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NLCS Game 4 preview: Can Matz pitch Mets to the pennant?

The Mets can punch their tickets to the World Series with a win tonight at Wrigley Field.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When baseball fans look back on seasons of the past, the great teams as well as the disappointing ones are remembered based on what they did in October. That doesn't mean that it's right; it just happens that way. The 1999 Mets didn't make it as far as the 2000 version, but are perhaps remembered more fondly because of Robin Ventura's grand slam single and the way the team battled back against the Braves. The 2000 Mets didn't run hard when the ball hit the wall and ended up as a footnote of a Yankees dynasty.

The 2006 Mets, of course, are known for looking at strike three more than all the other stuff that happened that year. Carlos Beltran had a magnificent season, John Maine somehow became a reliable starting pitcher, and the Mets broke Atlanta's streak of division titles, but for a lot of people, none of that matters more than one strikeout.

The big October moments stand out because stories are fun and postseason games count for a whole lot more than regular season ones, but in all likelihood, things that happen during October are just as random as those that happen during the dog days of summer.

Just look at these 2015 Mets. They went through incredible highs and disappointing lows during the regular season, but they're on top of the world now because the needle pointed up at the right time. Most of the team's young pitchers are healthy and productive (thanks in part to careful planning by the front office and coaching staff), while Daniel Murphy has turned into a superhero capable of lifting the entire club. Just last night, the Mets scored a run on a strikeout and then got two more after Joe Maddon didn't challenge a close play at second base when a review could have gone Chicago's way.

In other words, this 6-2 run the Mets have been on since October 9 is just as fleeting and fun as the many winning streaks they had during the regular season. Just kidding, this one is way more fun. But this is baseball and the tide can turn at any time. Keep on rooting hard for the Mets! They're one win away from the fifth National League title in franchise history!

The fourth starter

We might not like it that pundits are penciling in the Mets to make a World Series appearance next week, but they're doing so with a good reason. Not many believe that tonight's starter Jason Hammel is the stopper that Chicago needs to force a Game 5. There's nothing blatantly wrong with Hammel up front. His 172 strikeouts and 40 walks in 170.2 innings, and 3.74 regular season ERA make him a decnet back-of-the-rotation arm. The problem is that he's let up 23 home runs this year, struggled mightily in September with a 6.46 ERA, and was only trusted with three innings (three hits, three walks, two runs allowed) in his NLDS outing versus St. Louis.

The good news for Hammel is that while left-handed hitters have an easier time reaching base against him this year, they don't hit for as much power as righties. So the 33-year-old veteran does have a chance of halting Murphy's home run streak. Hammel also pitched one of his best games of the year with one run allowed in eight innings back in May against the Mets

Then again, check out every batter in that video. Curtis Granderson is the only one who will be starting for New York tonight.

Just like we saw in Hammel's previous postseason start and last night with Kyle Hendricks on the mound, Maddon won't hesitate to pull his starter early and try to manage the rest of the game with his bullpen. That strategy has a chance of working out if the bullpen is managed correctly, but last night the manager twice took a lefty out of the game right before he was set to face Yoenis Cespedes. New York's acquired slugger has a reverse platoon split this year (although for his career, the effect is not as pronounced), but Maddon chose to ignore that and focus on his pitchers' strengths. The result was a single by Cespedes off of Trevor Cahill to open the sixth and another one (this time off of Kyle Schwarber's glove) that drove in the fourth Mets run in the seventh.

Last night could have worked out much differently had Maddon left his lefties in to pitch to Cespedes, so it will be interesting to see if he switches things up tonight in what could become a battle of bullpens.

Schwarber or no Schwarber?

Another thing that could be different for the Cubs in Game 4 is their lineup. With Steven Matz on the hill, the Mets will be throwing a left-handed starter at the Cubs for the first time this series. That will make things easier on the switch-hitting Dexter Fowler, who is 3-for-11 this series but is much more effective as a right-handed batter facing a lefty than the other way around.

Schwarber, on the other hand, could find himself out of the starting lineup tonight due to his struggles against left-handed pitching (as well as his defense in left field). The only other time Chicago faced a left-handed starter this postseason was in Game 2 of the NLDS against Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals. In that game, Maddon played Austin Jackson in left field and moved Jorge Soler up to second in the batting order. Although Schwarber has been crushing the ball lately, Soler's three postseason home runs aren't too shabby either, so look for Maddon to start the former on the bench and deploy him later once Matz is out of the game.

Speaking of Matz, pitching a game that could send his team to the World Series on the road in a legendary ballpark in just his eighth big league start seems like a lot of pressure, but the kid says he's going to have fun. All of the rookie's previous starts have included at least five innings with fewer than four runs allowed, so hopefully it will be a lot of fun for us too.

Prediction: Pizza!