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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

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The Mets look to keep the good times rolling against the Cubbies.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

We're fast approaching the All-Star break, but the trade rumors surrounding the Mets are mostly the same as the ones we heard back during spring training. New York has too much pitching and should trade for a bat. Look at all those young bats that the Cubs have! Surely, a deal can be made. But don't give up Steven Matz. He's a local fairy tale story boy.

The problem is that for the Mets to get something, they have to give up something. With Matz and Noah Syndergaard recently graduating from the farm system and being inserted into the starting rotation, the pieces that other teams covet and the ones that can help the Mets win this year are becoming the same.

Even if the front office wanted to do a fantasy-style arm-for-bat swap, it's going to be tough to find a partner. Despite Anthony Rizzo playing like an MVP candidate and Kris Bryant lighting up the highlight reel, the Cubs don't have the kind of deep lineup that you would feel comfortable trading from.

The surprisingly shallow Cubs lineup

You can make the argument that the Cubs need to trade for a corner outfielder even more than the Mets do. Sure, Jorge Soler is going to be back in the lineup very soon after missing about one month with an ankle injury, but the 23-year-old was hitting a modest .265/.322/.402 before hitting the disabled list. Chicago isn't doing much worse with the platoon of Mike Baxter, Chris Denorfia, and Junior Lake that has been filling in at right field.

Center field has also been an issue for the Cubs with Dexter Fowler seeing his walk rate drop below 10 percent for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, the middle infield is a concern despite the great defense from rookie Addison Russell. The future star hasn't begun to crush big league pitching yet, and the shortstop Starlin Castro is struggling through the worst season of his career.

Remember when Mets fans would rather see Castro at shortstop than Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada? Perhaps the veteran's performance this year has changed the tune a little bit. Castro still makes a lot of contract, but his walk rate is down below four percent, he has only stolen four bases so far, and the power that once made him a threat to hit 20 home runs is missing.

The good news is that Castro is only 25 years old, but this is not a guy that many in baseball want to be investing in right now. The way he is playing makes another rumored Mets target Javier Baez (.314/.386/.536 in Triple-A this year) someone that the Cubs have to hold onto.

Call it a Coghlan comeback

One player who does give the bottom of Chicago's lineup some pop is left fielder Chris Coghlan. The 2009 National League Rookie of the Year fell out of favor in Florida thanks to declining power and walk rates, but he's seen his career whipped back into shape since coming to the Cubs on a minor league deal prior to the 2014 season. Coghlan was unable to raise his slugging percentage above .400 during his final three seasons with the Marlins, but last year he hit .283/.352/.452 in 432 plate appearances.

In 2015, Coghlan's BABIP is lower, but his walk rate has risen above 11 percent and he's hitting .259/.351/.445 in a full-time role. That kind of production from a scrap-heap pickup like Coghlan should make Mets fans jealous, especially considering that New York just forfeited a first-round draft pick to sign Michael Cuddyer. They say hindsight is 20/20, though. Or maybe I should just turn this into a column about how the Mets should have kept Justin Turner, signed Nelson Cruz instead of Chris Young, and drafted Mike Trout instead of inking Francisco Rodriguez.

Never mind. We don't want this place sounding too much like a newspaper.

The secret Chicago ace

When it comes to sneaky Chicago acquisitions, Coghlan might be second banana to Jake Arrieta, who was snagged prior to the 2013 deadline along with Pedro Strop. All the Cubs had to do was send Scott Feldman and Steven Clevenger to Baltimore, and now they've got one of the top starters in the National League. Jon Lester and his mega contract may have gotten all the press during the winter meetings, but he hasn't been able to match the production of Arrieta (although Lester has been better than his 4.03 ERA indicates).

With a fastball that reaches 94 miles per hour and great movement on his breaking pitches, Arrieta checks off all the boxes on your "ace starter" checklist. He strikes out more than one batter per inning, walks only two per nine, and sports a ground ball rate of 51 percent. Add all that up and you've got a player who ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all below 3.00.

Arrieta goes up against Jacob deGrom in a Thursday matinee that should be lots of fun to watch (while hopefully getting both teams out of town quickly). The fate of the series, however, might fall into the hands of two other Mets starters: Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon.

By going to a six-man rotation in the midst of a pennant chase, the Mets are saying that the lefty and the old guy are just as productive as the more exciting members of the staff. That notion is promoted by the way Niese has been highly competitive in June after a disastrous end to May. Colon, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back from a couple of sub-par outings and get back to consistently making quality starts like he did in late May and early June.

Date Time Television Cubs Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
June 30, 2015 7:10 PM SNY, ESPN Kyle Hendricks Jon Niese
July 1, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Jon Lester Bartolo Colon
July 2, 2015 1:10 PM SNY Jake Arrieta Jacob deGrom

With both Niese and Colon pitching reasonably well, the Mets can say that the six-man rotation is working, but if either hurler suffers through a rough patch, the experiment is going to make the team look like it is playing for 2016 by prioritizing the health of its young arms. Hopefully this week can be free of any six-man drama, but the Cubs are hungry for wins after being swept by their rivals in St. Louis.

Prediction: Mets lose two of three.

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