10 Things to Know About the Mets-Cubs NLCS

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Matt Harvey of the Mets and Jon Lester of the Cubs
Matt Harvey and Jon Lester.Photo: Jon Durr/2015 Getty Images

With their win over the Dodgers in a Game 5 NLDS nail-biter, the Mets advanced to the NLCS for the eighth time in franchise history. They now look to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2000, while their opponents, the Chicago Cubs, are looking to shed decades of baggage and get back to the Fall Classic for the first time since early in the Truman administration. Here, a primer on the series, which kicks off Saturday night at Citi Field.

1. The Mets have home-field advantage, but don’t let that fool you.
The Cubs won 97 games this season, but in a stacked NL Central, they only finished third and had to survive the Wild Card game before playing the Cardinals in the NLDS. But because Wild Card teams can’t have home-field advantage before the World Series (where it’s stupidly determined by the All-Star Game winner), the 90-win Mets will host Game 1 of the NLCS. That said, the Cubs are no underdog here: They’re the Vegas favorite to win the World Series after knocking off St. Louis in their best-of-five series.

2. David Wright has been invisible in this postseason (with one big exception).
The Mets’ captain went 1-for-16 with five walks and seven strikeouts in five games against the Dodgers. (That’s an average of .063.) His one hit, though, was a huge one: a two-out, two-RBI single in Game 1 that gave the Mets a 3–0 lead. (When Los Angeles later scored to cut the lead to 3–1, those runs became especially important.)

3. Matt Harvey will pitch Game 1 for the Mets.
We already know that the 26-year-old righty, whose innings limit has been a source of much debate in recent weeks, will take the ball to open the series on Saturday night. Beyond that, it’s likely that Noah Syndergaard (who threw an inning in Game 5 of the NLDS) would start Game 2, followed by Jacob deGrom (who started Game 5), and Steven Matz (who started Game 4 against L.A.).

4. The Mets already faced two Cy Young candidates, and now they’ll see a third.
Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke led the league in strikeouts and ERA, respectively this season, and the Mets faced them a combined four times in the NLDS, going 2–2 in those games. Now the Mets will face another Cy Young candidate in Jake Arrieta, who won a league-best 22 games and had the second-best WAR (wins above replacement, a stat that aims to sum up a player’s overall value in one number) in the league. For what it’s worth, Arrieta was unspectacular in his one NLDS start, allowing four runs in five and two-thirds innings in Game 3. That said, he was spectacular in the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, throwing a complete-game five-hit shutout.

5. The Cubs are hitting homers like crazy right now.
Chicago smacked ten home runs in four games against St. Louis, including a postseason-record six in Game 3. One of those ten was a monster blast by Kyle Schwarber in Game 4, when the Cubs clinched their first-ever postseason series victory at Wrigley Field, that landed on top of the scoreboard in right field. That home run was so memorable that the Cubs are going to leave the ball on top of the scoreboard for the remainder of the postseason, and even installed a Plexiglas case around it to protect it from the elements.

6. The Mets went 0–7 against the Cubs this year.
The Mets didn’t win a game against their NLCS opponent this year, but the most recent of those games came way back in early July, before the Mets bolstered their offense. Chicago swept a four-game set at Wrigley from May 11 to 14, then a three-game series in New York from June 30 through July 2. (In that last game, the Mets faced Arrieta and used a starting lineup that included Darrell Ceciliani in center, Eric Campbell in left, and Johnny Monell behind the plate.) Via USA Today, it was the first time the Mets had ever been swept in a season series of at least seven games, and the first time the Cubs had won such a series since 1885, when they did it against the Buffalo Bisons.

7. Yes, the Cubs will be playing on Back to the Future day.
Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989, famously predicted that the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015, albeit against a fictional American League team from Miami. The Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908, are now eight wins away from making it come true, though they won’t be able to win by October 21, the date Marty McFly & Co. arrive in 2015 in the movie. The Cubs will host Game 4 of the NLCS that day.

8. Cubs fans with long memories want payback.
In 1969, the Cubs were up nine games in the National League East in mid-August, but blew that lead so thoroughly they wound up eight games behind the Miracle Mets, who’d go on to win the World Series. The most memorable image from that pennant race came during a game on September 8 at Shea Stadium. The Cubs’ collapse was already in full effect, and their lead had dwindled to one and a half games when a black cat found its way onto the field at Shea, walked past Cubs star Ron Santo in the on-deck circle, and stared at manager Leo Durocher in the dugout. ”I’m superstitious enough, but Leo, he was superstitious as all heck,” Santo later recalled. ”I tried not to think about bad luck right at that moment, but yeah, after we lost, I sat at my locker a few minutes and wondered, ‘What the heck is going on here?”’

9. If the Mets are defined by their young pitchers, the Cubs are defined by their young hitters.
Such labels aren’t perfect — the Cubs, after all, have some very good pitchers who have contributed to their success this year — but the Cubs are powered by rising stars like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, who finished 4th and 11th in the National League this season in OPS (or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, a quick-and-dirty stat that gives a good snapshot of a hitter’s overall performance).

10. The Cubs are missing their shortstop, too.
Ruben Tejada’s postseason ended as a result of Chase Utley’s Game 2 slide, but the Cubs lost their starting shortstop in the Division Series round as well. Addison Russell, a rookie who had been the No. 3 prospect in the Cubs’ system prior to 2015 and played in 142 games this season, left Game 3 of the NLDS with a hamstring injury. It’s a moderate strain, but the Cubs have ruled him out for the NLCS.