The Mets and Cubs will send their aces to the mound at home on Monday trying to take a 2–1 NLDS lead over the Dodgers and Cardinals, respectively.
The Cubs and Mets are looking to follow the Astros’ lead for NLDS Game 3, putting their ace on the mound at home with a chance to put them up 2–1 after splitting the first two games on the road. Dallas Keuchel did the job for Houston on Sunday; Jake Arrieta and Matt Harvey will get their chances on Monday. As for the importance of a tie-breaking Game 3: 78% of teams to win Game 3 after splitting the first two games of a best-of-five series have gone on to win the series.
• As was the case in the wild-card game, this game is all about Arrieta. His shutout of the Pirates in the wild-card game extended his scoreless streak to 31 innings covering his last four starts, two of which were 11-strikeout shutouts. Since the calendar flipped to August, he has allowed a run in just four of his 13 starts and an earned run in just three of those, posting a 0.37 ERA over that span by giving up just four earned runs in 88 1/3 innings; that's an average of more than 7 1/3 innings pitched per start. The Cubs have won Arrieta’s last 14 starts and his last 18 in which they have scored a run (the lone loss in that span coming when Cole Hamels no-hit them on July 30).
• The Cardinals got to Arrieta once in May, before he turned into an unstoppable pitching cyborg, scoring five runs in 5 1/3 innings against him in St. Louis. They also won a game started by the Terminator version of Arrieta in late June by holding Chicago to two runs and beating the Cubs' bullpen after Arrieta departed in the eighth (though it took them extra innings to do it). The latter seems like the Cardinals’ best hope in this game, which puts significant pressure on Wacha to keep his team within striking distance. Of course, beating the Cubs' bullpen requires getting Arrieta out of the game, which is no given. Two of his last four starts and three of his last eight were shutouts, and he has completed fewer than eight innings in just two of his last eight starts, one of which was a postseason tuneup in which he threw just 72 pitches.
• One major concern for the Cardinals is that Wacha, despite his fine regular-season numbers, struggled in September. The righthander posted a 7.88 ERA in five September starts, only one of which was quality, walking 18 men against 19 strikeouts and allowing seven home runs in just 24 innings (a rate of 2.6 HR/9, more than 2 1/2 times the league-average rate). Even more troubling for St. Louis: Two of those starts came against the Cubs, with Wacha allowing 10 runs in nine innings while walking seven and allowing four home runs (to Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant).
• Wacha’s struggles against the Cubs weren’t limited to September. He made four starts against Chicago this season and three of them were poor; add in his third-most recent start against the Cubs, and Wacha has allowed 15 runs in his last 15 innings against the Cubs. Kyle Schwarber has never faced Wacha, but if Joe Maddon starts him and Soler (who is 2-for-2 with a double, a homer and three walks in this series) in his outfield corners in this game, then the Cubs’ starting lineup, including Arrieta, will have a combined career line of .337/.491/.616 against Wacha with six home runs in 93 plate appearances.
• As for that September swoon, there’s a very good chance that Wacha is simply out of gas. His previous career high in innings was the 180 1/3 he threw in a seven-month span between the minors, majors and postseason in 2013, but he threw just 109 1/3 last year due to injury and has now tossed 181 1/3 over a six-month span this season. Wacha will have had 11 days' rest coming into this game, but he had 10 days' rest going into his Sept. 8 start against the Cubs and gave up six runs in four innings in that game, so the time off seems unlikely to help. In fact, he has allowed 11 runs in nine innings in his two starts on more than six days' rest this year.
• Bryant and Rizzo, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the Cubs’ lineup, are a combined 0-for-21 thus far this postseason, but both have good career numbers against Wacha, especially the lefthanded Rizzo, who is 10-for-22 (.455) career against the Cardinals' righty with a pair of home runs.
