Red-hot Mets complete NLCS sweep of Cubs, punch World Series ticket
The New York Mets won the fifth pennant in franchise history Wednesday night, completing a sweep of the Cubs with an 8–3 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Along the way, series MVP Daniel Murphy went 4-for-5 with a double and yet another home run, his seventh of this postseason, setting a record by homering in his sixth straight postseason game. Murphy needs just one more home run to tie the single-season record of eight set by Barry Bonds in 2002 and tied by Carlos Beltran in 2004 and Nelson Cruz in 2011. He’ll get his chance in the World Series, which will feature the Mets for the first time since 2000 and will open in the home of the still-to-be-determined American League champions on Tuesday night.
How sweep it is
This game—like this series, it turns out—was over early. Cubs starter Jason Hammel looked like he was going to strand a leadoff single by Curtis Granderson when he got David Wright and the red-hot Murphy to make harmless outs without Granderson advancing. He lost Yoenis Cespedes to a full-count walk, however, bringing up Lucas Duda, who had gone just 3-for-24 without an extra-base hit through the Mets’ first eight games this postseason. The first baseman ran the count full before crushing a three-run homer to dead center, after which Travis d’Arnaud added a solo shot, putting the Mets up 4–0 before the Cubs had even come to the plate.
Duda drove in two more runs in the second with a double off lefty swingman Travis Wood to make it 6–0. Meanwhile, rookie Mets starter Steven Matz didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings, with his only base runner coming via a walk to No. 9 hitter David Ross with two outs in the third.
By then, the Cubs already seemed to be a dead team walking. In the top of the fourth, the veteran Ross trotted off the field and flipped the ball into the stands after a strike-two call with two outs, only to have to retrieve the ball from the fan and return to his crouch. Chicago did load the bases with no one out in the bottom of the fourth, but managed to score just one run in that inning. The Cubs wouldn’t score again until Kris Bryant followed a Jorge Soler double with a two-run home run off Tyler Clippard in the bottom of the eighth, but by then, Murphy had already increased the Mets’ lead with a two-run homer of his own in the top of that inning.
In the end, the Cubs never held a lead in any of the four games in this series and didn’t score a third run in any game until the eighth inning of this one. On the series, they were out-scored 21–8, out-homered 7–4 and out-hit .269/.333/.500 to .164/.225/.297. It was as lopsided a series as any you’re likely to see. The postseason may be a crapshoot, but it seems clear that the better team—the post-deadline Mets, who bear little resemblance to the team the Cubs swept in seven games earlier in the year—won.
See you next Tuesday
Having swept the Cubs, the Mets will now have five days off before Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday. That may be a drag for Murphy, but it will be good for the team’s young, overextended rotation and for Cespedes, who came out of Game 4 in the third inning due to a sore left shoulder. The extent of Cespedes’s injury is unknown, but the degree to which Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have been extended is well established, and one would think it could only help all three to have their next starts effectively skipped. One additional benefit to that long layoff: Mets manager Terry Collins will now be able to set up his World Series rotation however he pleases.
Back to the future
As disappointing as this loss may have been, with the Cubs’ pennant drought now reaching 70 years, the Cubs’ season was a raging success, and their future remains very bright. Remember, this team was a year ahead of expectations. Bryant, Kyle Schwarber—who was just drafted last year—Addison Russell and Javier Baez all have yet to spend a full season in the major leagues, and, due to injury, the same can be said of Soler. The first four of those players each have six team-controlled years remaining; Soler has five; Anthony Rizzo is under contract for six more years (counting his two options); Starlin Castro is under contract for four more years with an option for a fifth. In the rotation, Jon Lester is under contract four five more years with an option for a sixth, while Jake Arrieta has two team-controlled years remaining and is a candidate for an extension this off-season.
The team will have some holes to fill this winter due to departing free agents. The Cubs will need a centerfielder, a fifth starter and to restock their bullpen, and they could use more young pitching to complement their remarkable collection of young hitters, but the quality, depth and youth of their core talent is the envy of most of the rest of the league. They’ll still have to contend with the Cardinals and Pirates, but contend they will. Screenwriter Bob Gale’s 2015 World Series gag in Back To The Future II didn’t prove to be prophetic, but the Cubs will make another run at that elusive pennant in the very near future.