis Granderson singled sharply to right to lead off the game for the Mets, through the shift and past a diving Kris Bryant (+.037). A resurgent David Wright stepped to the plate against the bearded righty, working a 2-1 count before lofting a double over the outstretched glove of Dexter Fowler in deep center field (+.134). Fowler, playing shallow as usual, took an indirect route to the ball, allowing Granderson to score from first.
The following batter, Steve Garvey Daniel Murphy, then yanked a back-foot Arrieta breaking ball just inside the right-field foul pole to give the Mets a 3-0 lead (+0.121), and that was all that starter Syndergaard would need.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs had the Mets on their heels only once all game. Patience against Syndergaard, who dotted the outside corner with 98-mph fastballs all evening, didn’t pay immediate dividends, but by the sixth the Cubs’ hitters had seen enough and caused the big righty to throw enough pitches to chase him out of the game.
Mets’ manager Terry Collins was forced to go to a pitcher in the non-current-starter, non-Jeurys Familia division for the first time in several games, trusting lefty Jon Niese with the difficult task of battling Anthony Rizzo with a runner on second. Niese buried several fastballs at Rizzo’s knees and below before striking him out on a full count to end the inning (-.023).
It was just one play in a game the Mets dominated throughout: the bottom 14 plays, per WPA, belonged to Cubs’ hitters.
Key Moment: Arrieta was able to set the Mets down in order in the second, but he ran into trouble again the following inning. Perhaps a bigger mistake than any he made in the first inning was the walk he issued to Curtis Granderson to lead off the third, with Wright, Murphy, and Yoenis Cespedes due up. After a Wright strikeout, the Cubs decided to intentionally walk the red-hot Murphy, but Granderson put himself in great position to score by taking advantage of a battery of Arrieta and Miguel Montero that struggles to keep speed on the bases in check, stealing third with Cespedes up.
A single just deep enough in the hole to Javier Baez’s right at shortstop scored Granderson, the final Mets run of the night.
Trend to Watch: The only real bright spot in the game for the Cubs was the bullpen’s continued dominance. Emboldened by strong outings throughout the NLDS, Joe Maddon did not hesitate to dive into the ‘pen after pinch-hitting for Arrieta in the top of the sixth, desperately needing an offensive spark.
Travis Wood turned in another remarkable performance, throwing two perfect innings with four strikeouts against tough right- and left-handed hitters. Clayton Richard and Pedro Strop finished off the eighth. The lone baserunner that the relievers allowed was due to a lined single to left off the bat of Murphy, who apparently is just impossible to retire. Cubs relievers have now struck out 26 and walked only one this postseason.
Coming Next: A painful day off comes Monday, followed by NLCS Game Three at Wrigley on Tuesday. Kyle Hendricks (3.95 ERA/3.87 DRA) squares off against Jacob deGrom (2.54/3.03), the latter coming off two good starts against the Dodgers in the NLDS, including a victory in the deciding Game Five. The pressure is on, as the Cubs will need to win at least two of three in Chicago to send the series back to New York, but you can be sure Maddon is doing his best to keep his young club loose and looking forward to Tuesday’s game after a night’s sleep in their own beds. It won’t be easy, and Cubs fans are likely taking this loss even harder than the Cubs themselves, but there’s more than a glimmer of hope with these Cubs under the light standards at the Friendly Confines.
The last time I felt this defeated after a Cubs loss was seven years ago: I, a high school junior, strained to hear the dulcet voice of Pat Hughes on a simple AM/FM radio over the bombast of late-2000s pop hits at my homecoming dance. It was the 97-win Cubs’ final gasp, a must-win game in Los Angeles. When the dance ended, I drove home with just enough time to see Alfonso Soriano flail at a slider in the dirt and strikeout to complete a Division Series loss, the club’s second sweep in as many years.
Tonight, I felt a twinge of that familiar resignation, sitting in my new home a thousand miles away from Chicago. But I know that this 2-0 deficit isn’t insurmountable. I know that because I’ve watched these young Cubs all year, them having grown from precocious little sluggers into full blown major-league stars, devouring the Cardinals in a playoff series, setting playoff records. The Cubs are long shots now, but with the series heading back to Chicago, they have a chance to bounce back. Don’t bother me with doubts; confidence, now That’s Cub.
Lead photo courtesy of Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports