How’s that for a little momentum? After losing the series opener in Atlanta, the Mets stormed back to sweep the doubleheader on Saturday. They even took the finale on Sunday to make it a three-game winning streak complete with great debuts by Steven Matz and Seth Lugo. There was even a Yoenis Cespedes grand slam, although it doesn’t seem that he’s 100-percent healthy yet. Nevertheless, the three victories bring New York to within five games of the .500 mark.
But here come the Chicago Cubs to ruin the day. At 31-31, Chicago has a better record than the Mets, but the North Siders have been an even bigger disappointment based on preseason expectations. This team was supposed to storm through the regular season like it did last year and enter October with the chance to win a second straight World Series.
Instead, a lot of things have gone wrong to ensure that the Cubbies are still behind Milwaukee in the National League Central standings. While it’s true that the starting rotation hasn’t been as effective as last year, it was easy to see overachievers like John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks not being as good as they were last year. What’s really been surprising is the mediocre performance of what is supposed to be a juggernaut lineup. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are still doing a great job drawing a ton of walks and hitting the ball out of the park, but they aren’t getting much help. Kyle Schwarber in particular has been a huge disappointment with a 76 wRC+ during a campaign that was supposed to turn him into a star. The silver lining is that the Indiana University product is hitting for power and drawing walks, but it hasn’t been enough to make up for a 30-percent strikeout rate and a .197 BABIP so far. Once some more hits fall in, the big guy should be somewhat useful.
The same can be said for Ben Zobrist, who is still walking and making contact like he always does despite a .309 wOBA that is in part caused by his .239 BABIP. There’s more pressure on Zobrist to start producing because Javier Baez and Addison Russell — two young middle infielders who are still loaded with potential — appear to have taken steps backward at the plate. While Baez is all power and little else as his .286 on-base percentage would demonstrate, Russell has a more disciplined approach that isn’t paying dividends due to his struggles to make hard contact this year.
For the Mets, we’ll continue to monitor the health of Cespedes as well as how Terry Collins manages the outfield rotation. Based on Sunday’s lineup, which included Jay Bruce but not Curtis Granderson against a left-handed starter, it seems like Granderson will be the odd man out, at least for now. That makes sense given that Bruce is on an eight-game hitting streak with extra-base hits in his last four games, but Granderson has been a stronger player than Bruce over the past three seasons. If Bruce begins to slump again, or if Collins decides that he can use a little more defense on the field, he shouldn’t hesitate to give Granderson a week of starts.
Meanwhile, the left side of the infield isn’t looking too hot with Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes giving the Mets very little on both offense and defense. If the duo continues to ride the struggle bus, the Mets will have no choice but to call upon Amed Rosario, especially if a postseason berth remains within reach thanks to the revamped pitching staff.
Monday, June 12: John Lackey vs. Jacob deGrom, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Lackey: 70.1 IP, 72 K, 21 BB, 16 HR, 5.12 ERA, 5.06 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
Lackey would be considered an effective pitcher for the Cubs this year if it wasn’t for him giving up multiple home runs in five of his 12 starts. What’s really strange is that one of his only outings without a home run allowed took place at Coors Field, where he pitched seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts back on May 9. Since then, the going has been rougher for the veteran, but he’s missing enough bats to prove that last year’s spike in strikeout rate wasn’t a fluke.
deGrom: 72.0 IP, 94 K, 30 BB, 12 HR, 4.75 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.44 WHIP
The fall of deGrom has been one of the more perplexing parts of New York’s season. He’s striking out more batters than ever before, and yet he’s also giving up oodles of hits and home runs when opposing batters make contact. Add in an increase of more than one walk per nine innings over last year, and you’ve got an ugly WHIP to go with a seemingly fluky ERA. The good news is that deGrom is unlikely to continue allowing home runs on 20 percent of fly balls, so this next outing shouldn’t be a disaster like his last two.
Tuesday, June 13: Jon Lester vs. Zack Wheeler, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Lester: 76.1 IP, 76 K, 27 BB, 4.13 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 1.35 WHIP
With at least 31 starts in every year since 2008, Lester is one of the most consistent workers in the big leagues. It also helps that his ERA has been below 4.00 for most of those campaigns, but in 2017 he’s walking more than three batters per nine for the first time since 2011 and sporting the highest BABIP of his career. That .324 mark isn’t super high, but it’s stratospheric compared to last year’s .256, and it’s perplexing as well considering that Lester is getting more soft contact than he did in 2016.
Wheeler: 62.2 IP, 56 K, 26 BB, 6 HR, 3.45 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
His strikeout and walk numbers might be pedestrian, but Wheeler seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on. He was particularly impressive last Wednesday in Arlington, where he held Texas to just one run in seven innings. Since Wheeler’s pitching is so crucial to New York’s winning chances, it will be interesting to see how Collins and the front office handle his workload going forward. If he continues on the pace he’s on, the team will probably shut him down before September.
Wednesday, June 14: Mike Montgomery vs. Matt Harvey, 7:10 p.m. on SNY & MLBN
Montgomery: 40.2 IP, 31 K, 23 BB, 2 HR, 2.43 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.28 WHIP
With Hendricks recently landing on the disabled list with hand tendinitis, the Cubs are shifting Montgomery from the bullpen to the rotation. During his first start of the season on Friday afternoon, the southpaw gave up two runs in four innings against Colorado while throwing 73 pitches. Montgomery is a good candidate to start since he has relevant experience and doesn’t get lit up by right-handed batters, but it’s not clear how far manager Joe Maddon will let him go on Wednesday.
Harvey: 66.1 IP, 49 K, 34 BB, 13 HR, 5.02 ERA, 5.83 FIP, 1.46 WHIP
Harvey didn’t allow a run in Atlanta on Friday night, but he only lasted five innings anyway thanks to a high pitch count. With two solid performances in his last three outings, Harvey is going to stave off demotion talk for now, but if guys like Wheeler, Gsellman, and Lugo continue to pitch well, the Connecticut native’s place in the rotation will be questioned. Even when he’s pitching scoreless innings, nothing has come easy for Harvey this season.
One part of the Cubs that has performed reasonably well is the bullpen, where Wade Davis leads the way with 12 saves and a 1.21 ERA. The eighth inning isn’t much easier for opponents, as Carl Edwards Jr. is fast becoming one of the top setup men in baseball. His nasty strikeout stuff makes you wonder if the Cubs will think about turning him back into a starter down the road. It also doesn’t hurt that Koji Uehara is putting up numbers that would make him the closer of choice for many a major league team.
For a minute there, I thought that Paul Sewald could be the guy who made New York’s bullpen respectable, and while he’s still maintaining a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio, he’s struggled in his recent outings. The next guy the Mets take a chance on could be Daniel Bard, who was just picked up and was formerly an intriguing prospect with Boston. Bard is on a minor league contract, but he might be one poor Neil Ramirez showing from being called up to the majors.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
How will the Mets fare against the Cubs this week?
This poll is closed
Sweep them like it’s 2015!
Win two of three.
Win one of three.
Hey Chicago, what do you say? Please go far away.