The 2015 NLCS is going to be a showcase of young talent in a renewed rivalry
On Saturday night, the Mets and Cubs will each begin their quest for a National League pennant and a trip to the World Series against either the Royals or the Blue Jays.
But for the Mets and Cubs, an old rivalry will be renewed between two clubs who, in the era of two divisions and no Wild Card, would contend year-after-year for the National League East crown.
The rivalry originates from the 1969 season, when the mighty Cubs were in command of the National League East by ten games on August 13, only to see the Mets finish 38-11 and finishing ahead of the Cubs by eight games in the division, highlighted by the infamous black cat staring down the Cubs dugout at the base of the visiting dugout Shea Stadium in September 9.
The Mets went on to win seven of their eight games in the postseason in 1969 and win their first World Championship in club history.
It would 15 years before their rivalry would be renewed, when the two clubs found themselves battling for the National League East crown in 1984. That year, the upstart Mets – led on the mound by 19-year-old Dwight Gooden, sophomore Darryl Strawberry and veteran Keith Hernandez – were in the heat of a pennant race all summer long, pulling to within 1 1/2 games of Chicago by mid-August. But the Mets finished 23-22 and the Cubs pulled away from the Mets as a result, winning that battle for the division title.
Of course, the Cubs would go on to lose in the National League Championship Series that year, highlighted by a key error by first baseman Leon Durham.
Their rivalry would last all the way through the late 1980’s as the Mets surged to the top of the baseball world, dominating the Cubs in 1985 and 1986 and producing the best record in baseball from 1984 through the end of the decade.
The Mets of course clinched the 1986 National League East title against the Cubs at Shea, with Gooden on the mound for the complete-game win.
And while the Mets would challenge the Cubs again for the division title in 1989, the Mets were a cut short from their rival that season after August 23 when they were just 1 1/2 games behind Chicago, going just 18-18 down the stretch and finishing six games behind the Cubs, who once again lost in the National League Championship Series to the Giants in five games.
In the middle of all of those years, the Mets and Cubs played the first night game at Wrigley Field in 1988.
Before baseball expanded and went to three divisions, the Mets and Cubs would play 18 games, most of which would be very entertaining in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But in the Wild Card era, the Mets and Cubs only have only played each other once in each ballpark over the last 20 years, which has left a gap in what was once a storied and competitive rivalry.
On Saturday night, the Mets and Cubs will renew their rivalry as they face off against each other in the playoffs for the first time in baseball history.
The Mets will be seeking their first National League Pennant in 15 years. The Cubs, meanwhile, will be seeking a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs had only been to the postseason seven times in the last 70 years until 2015. The Mets had been to the postseason seven times since 1969 until this season.
Needless to say, neither franchise has a rich history of success. There’s been more frustration and heartache than there have been parades and smiles in their respective cities.
But one of them will indeed prevail and go to the World Series in 2015.
And it’s going to be a showcase featuring two of baseball’s most fascinating and entertaining teams in 2015.
The Mets are loaded with their trademarked power arms in their rotation, a star-powered and now well-balanced lineup thanks to the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes. The Cubs have young talent spread all around the field, beginning with rookie sensation Kris Bryant and ending with Kyle Schwarber who arrived onto the scene and made an immediate impact mid-year for the Cubs. They also have one of the great baseball stories in 2015 leading their rotation in Jake Arrieta.
These are two teams who most feel have arrived to this point ahead of their time. Both the Mets and Cubs were believed to be a year away from even being considered playoffs contenders, said many of the pundits before the year began. But the Mets pitching blossomed and the Cubs rookies exploded, and here they both are in a showcase featuring sensational young talent both on the mound and in the field.
The Cubs, led by the genius of Joe Maddon, won all seven contests against the Mets in 2015. It was the first time the Cubs have swept a team in a season facing them seven or more times since 1885.
But they have really been firing on all cylinders since the start of the year and have gotten better as the year has gone on, winning 50 of their final 75 games while going 97-65 for the season.
They can thank Arrieta’s mound work for much of that – he was baseball’s winningest pitcher with a 22-6 record, and finished just behind Zack Greinke for the ERA title at 1.77.
He was lights out away from Wrigley Field as well, going 13-1 with a 1.60 ERA in 18 road starts, and held left-handed hitters to just a .159 average the entire year thanks to a devastating slider and a wicked two seamer. And, when given three or more runs of support, Arrieta went 17-o during the regular year.
But they also saw Jon Lester bounce back to have a solid second half to help form a formidable 1-2 tandem at the top of their rotation. That and their young position players in Bryant, Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and now Javier Baez make for one of the best and most exciting Chicago Cubs team in a long, long time.
But the Cubs will be facing a different team than the one they saw the last time they faced the Mets in early July – their 7-0 record against the Mets in 2015 probably could be set aside with that considered.
The Mets now have just as much muscle with a core of four young and often dominant starting pitchers and a well-balanced attack in their lineup, thanks to Cespedes, the multitalented Curtis Granderson to Cespedes, Michael Conforto and the return of David Wright.
The Cubs offense might be deeper. But the Mets certainly have a deeper pitching staff. The Mets have veteran leadership to help support their young core, but the Cubs have one of the brightest skippers in baseball in Maddon, capable of outthinking anyone on the field with creative eccentricity at anytime in a game.
But is that enough for the Cubs to get the curses of the black cat, Bartman and the Billy Goat of their backs? Do the Mets have what it takes to complete their first chapter in what they hope to be years and years of successful runs through the playoffs with their young pitching?
The Dodgers and Cardinals were favorites to beat these two teams, too. Good thing the game is played on a diamond, and not in a Las Vegas casino.
It’s going to be a really fun show to watch this week between two of baseball’s great lovable losers try to win the pennant.