NLCS Game 4 preview: Can Mets finish sweep of Cubs for NL pennant?
Having swept the first three games of this series, the Mets are now just one win away from their first World Series since they lost to the cross-town Yankees in 2000. The Cubs, meanwhile, can only find solace in the single most dramatic comeback in playoff history, that of the 2004 Red Sox, who were the only team in major league history ever to overcome a 3–0 deficit to come back and win a best-of-seven series. It should be no surprise, then, that Chicago is intentionally drawing the parallels to that team, which was assembled by current Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and came back against a team from New York.
• Those 2004 Red Sox were the only one of 34 teams to be down 3–0 in a best-of-seven series and come back. In other words, 97% of teams up 3–0 in a best-of-seven series in the World Series era have won, with 85% of those teams completing the sweep in Game 4. Aside from the Red Sox, no other team down 3–0 so much as forced a Game 7, and only three, less than 9%, forced a Game 6.
• The move to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and the surprisingly warmer weather in Chicago did nothing to revive the Cubs’ offense in Game 3. Chicago has yet to score more than two runs in a game in this series, hasn’t held a lead at any point in the first three games and is hitting just .158/.208/.284 on the series. Of the mere five runs they have scored, three have come on solo home runs (two by Kyle Schwarber); only twice in the first three games have the Cubs driven in a runner on base.
• Matz allowed three runs in five innings in his Division Series start against the Dodgers, but that was his first appearance in a game in 17 days (though he did throw a simulated game five days before that start), and the Dodgers had seen him before. The Cubs have never faced Matz, who is now pitching on seven days' rest. No one on the Cubs’ NLCS roster has taken a single at-bat against Matz in the major leagues, and best I can tell, none of their more recent call-ups (Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez) faced Matz in the minors, either. A 24-year-old lefty with a mid-90s fastball, a curve and a changeup—all three of which miss bats—Matz now owns a 2.66 ERA in seven major league starts, including that Division Series outing.
• In Hammel’s lone start against the Mets this year, he held them to one run over eight innings at Wrigley Field, but that came back on May 13 against a lineup that did not include Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud or Michael Conforto. In fact, Hammel has never faced Cespedes, d’Arnaud or Conforto at all. He has faced Daniel Murphy, however, who has gone 6-for-11 (.545) with a pair of doubles and a walk against the Cubs’ veteran righthander. Curtis Granderson also has good career numbers against Hammel.
• Hammel’s lone Division Series start—the clinching Game 4 against the Cardinals—saw Joe Maddon pull him after just three innings of work despite the fact that he had retired seven of the last nine men he faced and didn’t allow a runner past first base after giving up a single and a home run to the first two hitters of the day. The 49 pitches Hammel threw in that game stand as his only work since Oct. 1.
• Maddon used his entire bullpen in that Game 4, an approach he repeated on Tuesday in Game 3, using all of his relievers except Fernando Rodney (who did warm up) in an attempt to hold the Mets in check. It didn’t work, as Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Justin Grimm combined to allow three runs across the sixth and seventh innings. Nonetheless, don’t be surprised to see Maddon use a similar approach in this game, not only because his team is facing elimination, but also because none of those relievers threw more than 19 pitches on Tuesday after an off-day on Monday. Do not expect to see Maddon dip into his rotation for help, however. Maddon’s logic for not starting Jon Lester on three days' rest in this game extends to a potential Lester relief appearance: “We have to win four games.”
• The Mets’ bullpen is completely fresh, with only Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia having pitched in Game 3 and neither having thrown more than 14 pitches. With a potential five days off should the series end tonight, New York will have a more all-hands-on-deck approach, which could mean middle relief from Noah Syndergaard (on two days' rest) or Matt Harvey (on three) if Matz looks shaky early. Of course, the Mets already have two long men in their bullpen in re-purposed starters Bartolo Colon and lefty Jonathon Niese. Either way, expect a quick hook from both managers unless one of these starters settles into a serious groove.