Don't sell Mets' offense short
Club's lineup, which improved greatly with additions, can mash with Cubs
NEW YORK -- The simple, superficial, conventional way to look at this series is to picture it as the Mets flamethrowers against the booming bats of the Cubs.
There will be some of that in the National League Championship Series, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on TBS. But that generalization actually sells the Mets short.
After July 25, the Mets led the NL in runs scored. The Cubs were second. Out were the punchless Mets of the early season, and in was an offense capable of doing consistent damage.
And why not? This was a different lineup in the second half of the season. The addition of the explosive Yoenis Cespedes was the biggest change. But there were other changes, including the addition of the extremely useful Kelly Johnson. The emergence of Michael Conforto helped, too.
After July 25, the Mets also led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage. This is not a club that has to hold the other guys to fewer than four runs to win, even though, that's always a healthy development.
The sea change in the Mets' offense also addresses a related issue. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in 2015. Under other circumstances that might be telling, but under these circumstances it is not. Those seven games were all played in the first half of the season.
"I don't think there's any weight to be attached to that whatsoever," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Friday before his team worked out at Citi Field. "They're an entirely different team. We're different, too. But they are really different.
"Believe me, I take zero stock in that [7-0 record]. Their offense wasn't nearly what it is right now. So I'm not even looking at that."
Neither is Mets manager Terry Collins, although he can naturally be just a bit more concerned about that record than Maddon.
"I think we're a different team, for sure," Collins said. "They've got a good club, they've had a good club. They play us extremely well, they have for two years. We've got our work ahead. They've got a few new guys, but we're still going to see Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, who are two very, very good pitchers. But we're a different lineup, too. I think postseason is a whole different game than the regular season. We'll hopefully play better than we did [against them] during the season."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson also noted the progress made since the seven games were lost to the Cubs.
"I'd say a couple of things from our standpoint," Alderson said. "In looking at the pitching, I think our young guys are a little more experienced, [have a] little more command, more confidence. I think from that standpoint we're in a better position.
"Offensively, it's a different team -- not totally, but significantly. So I don't think 0-7 registers too much concern on the part of our players. But we certainly have to turn that around."
Alderson suggested that the Mets could finish with an overall 2015 record of 4-10 against the Cubs at the end of the NLCS. That was a sagacious choice of records. Alderson could have said 4-7, but why project a sweep with a boast inherent, when you can create visions of a closely contested, dramatic, seven-game triumph?
It was frequently suggested in various media this season that a trade between the Mets and the Cubs would make perfect sense, because the Cubs had all that wonderful young hitting talent and the Mets had all that wonderful young pitching talent. Alderson was asked if the two clubs ever came close to making such a trade.
"No," said Alderson. "Nope. They're probably happy they didn't make a trade, and we're happy we didn't make a trade."
These are two teams with tremendous young talent and futures that are extraordinarily bright, regardless of what transpires next at Citi Field and Wrigley Field.
But the dramatic improvement in the Mets' lineup defeats the easy Chicago hitters vs. New York pitchers storyline. In the same way that a focus on the Cubs' sluggers should not diminish the fact that the best pitcher in the Major Leagues over the last three-plus months was Arrieta, the focus on the great young pitching talent the Mets have assembled should not take away from the fact that the Mets can now be an offensive force.
Of course, runs will be harder to find at this level of the postseason. Nobody without pitching in quantity and quality gets this far. The Mets are, as Alderson stated, better in all phases of the game than they were earlier in the season. But the biggest difference is that they now have a lineup that can score runs -- enough runs to win on a very regular basis.