When you come out on top of a series, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the beauty of the game. These oddities and idiosyncrasies that are unique to baseball look a lot better when the dice rolled and stopped in your favour.
Baseball is fiendishly hard to predict. Unlike most other sports. If I tell you the New England Patriots will win the Superbowl, you can usually guess who will be the MVP. But who could have predicted that Daniel Murphy would be the (unofficial) series MVP? More pointedly, who would have predicted that Murphy, our consistent .290 line drive hitter, who makes so many baserunning errors, would have won the series for the Mets through home runs and baserunning intelligence. Really?
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations, pointed out that in a playoff series, it’s one team that wins around 65% of its games, against a team that wins around 60% of its games. Hard to predict.
The one thing, the only thing, that I predicted correctly about this entire series, was that Game 5 would be won on an unexpected fielding or baserunning play. How often do we turn to each other and say, “I’ve never seen that before.” During this series, we saw five of the league’s top 15 pitchers square off. A few of the most exciting rookie batters. And yet, I think it’s fair to say that the series turned on two baserunning plays. One a regular double-play invested with all the aggression and violence that comes with a winner-takes-all series. The other, a routine base-on-balls turned into a moment of thievery and wit. Now that, Daniel Murphy, was a Baseball Play.
Of all people, how could it be Murphy, the guy we appreciate for his solid contact hitting, at whom we shake our heads when he makes another fielding flub, another baserunning gaffe. I believe I may have posted in one of the comment boxes two weeks ago, that Daniel Murphy was going to cost us the playoffs with one of his crazy plays. If it wasn’t me that wrote it, it was definitely one of you. And now it feels like all those maddening outs in the past were all just a lead-up to this brilliant steal of a run, of a game, of a series.
There is a beautiful interview with Zach Greinke on MLB. Greinke, looking a little like he’s in disbelief, stammers and mumbles, and says he thought he threw the ball well. Which he did - it was impressive to see the laser control he had of all his pitches But, he keeps saying, Murphy. I got them all out, besides Murphy. It was, he says, “mainly Murphy.”
And so now to the Cubs. Two teams of destiny meet each other. Two teams that have often fought hard battles with each other throughout history, yet have never met in the postseason - in large part because for many years they were in the same division, back in those days when a division winner was something a little more final.
This just might be start of a new Cubs-Mets rivalry. The team with the young pitching talent against the team with the young hitting talent. Both teams were expected to start a new era of strength, and both teams have come up a year earlier than expected to fight for the pennant.
In any case, it will be a different series to the one we just finished. The Dodgers-Mets series was all about Kershaw and Greinke. Two of the top three pitchers in the National League were starting 4 of 5 games, or 80%, and the Mets had to take at least two to win.
This Cubs series will be different. Granted, we will face Jake Arrietta, the third member of the top three, but probably not more than twice as a starter. That is 2 games out of 7, or 29%.
It being a 7-game series means that the depth of our starting staff will be more of a factor. Our collection of four aces and near-aces will be more of a competitive edge than they were in the best of five. And we will need all that edge, with the way the Cubs are slugging the ball.
Whereas the Dodgers series was mostly made up of tight pitching duels with a single run making the difference, I can see this Mets-Cubs series being a lot more freeflowing and topsy-turvy. I can see our offence liberated from “those animals”, swinging more like they did in Game 3 against Brett Anderson. On the other hand, I can see the Cubs sluggers knocking home runs off of all our starters after the Dodgers hit not one; Matt Harvey and Steven Matz may struggle, and even deGrom will cough up some.
But then that’s my prediction. so I will most probably be entirely wrong. What do you see happening?