• The Cardinals hit five home runs in the first two games of this series, scoring six of their seven runs via the long ball. But Arrieta, whose extreme ground-ball rate has been a key part of his success over the last 3 1/2 months, has allowed just two home runs over his last 20 starts. Meanwhile, the eight Cardinals hitters to have drawn a start so far in this series (not counting Stephen Piscotty, who has been St. Louis’ best hitter through the first two games but has never faced Arrieta) have combined to hit .188/.275/.248 against Arrieta in his career, and those are numbers that are not limited to his current hot streak.
• The atmosphere in what will be Citi Field’s first ever postseason game is sure to be charged, and the fans may be bloodthirsty. But the Mets have a game to win here, and they should be focused on that, not retribution for the injury to Ruben Tejada. I suspect that part of Joe Torre’s thinking in suspending Utley for Games 3 and 4 of this series, a suspension that Utley is appealing, was a desire to avoid the Colosseum atmosphere of Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, which Torre managed for the Yankees. That featured the first confrontation between Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens after Clemens hit Piazza in the front of the helmet with a pitch earlier that year, giving him a concussion, and the tension in that game boiled over in the bizarre bat-throwing incident. It will be on the Mets and Harvey not to allow things to get ugly in this game, regardless of Utley’s presence or lack thereof.
• Wilmer Flores will replace Tejada in the lineup and at shortstop; to replace Tejada on the roster, the Mets have called up 24-year-old Triple A shortstop Matt Reynolds, who hit .267/.319/.402 in 115 games for Las Vegas this year but did not appear in the majors this season and thus hasn't played since the end of the minor-league season on Sept. 7. Flores and Tejada combined to start 163 of the Mets’ 164 games this season at shortstop; the only other Met to appear at the position this season is veteran utilityman Kelly Johnson, whose start on Sept. 27 remains his only major league appearance there. Dilson Herrera has never played shortstop professionally, and Juan Uribe, who did not make the NLDS roster due to a chest injury, has yet to resume baseball activities. Thus Reynolds, the Triple A starter this season, got the call.
• If he appears in a game this postseason, Reynolds will become just the second player in the modern era to make his major league debut in the postseason, joining the Athletics' Mark Kiger, who appeared as a defensive replacement at second base in the final two games of Oakland's loss to the Tigers in the 2006 ALCS. Those remain Kiger’s only two major league appearances; now 35, he hasn’t played professionally since 2009 and is the only major leaguer ever to appear exclusively in the postseason.
• Even if Utley is active for this game, he likely won’t be in the starting lineup. Still, it seems worth noting that of all of the players on the Dodgers’ NLDS roster, the only one Harvey has hit with a pitch before is Utley, whom he has plunked three times in 21 plate appearances. If Utley is indeed serving his suspension in this game, the Dodgers will be forced to play with a 24-man roster.
• For all of the sturm und drang about Harvey’s innings limit a month ago, he wound up sailing past the “hard” 180-inning limit his agent, and supposedly his doctor, recommended, finishing the season with 189 1/3 innings pitched, 11 more than his previous career high. He will obviously add to that total tonight. Harvey was roughed up by the Nationals in his first start after the innings limit issue exploded, but in three starts after that, he posted a 1.02 ERA and struck out 24 against one walk in 17 2/3 innings. Even with that poor start in Washington included, Harvey has posted a 2.05 ERA over his last 17 starts, and on the season, he went 8–3 with a 2.23 ERA at Citi Field.
• Speaking of innings, Anderson set career highs this year in innings (180 1/3) and starts (31), staying healthy for a full season for the first time since his rookie year in 2009. In part because of all of the time he has missed due to injury, this will be his first career start against the Mets, and only three members of New York’s NLDS roster have ever faced him before; one of them, Johnson, has just done so just once. Curtis Granderson, who is 4-for-6 with two walks in this series, has gone 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and a walk against the lefthanded Anderson. Michael Cuddyer, who started Game 1 against the lefthanded Clayton Kershaw only to go 0-for-3 and play two fly balls to leftfield into hits, has gone 1-for-12 with five strikeouts against Anderson.