When the Mets make their annual pilgrimage to Wrigley Field this week, they’ll face a Cubs team that is still fighting tooth-and-nail for a postseason berth despite being considered a lock for October back in spring training. It shouldn’t be surprising that baseball has once again found a way to defy expectations, but Chicago was such a juggernaut last year that it would still be jarring to see it surpassed by a low-profile team like Milwaukee.
The Cubs had a chance to bury their Wisconsin-based rivals over the weekend, but instead Joe Maddon’s team was swept in three straight games to reduce its division lead to two. The Mets seem to be the perfect cure for losing these days, but the Queens faithful have been here before. When your team is on a losing streak in September, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. It just feels like an uphill battle every night.
New York appears to have the momentum on its side, winning three straight against Cincinnati before collapsing in the series finale. Jose Reyes of all players is on a tear, notching seven RBI during the recent four-game set including a pair of home runs on Friday night. However, that wasn’t nearly as surprising as the two home runs hit by Brandon Nimmo during Thursday’s win. We’ve talked before about the rookie’s lack of power, but he showed a lot of potential that night, raising his OPS over .800 and giving Mets fans hope that their center fielder of the future may have already arrived.
The bullpen was also on a bit of a roll before Paul Sewald, Jeurys Familia, and Hansel Robles all surrendered multiple runs during Sunday’s defeat. On the bright side, Josh Smoker retired all five of the batters he faced during the series, including his striking out of the side on Thursday. Meanwhile, AJ Ramos continued to make his case for the 2018 closer role with his 27th save of the season on Friday. The former Texas Tech standout hasn’t blown a save since joining New York in late July.
For Chicago, offense was a bigger issue than the bullpen during their recent three-game skid. Wade Davis, Pedro Strop, and Carl Edwards Jr. continue to make it very tough for opponents to make contact at the end of games, but the powerful lineup headlined by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo scored just three runs all weekend. Maddon has experimented with Kyle Schwarber and Rizzo in the leadoff spot this year, but lately he’s gone with Jon Jay, who does a good job getting on base but offers little in the way of power or stolen bases.
It might be time for the skipper to get Schwarber back in the lineup for an extended period of time. The former catcher has just two starts since Labor Day and is more than capable of giving his club a jolt. The Chicago lineup could also get a boost from the return of current catcher Willson Contreras. He missed most of August with a hamstring injury but was just activated off the disabled list on Sunday, so look for Maddon to ease him back into the lineup against the Mets.
Tuesday, September 12: Robert Gsellman vs. Jose Quintana, 8:05 p.m. on SNY
Gsellman: 97.2 IP, 67 K, 33 BB, 15 HR, 5.44 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 1.57 WHIP
Gsellman made a spot start last Wednesday in order to keep Matt Harvey on normal rest, and he rewarded New York’s patience by pitching all six innings of a rain-shortened victory over Philadelphia. On this pass through the rotation, Gsellman will be taking the place of Chris Flexen, who has struggled so badly that he might be better off resting for the remainder of the campaign. Although Gsellman has had control issues at times this year, he’s walked just six batters in four outings since returning from a hamstring injury in August.
Quintana: 162.1 IP, 177 K, 58 BB, 22 HR, 4.32 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.28 WHIP
Lots of trades happen right before the July 31 deadline each year, but the teams that get the most value are often those who make their acquisitions earlier in the month. That’s especially true with starting pitchers like Quintana, from whom two extra weeks can mean three more starts before the deadline. It’s no wonder then, why the Cubs grabbed the southpaw in mid-July, and he rewarded his new club by making his first National League start his finest of the year. With seven scoreless innings against Baltimore, Quintana became popular on the North Side very quickly, and he’s only going to raise his stock more if he can help Chicago conquer the National League Central.
Wednesday, September 13: Matt Harvey vs. Jon Lester, 8:05 p.m. on SNY
Harvey: 77.1 IP, 58 K, 36 BB, 17 HR, 5.82 ERA, 6.10 FIP, 1.50 WHIP
After that disaster of an outing in Houston, Harvey held his own against Cincinnati with two runs allowed over five innings that he took just 74 pitches to get through. He surely would have pitched deeper into the game if he wasn’t getting over a shoulder injury, but Harvey did little to improve his strikeout-to-walk rate with just one of each during the New York victory. The North Carolina product is probably guaranteed a spot in the 2018 rotation due to past accomplishments, but he would make fans feel better about it with a strong finish to this year’s campaign.
Lester: 159.1 IP, 164 K, 51 BB, 23 HR, 4.35 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 1.30 WHIP
It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Lester, who could finish the season with an ERA above 4.00 for the first time since 2012. However, he’s on track for his 10th straight 30-start campaign and isn’t pitching much worse than he was during his first two excellent years in Chicago. The big difference has been home runs, which he’s giving up at the highest rate since he was a rookie. Two starts ago, Lester was taken deep three times by an Atlanta squad that’s not a home run powerhouse, so it’s too bad the Mets traded away their healthy boppers already.
Thursday, September 14: Seth Lugo vs. Mike Montgomery, 8:05 p.m. on SNY
Lugo: 83.1 IP, 67 K, 23 BB, 10 HR, 4.64 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 1.39 WHIP
Lugo had his first scoreless outing of the season last Friday, keeping Cincinnati off the scoreboard for six innings while the Mets cruised to a 5-1 victory. Remember, the Cubs are one team in particular that has been intrigued by Lugo’s upside, so it will be interesting to see if they pursue a trade in the offseason, especially if he pitches well against them this week. The Louisiana native has been very valuable to the Mets as rotation depth for the past year or so, but he’s not a lock for the 2018 Opening Day roster.
Montgomery: 116.1 IP, 88 K, 51 BB, 9 HR, 3.64 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
Montgomery has been a versatile asset for the Cubs since coming over from Seattle in July 2016. He’s worked out of both the bullpen and the rotation, and he’s currently playing as a starter due to a hamstring injury to Jake Arrieta. Although Montgomery had two great starts to end the month of August, his first two outings in September haven’t gone as well. This month, the southpaw has allowed seven runs in seven innings with five walks and three strikeouts.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
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