The New York Mets (58-72) will visit the Windy City to take on the National League’s best team, the Chicago Cubs (76-53). The Mets were swept by the Cubs and were outscored 21-6 in a four-game set at Citi Field earlier this season.
The Mets finished their seven-game home stand with four wins after taking two out of three from the Washington Nationals. The pitching was, for the most part, excellent up until the final four frames. Mets pitchers shut out the Nationals for the first 23 innings before allowing 15 runs in innings six through nine on Sunday afternoon.
The bullpen, which sported a splendid 2.51 ERA in August coming into the finale, was tattooed for 14 earned runs. The culprits were Paul Sewald, Tyler Bashlor, and Corey Oswalt, who gave up five, three, and six earned runs, respectively. On a positive note, the starting pitching trio of Jason Vargas, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz combined to allow just one earned run in 20 innings to extend the Nationals’ scoreless streak at the time to 32 innings.
The offense failed to do much, posting a meager .208 average and collecting 19 hits while scoring six runs. Jeff McNeil extended his hitting streak to 11 games by picking up four hits in nine turns at-bat before leaving Sunday’s game with right quad tightness. Jay Bruce also tallied a double and a home run while playing both right field and first base in his return from a two-month disabled list stint.
Jose Bautista went hitless in nine at-bats and is now hitting just .163 (13-for-80) in the month of August with a 73 wRC+ and a .590 OPS. Austin Jackson, who had a scorching-hot start to his Mets’ tenure, collected two hits in nine tries against Washington and is hitting .211 (8-for-38) in his last 10 games with a 22 wRC+ and a .441 OPS. Michael Conforto picked up one hit in nine plate appearances against the Nationals.
The Cubs, on the other hand, are one of baseball’s premiere offensive teams. Chicago ranks first among all National League squads in OPS (.763), batting average (.264), and runs scored (626), while ranking second behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers in wRC+ (103). Their offense has been led by infielder Javier Baez, who is having an MVP-worthy season. In 127 games, he’s sporting a 134 wRC+, a 4.7 fWAR, a .903 OPS, and a .296 batting average to go along with 28 home runs.
Their offense got even more potent last week with the addition of former Met Daniel Murphy. Since joining the Cubs, he’s posted a .390 batting average and a 1.112 OPS. Murphy tormented the Mets as a member of the Nationals and sports a .390 average and 1.162 OPS with 11 home runs in 154 at-bats against his former squad. Murphy also loves to hit at Wrigley Field, as evidenced by his .410 career batting average and 1.151 career OPS at the Cubs’ home park.
The team’s success comes despite getting almost nothing from Yu Darvish, their big offseason free agent acquisition. After signing a six-year, $126 million deal in February, Darvish made only eight starts and struggled through injuries. The Cubs recently announced that he has a stress fracture in his right elbow that will prematurely end his 2018 season. He finished the year with a 4.95 ERA and a 4.85 FIP while only pitching 40 innings. In an effort to replace the production they were hoping to get from Darvish, the Cubs acquired Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers on July 27 to give them a formidable rotation alongside Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana.
Monday, August 27: Noah Syndergaard vs. Jon Lester 8:05 p.m. on SNY
Syndergaard (2018): 106.2 IP, 111 K, 22 BB, 6 HR, 3.38 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 1.24 WHIP
Syndergaard is coming off his best start since returning from the disabled list on August 1. In a six-inning outing against the San Francisco Giants, he allowed two runs on five hits while striking out six in the victory. His tossed 73 of his 101 pitches (72%) for strikes and only walked one batter. More importantly, his start against the Cubs will give him six for the month of August and represents his first fully healthy month since April. In the month, he has a 4.50 ERA, a 2.75 FIP, and a 1.22 WHIP in 32 innings.
Lester (2018): 146.0 IP, 116 K, 53 BB, 22 HR, 3.64 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 1.32 WHIP
Lester, a 2018 All-Star, has had an up-and-down year for Chicago. After posting a 2.18 ERA in his first 16 starts this season, he has hardly resembled the same pitcher in his last ten outings. Since July 1, he owns a 6.35 ERA, a 5.86 FIP, and opposing batters have posted a .327 average and .968 OPS against him. Lester has finally settled down a bit in his last two starts, as he shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates for six innings and allowed one earned run in 5.2 innings to the Detroit Tigers. Still, the Cubs will need to see more from Lester if they expect to make another deep October run.
Tuesday, August 28: Jacob deGrom vs. Cole Hamels, 8:05 p.m. on SNY
deGrom (2018): 174.0 IP, 214 K, 40 BB, 8 HR, 1.71 ERA, 2.07 FIP, 0.97 WHIP
deGrom continued his quest for the Cy Young with another solid effort against the Giants. He allowed two runs (one earned) and struck out 10 in six innings of work but was again saddled with the loss as the offense was unable to do much against Madison Bumgarner. deGrom leads all National League starters in ERA (1.71), ERA+ (216), FIP (2.07), fWAR (6.9), and HR/9 (0.41) and is not far off the pace in WHIP (0.97), strikeouts (214), K/9 (11.1), and bWAR (7.5). If deGrom can keep Chicago under four runs, he will match Dwight Gooden’s club record of allowing three runs or fewer in 24 consecutive starts, which Dr. K accomplished in his Cy Young-winning 1985 season.
Hamels (2018): 148.1 IP, 144 K, 50 BB, 23 HR, 3.82 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
The Mets are all-too-familiar with Hamels from his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, but they have not seen him since Philadelphia traded him away in 2015. The Cubs acquired Hamels from the Texas Rangers four days before this year’s deadline, and the move has paid dividends for them. Since arriving, he has posted a 0.79 ERA, a 2.36 FIP, and a 0.94 WHIP in five starts. After allowing 23 home runs for the Rangers, he has avoided the long ball so far with Chicago. In his last start against the Cincinnati Reds, he went the distance and allowed one earned run while striking out seven. He has made 32 starts against the Mets in his career and has a 3.99 ERA in those outings.
Wednesday, August 29: Jason Vargas vs. Alec Mills, 2:20 p.m. on SNY
Vargas (2018): 64.2 IP, 55 K, 23 BB, 14 HR, 6.96 ERA, 5.47 FIP, 1.61 WHIP
It may be hard to believe, but Vargas has put together three good starts in a row. In his last appearance, he shut out the Nationals through six innings and struck out a season high eight. In the process, dropped his ERA below seven for the first time in 2018. Over his last three starts, he owns a 2.08 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, and a 0.98 WHIP in 17.1 innings, with opposing batters hitting .222 against him. It remains to be seen whether this stretch is just a flash in the pan or whether he’s actually turned the corner, but for now Mets’ brass has to be happy with what they are seeing lately since Vargas is signed for one more year.
Mills (2018): 7.2 IP, 10 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.17 ERA, 0.94 FIP, 0.52 WHIP
Mills was solid in his first career start on August 24, tossing 5.2 innings and allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out eight against the Reds. Prior to that, he pitched two shutout innings in relief against the St. Louis Cardinals in July. In 124.2 innings at Triple-A this year, he had a 4.84 ERA. Mills was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2012 and previously pitched for them in 2016 before ending up in Chicago following a February 2017 trade.
Prediction: The Mets will drop two out of three to the Cubs.
How will the Mets fare in their three-game series with the Cubs?
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Bill Murray will weep as the Mets sweep the Cubbies
The Mets take two from the NL’s best team
Mets steal a game before heading out west
Chicago blows the Mets away in a three-game sweep
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