Just like that, it's 1969 again.
:: NLCS: Cubs vs. Mets -- Tune-in info ::
Actually, upon further review, it doesn't matter. If you're a Cubs fan (or began as one like me), this showdown against the Mets is going back to the future in a splendid way.
This time, the Cubs will turn "1908" into just another number. I'll say it: They are heading to the World Series.
I can't believe I said that. Here we are, 46 years later, and the bulk of the Cubs fans still haven't recovered from those mostly no-name guys from New York shattering our ivy-covered dreams. They turned the North Siders' sprint to the National League East title, NL pennant and World Series championship into a nightmare that kept repeating itself in different ways over the next few seasons. I should say the next few decades.
While Cubs fans either spent the winter of 1969 in a funk or therapy, the Mets became the all-time darlings of underdogs in baseball history. They went from "New York" in front of their name to "Amazin" or "Miracle." They did the improbable by overcoming a 9 1/2-game deficit in August to shock the Cubs for the division title, the Braves in the NLCS and the Orioles during the World Series.
Not only did the Cubs lose that ridiculous lead, but they finished eight games behind the Mets. Worse, the Cubs had four Hall of Fame players (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins) and a manager (Leo Durocher) who also was destined for Cooperstown. The Cubs also had perennial All-Stars such as shortstop Don Kessinger, second baseman Glenn Beckert and catcher Randy Hundley. They never reached the playoffs.
During those rare times in which the Cubs have made the postseason since 1969, they've encountered the bizarre. If it isn't a fielding mistake by a Cubs player during the worst of times, it's a fan getting a bit too close to the action inside the supposedly Friendly Confines of their home ballpark.
Not this time.
You get the sense these Cubs are different from those other Cubs, and not just because 100-year-old Wrigley Field got a facelift before this season with refurbished bleachers, state-of-the art video boards and enough restrooms for the first time since forever.
For one, these Cubs show no signs of spending the rest of October battling the unbeatable combination of their opponent, themselves and the otherworldly. For another, they have too many young players who don't have a clue about billy goats and 1969, for that matter. Mostly, they have Joe Maddon, their first-year manager, and he consistently inspires those around him both physically and mentally.
That said, I still cherish the 1969 Cubs. They joined their predecessors during that decade as my original Boys of Summer. Afterward, I became a disciple of the Big Red Machine when we moved from South Bend, Ind., to Cincinnati, and that's when I discovered that a team with great players and a superlative manager really could win big.
But, I've kept a spot in my baseball soul for the Cubs, which is why I'm smiling these days. The baseball gods are giving the Cubbies another chance to get it right against the Mets, but only in the NLCS instead of down the stretch for a division. Here's the biggest thing: As opposed to '69, these Cubs have all of that youth, an innovative manager and something closer to a 21st century ballpark instead of a slew of veterans, an old-school manager and what essentially was a 19th century museum with a baseball diamond..
In contrast to the makeup of those Cubs teams, there are more similarities between those Mets teams. Two words come to mind: Overwhelming pitching. The 21st century version of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Don Cardwell and Jim McAndrew is Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon. While those Mets finished third in the Major Leagues in team ERA, these Mets were fourth.
As for offense, see if this sounds familiar. The '69 Mets weren't much at the plate until a midseason trade for Donn Clendenon. After they plugged the slugging first baseman into the middle of their lineup, he had 12 home runs and 37 RBIs the rest of the way. Plus, the other Mets hitters improved, especially Cleon Jones, who became even more potent before closing with a .340 batting average.
So Yoenis Cespedes is Clendenon. After the Mets acquired Cespedes this summer, he used his 17 homers and 44 RBIs to pump life into an offense that was even more stagnant than the one in '69.
According to statistics, the current Mets weren't much on offense with or without Cespedes during the full regular season, and the Cubs weren't exactly the Big Blue Machine. While the Mets were 28th out of the 30 Major League teams in overall batting average, the Cubs were 29th. It's just that numbers can lie. Just ask the Cardinals, who watched their baseball-leading 100 victories mean nothing after the Cubs pounded them out of the NLDS with a slew of perfectly timed homers.
The Cubs can pitch, too, and they do so slightly better than the Mets. With Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester leading the way, the Cubs' pitching staff led the Major Leagues in opponents' batting average. The Mets were sixth. The Cubs also were third in baseball in ERA to the Mets' fourth, and nobody had more strikeouts in baseball than the Cubs staff. The Mets were 10th. Remember, too, that power pitching rules in the postseason.
Yep, I'm liking the Cubs. I'm liking them a lot.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.