NLCS Game 2 preview: Cubs ask ace Arrieta to salvage split at Citi Field
On Sunday the Cubs will try to succeed where the Blue Jays failed earlier on Saturday: win Game 2 of their respective League Championship Series behind their ace to bring the series home tied at one game apiece. As if they needed added incentive, there's this nugget to keep in mind: Of the 75 teams to fall behind 0-2 in a best-of-seven series in major league history, just 13 (17%) rallied to win the series.
That doesn't bode well for Toronto, which is already down 0-2 against Kansas City in the ALCS, and it's a daunting prospect for Chicago against the Mets in the NLCS. It also adds to the weight of history that the Cubs carried into this series—the franchise has not won a pennant since 1945, more than a decade before any of the other teams remaining in this year’s postseason even came into existence—and makes Game 2 an especially critical contest for Chicago. Fortunately for the Cubs, they'll have the right man on the mound.
Cubs at Mets
Series: NLCS Game 2, Mets lead 1-0
Time: 8:07 p.m. ET
• If Chicago manager Joe Maddon could choose any pitcher in baseball to start this game, he’d probably pick Arrieta. The 29-year-old righty has been dominant since the start of summer, posting a 1.00 ERA over his last 22 starts dating back to late June. Arrieta faced the Mets twice during the regular season, once before that stretch began and once early in it. In both games, the first at home, the second on the road, he held them to one run over eight innings, and in the two starts combined he allowed eight hits and two walks in 16 innings against 17 strikeouts.
• Despite all that, Arrieta’s last start, which came in Game 3 of the Division Series, was his first since June 16 in which he allowed more than three runs or failed to complete six innings (he did both, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings, though he still struck out nine against just two walks). That outing raised the question of whether or not Arrieta may finally be running out of gas. He has already thrown 243 2/3 innings, 67 more than his career high of 176 2/3 from a year ago. His strong peripherals and consistent velocity in that game suggest that the poor outing was likely just the law of averages finally catching up to him, but for the first time in months, there’s reason to have less than 100% confidence in Arrieta heading into a start.
• Given that Arrieta has taken such a big leap forward this year, it seems silly to consult his career records against the individual Mets hitters. Still, it’s worth noting that while this will be Yoenis Cespedes’s first time facing Arrieta as a Met, he did hit a home run off him on June 10 while still with the Tigers, his only hit against Arrieta to date.
Meanwhile, the hitter Arrieta has faced more than any other in his career is New York leadoff man Curtis Granderson, who continued his hot postseason with a a pair of RBIs in the Mets' 4-2 Game 1 win. Granderson has excellent career numbers against Arrieta, having gone 10-for-30 with two doubles, a triple and three home runs, but he is just 1-for-5 against him this year.
• Two days after making his first career relief appearance in Game 5 of the NLDS, Noah Syndergaard will take the mound for the Mets. His only career start against the Cubs was his major league debut on May 12 at Wrigley Field, a game in which he faced off against Arrieta and lost. That day Syndergaard gave up three runs on six hits and four walks while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings, but, given the circumstances, it seems unfair to give that outing much weight going into this game.
More significant is Syndergaard’s overall performance this season at Citi Field, where he has gone 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 12 starts. He also fared well in two road appearances in the Division Series against the Dodgers. In his Game 2 start, he allowed just one run while striking out eight through six innings but departed in the infamous seventh and was charged with two more runs from a rally that included Chase Utley's controversial slide. Then in Game 5 he protected a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning with a dominant frame that included two strikeouts and a walk.
• As impressive as Syndergaard was in the Division Series, he reportedly threw upwards of 100 pitches in the bullpen before working his 17-pitch inning in Game 5. That was Thursday, giving Syndergaard just two days of rest since that unfamiliar usage. Syndergaard hadn’t pitched in relief since he was a 19-year-old Blue Jays prospect in A-ball in 2012, so it's unclear how the disruption of his usual schedule will impact him in this start. Still, it seems likely that if he can give the Mets six strong innings, they won’t ask him to go any further. Having used only closer Jeurys Famlia out of his bullpen in Game 1, Mets skipper Terry Collins should have no qualms about utilizing a quick hook with the 23-year-old fireballer.
• Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber hit his fourth home run of this postseason in Game 1, a 459-foot shot that stands as the longest of this postseason according to MLB.com's Statcast. If he hits another it will set a career postseason record for a player under the age of 23. As it stands, he has tied the mark held by Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera and Bryce Harper. The full list of players with multiple postseason home runs prior to the age of 23 is just as impressive. Jimmie Foxx hit three and Albert Pujols, Johnny Bench, Reggie Smith, Tony Kubek, Evan Longoria, Brian McCann and Carlos Correa each hit two. Schwarber and the Mets' Daniel Murphy, who also hit his fourth in Game 1, lead all still-active players in home runs this postseason.
• Game 1 was cold, but Game 2 is likely to be colder. According to the forecast on weather.com, the temperature in Flushing is expected to be 43 degrees at first pitch and feel like 38. In addition to making the proceedings look like Cobra’s company softball game, the cold is likely to suppress runs, which were already likely to be rare given the quality of the pitching matchup at pitcher-friendly Citi Field. Among other things, the ball simply doesn’t carry as well in the thin, cold air. That might seem like a bigger problem for the Cubs than the Mets, but New York has actually out-homered Chicago 97 to 92 since trading deadline (postseason included) despite playing one fewer game.