With 162 games completed, the postseason participants are set and the schedule has been announced. The Cubs will kick off their postseason run at 8:15 p.m. CT on Friday against the winner of the Wednesday evening NL Wild Card game between the Giants and the Mets.
But why wait until Wednesday to figure out who the Cubs are actually going to face in the NLDS when we can freak out about it now? That leads to the obvious question: Who would you rather face, New York or San Francisco?
On its face, it’s not the easiest question in the world. Both teams share the exact same record – 87-75 – and both teams’ starting rotations are headed up by one of the top pitchers in baseball. The Giants scored a little bit more frequently than the Mets (4.4 r/g vs. 4.1 r/g), but the Mets gave up a few less runs (3.8 r/g vs. 3.9 r/g).
In head-to-head action, the Cubs went 4-3 against San Francisco, scoring 23 runs and giving up 17 over the course of seven games. Against the Mets, they really struggled, going 2-5 and scoring the same 23 runs while giving up 37.
So with everything else being relatively equal (both teams have a top-of-the-line starter, both score and give up runs at a similar rate), it would stand to reason that given the Cubs’ record against both teams, the preferred opponent would be the Giants. But I disagree.
Even given the Cubs poor record against the Mets – they were, along with Colorado, one of only two teams the Cubs had a losing record against this season – I’d much prefer to face them when the NLDS comes to Wrigley this Friday. And the reason all comes down to the starting rotation.
Given that Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard will certainly pitch the one-game playoff for their respective teams on Wednesday, whoever among them advances will almost certainly be unavailable until at least Game 3, and will likely only be able to pitch one time in the series. So, the real issue for me is the rest of the rotation, and that’s where the Mets start to look very enticing as a playoff opponent.
Thanks to the injuries that have ravaged the Mets starting rotation this season, Syndergaard stands alone as the only truly worrisome pitcher in the New York rotation. With Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all out for the season, the next man in line for the Mets becomes ageless wonder Bartolo Colon. And after Colon, things get thin, with 26-year-old Logan Verrett (6.45 ERA in 12 starts), 26-year-old Seth Lugo (2.68 ERA in 8 starts), and 22-year-old rookie Robert Gsellman (2.63 ERA in 7 starts) rounding out the likely options for Game 2.
While Lugo and Gsellman’s ERA numbers look good, they’re likely a victim of small sample size. Lugo’s FIP is a significantly-higher 4.33, indicating some strong luck in his favor leading to that low ERA. Gsellman, similarly, has started only seven games in what is his rookie campaign. The questions of how he’d hold up in a playoff setting (in hostile territory, no less) are legitimate.
And while the Mets’ bullpen is strong, headed by guys like Jeurys Familia (2.55 ERA/1.210 WHIP 51 saves) and Addison Reed (1.97 ERA/0.940 WHIP 10.5 K/9), I simply like the Cubs’ chances against Colon and the Mets’ group of young starters more than I do the remainder of the Giants’ starting rotation, which is comprised of a lot more talent.
If San Francisco does go on to win the Wild Card game, Game 1 of the NLDS would undoubtedly be started by Johnny Cueto (2.79 ERA/1.093 WHIP/2.96 FIP), who is without question better than any of the Mets starters not named Syndergaard. And while things do get easier after Cueto, not drastically so.
The Giants’ options for Game 2 would likely come down to Jeff Samardzija (3.81 ERA/3.85 FIP/1.200 WHIP), Jake Peavy (5.54 ERA/4.36 FIP/1.433 WHIP), Matt Cain (5.64 ERA/5.14 FIP/1.511 WHIP), Albert Suarez (4.29 ERA/4.64 FIP/1.310 WHIP) or Matt Moore (4.08 ERA/3.53 FIP/1.332 WHIP). There’s a lot of options there, and that doesn’t include Ty Blach, the rookie who put up the stellar eight-inning performance on Saturday to keep the Giants secure in their Wild Card spot.
And, while the numbers that guys like Peavy and Cain put up won’t be striking fear into the heart of many batters, both have long careers of sustained success. In a short series, I’d much prefer to face what the Mets have to offer.
Lastly, given the power that permeates the Cubs lineup I’d much prefer to spend the two non-wrigley games at Citi Field, where an average of 2.38 HR were hit per game this year (slightly above the league average of 2.18), as opposed to AT&T Park, where the average was only 1.47 per game – the lowest in all of baseball by a decent margin.
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