NLCS Game 3 preview: Down 0–2, Cubs try to slow down Murphy, Mets
For Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs hope they can follow the Blue Jays’ lead in fending off an 0–3 deficit with an outburst of offense as the series moves to their home ballpark. Just one team in major league history has ever come back from an 0–3 deficit in a best-of-seven series: the 2004 Red Sox. Those Red Sox and these Cubs have a few things in common—Theo Epstein, a first-year manager, an infamous championship drought—but shooting the moon is not an advisable strategy against a team as talented as this year’s Mets.
• This battle of sophomore righthanders looks like a mismatch, but the Cubs have owned deGrom this season, beating him twice in two confrontations and scoring eight runs, seven earned, in 10 1/3 innings against him. Even more notably, both of those games came before Chicago added Kyle Schwarber to the lineup on a permanent bases and before Starlin Castro turned his season around with his move to second base. Coming off a Game 5 start in the Division Series in which he was clearly not sharp and now 25 1/3 innings past his previous career high, deGrom is hardly a sure thing heading into this game.
• Similarly, Hendricks is hardly chopped liver. He held the Mets scoreless for six innings in his only start against them this year, posted a 3.03 ERA in September and allowed just four hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in his lone Division Series start. The catch on that last item is that three of those hits were solo home runs, the last two of which knocked him out before he could complete the fifth inning. Curiously, Hendricks, a ground-ball pitcher, has allowed no home runs in five of his last seven starts, but three in each of the other two. Hendricks has a 3.38 ERA at home this year and has great numbers against the majority of the Mets’ lineup; the exceptions are Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, neither of whom he has faced, and Lucas Duda, who is 2-for-4 with a home run and two walks against him.
• Duda is been mired in a nasty slump that goes back to the final four games of the regular season. Over that stretch, a span of 11 games and ten starts, he has gone 2-for-31 with 19 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
• Though New York is up 2–0, neither team has done much at the plate in this series. The Mets are hitting just .224/.258/.397 on the series, and if you take Daniel Murphy out of that line, the rest of the team is slashing just .196/.222/.255, though that’s still better than the Cubs’ collective line through the first two games. Some of that has to do with the outstanding pitchers both teams have sent to the mound, but a lot of it was also likely due to the weather in New York over the weekend, which featured temperatures in the forties and wind chills in the upper thirties. The forecasted first-pitch temperature in Chicago tonight is 66 degrees Fahrenheit, coming off late-afternoon temperatures in the low-70s. The change in temperature and venue, from pitcher-friendly Citi Field to hitter-friendly Wrigley Field, could jumpstart both offenses: Each team averaged five runs per game or better from July 31 through the end of the regular season, but the two have yet to score more than six runs combined in a game in this series.
• Speaking of Murphy, as fluky as his power hitting this postseason has been compared to his career track record—he homered six times in 612 plate appearances in his age-27 season and has now homered five times in 29 PA this postseason—he had actually been hitting for uncharacteristic power over the last two months of the regular season as well. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, Murphy hit .296/.321/.533 with eight home runs in 212 PA; prior to August, he had hit four home runs in a calendar month just once in his career, that coming back in September 2009. He has now hit four or more home runs in three straight months (four in August, four in September and five thus far in October).
• That power surge does not, however, mean that his hot streak makes any sense. One might think that Murphy has benefited from hitting in front of Cespedes, but three of his 13 home runs over the last 2 1/2 months have come in games in which he was not ahead of Cespedes in the lineup, including his home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the Division Series. Meanwhile, Murphy’s five home runs this postseason have come against Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta—an incredibly impressive list, especially when you realize that Murphy, Kershaw and Lester are all lefties. Prior to this postseason, Murphy had not homered off any of those four aces. He enters this game having gone 1-for-6 (.167) with a double in his career against Hendricks.