CHICAGO - The thought would have been laughable a few years ago, when the Mets and Cubs were mired as doormats of the National League.

Now, with rosters loaded with young talent, the conversation has changed.

"You're always curious, obviously, because you feel like you might be playing them in the playoffs," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Monday night's series opener.

Consider the talent on the field, a study in contrasts, though both rooted in power.

During batting practice, the Cubs' talented young core of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell took turns ripping liners all over the friendly confines.

The middle of their lineup featured Cuban sensation Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro, the three-time All-Star. The oldest of group -- Rizzo -- is just 25.

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Indeed, theirs was a rebuilding built around lethal bats.

The Mets, by contrast, restored themselves with their arms. And this series will provide a showcase, with the Mets sending out Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey on consecutive days.

In order, that's the reigning National League rookie of the year, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, and perhaps this decade's version of Doc Gooden and Tom Seaver.

"This is exactly what we've been building toward," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "These young, powerful arms that know how to pitch, it's what every organization tries to do. It's been tough."

The Cubs, too, know that pain. Soon, they might know the pleasure that can follow after enduring it.

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The beginning of the four-game series brought with it a sense of renewal, even though the season is six weeks old.

The renovation of venerable Wrigley Field cleared a major hurdle. For the first time last night, the new leftfield bleachers were open to fans, with rightfield slated to open sometime in June.

The new video board in rightfield also went online for the first time. It displayed both starting lineups, though the Cubs looked much more imposing.

A curtain had gone up on a new era, with two stalwarts of the NL unveiling their brand-new toys.

Tonight, the imposing Syndergaard makes his big-league debut after years of hype about his blazing fastball and a curveball that Collins once described as "the hook from hell."

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On Wednesday, Harvey's start against the dangerous lineup will be broadcast on national television, a clash of power against power. "I'm eager to see it," Maddon said. "Kudos to them for really turning their fate around. And I've been watching it. TC and I go way back so I'm really happy for him, too, personally."

And the Mets aren't exactly done unveiling talent. Sometime later this season, Ward Melville product Steven Matz could become the latest to come off the assembly line.

On Sunday Matz tossed seven scoreless innings at Triple-A Las Vegas. He lowered his ERA to 1.70 -- a microscopic number in the hitters' haven that is the Pacific Coast League.

Matz would fit right in with the group that the Mets already have assembled, one that aspires to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

"It's time to win," Collins said. "It's time for them to come up here and play like they're big leaguers, and they have. And I think Noah is just another guy that says a lot for our organization and the strides we've made. And there's more to come."