MLB: NLCS-New York Mets at Chicago Cubs-Workouts

Playoff Prospectus: NLCS Game Four Preview

This piece, by BP Wrigleyville’s Rian Watt, is the Cubs-specific portion of a longer LCS preview jointly written with Matt Trueblood. We’ve posted Rian’s section by itself here; if you’d like to bone up on your ALCS knowledge, head over to the full piece here. We hope you enjoy.

The Cubs will take the field in Chicago Wednesday evening with their backs against the wall, straining under the weight of a thousand hopes crashing down around them. They’re not out yet—nobody who was alive and watching baseball in 2003 would discount the possibility that the improbable might happen—but they’ve reached the point in their season where miracles and tragedies come out to play.

New York Mets (Steven Matz) at Chicago Cubs (Jason Hammel), 8:07 p.m. Eastern

PECOTA odds of winning: 53% Cubs, 47% Mets

Projected Starting Lineups

Mets vs. Hammel (R) Cubs vs. Matz (L)
Curtis Granderson (L) RF Dexter Fowler (S) CF
David Wright (R) 3B Jorge Soler (R) RF
Daniel Murphy (L) 2B Kris Bryant (R) 3B
Yoenis Cespedes (R) CF Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
Lucas Duda (L) 1B Starlin Castro (R) 2B
Travis d’Arnaud (R) C Kyle Schwarber (L) LF
Michael Conforto (L) LF Miguel Montero (L) C
WIlmer Flores (R) SS Jason Hammel (R) P
Steven Matz (R) P Javier Baez (R) SS

Injuries/Availability: Kyle Schwarber presents a conundrum for Joe Maddon, at least insofar as his presence in the lineup on Wednesday is concerned. (One imagines that Maddon spends little to no time considering Schwarber’s other virtues, all things being equal.) The case for the prosecution? Schwarber hit just .143/.213/.268 off of lefties this year, despite efforts on the part of his manager to defend him against their sinister assault: Just 22 percent of his plate appearances were taken with a platoon disadvantage. The case for the defense? Everything he’s done this postseason. Schwarber hit .381/.435/.952 in 23 postseason plate appearances coming into Tuesday’s action, adding a walk and a home run in Game Three to bring his postseason longball total to five—that’s a Cubs record.

I’m guessing the defense will win out in this one—chalk that up as a win for public defenders everywhere—and Schwarber will see his name on the lineup card Wednesday morning. The compromise is likely to be a drop in the batting order, with Jorge Soler slotting into the two-hole and Schwarber taking his spot at six. That’ll give Maddon a bit more time to consider switching the Ohio native out for Chris Denorfia late in the game against a tough lefty reliever.

With respect to the Mets, everyone should be good to go. Jeurys Familia has been worked hard this series, seeing time in every game so far, and has proved fairly impervious to the added innings. There was some call on Twitter to addKelly Johnson to the Mets’ lineup in Game Three (though it didn’t reach Collins: when I asked him, in pregame, if the idea had been considered, he said “Not really, no,” and moved on without another word), thereby pushing Daniel Murphy to first base and Lucas Duda out of the game. That talk was driven mostly by Johnson’s success against the changeup (which Kyle Hendricks throws a lot of, and which Johnson has barreled up for a hit 5.0 percent of the time this year, compared to 3.7 percent for Duda). In a matchup against Hammel (who has practically no changeup whatsoever), and given his reaction to the question in pregame, I suspect Collins will keep his lineup pretty much as it’s been against righties all postseason.

Outlook: The Mets haven’t had a chance to advance to the World Series since Adam Wainwright left Carlos Beltranstaring blankly at the Shea outfield wall in Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS. The Cubs, for their part, haven’t faced a must-win game since… earlier this month. Tomorrow, New York will try to exorcise the demons of 2006 as the Cubs battle ghosts of their own. There isn’t much else to say here: The Cubs will face down an offseason-long chance to contemplate missed opportunities with their most inconsistent pitcher—Jason Hammel—taking the mound to start the game. Steven Matz, the talented young lefty, will start for the Mets. That’s not, one imagines, how Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer drew it up.

If the Mets win on Wednesday, game over: They’re going to the World Series. If the Cubs win, however, the whole complexion of the series starts to look a little different. With a win, Jon Lester would take the hill in Game Five, followed by Jake Arrieta in Game Six. (Joe Maddon, after the game on Tuesday, resisted calls to start Lester on short rest on Wednesday. Why not? “Because you’ve got to win four games. It’s not just about tomorrow’s game.”) Down 3-1 with just one game left in Chicago is still not exactly what the Cubs are looking for, but it’s a heartbeat. That’s all the Cubs believe they need.

The Mets? They’re looking for bubbly, though they would never admit it out loud. David Wright, in postgame comments, tamped down World Series talk as much as he could: “We understand just like we’ve won the first three games, these guys can win the next three games very easily,” he told a packed press room. “This is an excellent team, and you give them room to win a game or streak along a couple good innings, and they’re going to get all the confidence in the world and expect to beat us three in a row. So it’s as simple as that.”

It is. Win tomorrow, and the series stays at Wrigley. Lose, and it’s back to the golf course for the Cubs and (presumably) back to New York for the Mets. Wednesday will be a tough day for one team or the other, but the fact is that it’s been a charmed season for both—the Cubs, accelerating down the stretch after a middling start; the Mets, exploding through the National League after the trade deadline—and the baseball future looks bright on either end of I-90. That’ll be true Wednesday in Chicago no matter the outcome of Game Four, even if North Side fans will have a hard time believing it in the event that the Cubs go out in four straight. (Even more difficult to accept, one imagines, would be a New York series loss, impossible though that scenario seems right now.) This is a good time to be watching baseball, folks. Tune in tonight.

Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.

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