The Mets, eliminated in the wild-card game, won’t be playing at Wrigley Field this weekend. Their National League title defense is long over.
But after listening to the Cubs on the eve of Saturday night’s NLCS opener against the Dodgers, it sounds as if the Mets could be vacationing on the North Side anyway.
Maybe in the space between the Cubs’ ears.
All this time later, the Mets’ 2015 NLCS sweep — the sight of them partying on the Wrigley grass and soaking the visitors’ clubhouse in champagne — hasn’t been forgotten in these parts. The up-and-coming Cubs, with their promising youngsters and their new dugout guru, Joe Maddon, were left speechless.
That caliber of clock-cleaning tends to leave an imprint, an indelible stamp on the cerebrum, and Maddon’s crew now has to wipe away the mental graffiti sprayed across their collective psyches. When Maddon was asked during Friday’s workout if his team left with a few positive crumbs from the Mets’ blitzing of his 2015 Cubs, he sounded more relieved that the opposition this time won’t be featuring a foursome of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz.
“I think that our experience last year in facing the incredibly sharp Met pitching, I think we have to have learned something from that,” Maddon said. “You never want to see them again — that’s the No. 1 thing. And then beyond that, learn how to make adjustments and adaptations during the course of a game.”
Looking back at that NLCS, we wonder what might have happened if the three non-Noah members of that rotation had stayed healthy into this October. Last year, the Mets’ staff had a 2.00 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in that sweep. They handcuffed the Cubs with a .164 batting average and struck out 37 in 36 innings.
For Maddon, there was really nothing to second-guess. His Cubs strutted directly into the relentless path of a steamroller, a Mets team that seemed destined for the World Series after outlasting the Dodgers in the Division Series. But if there had been one chance for a do-over, an opportunity to travel back in time for another shot at those Mets, Jon Lester believes the Cubs could have altered the course of history with one slight modification.
‘We basically let Daniel Murphy beat us last year,” said Lester, who will start Saturday night’s Game 1 for the Cubs. “So I think looking back on that, if we can go back to that time and kind of sit down and then talk about it some more, we might have had a different approach.”
Could the Cubs have stopped Murphy last October? Or at least slowed him down? Possibly. It’s not as if they didn’t have any warning. Murphy batted .333 (7-for-21) with three homers in the Division Series and then lit up the Cubs, raking them at a .529 clip (9-for-17) with four home runs and an 1.850 OPS.
Would a few more clubhouse chats among the Cubs’ pitching staff have prevented that massacre? Impossible to tell. But the Cubs might have treated him more carefully, as the Dodgers did in pitching around Murphy in Thursday night’s Game 5 clincher.
As we all know, Murphy cooled off in the World Series, dropping to .150 (3-for-20) with no home runs. The Royals walked him five times, and a more anxious Murphy had seven strikeouts.Given Lester’s analysis of last year’s events, it’s too bad the Nationals didn’t advance to set up another Murphy duel. If the Mets couldn’t be here, that would have been the next-best thing, and then we would have a better idea if the Cubs — and Lester — really did grow from last year’s NLCS beatdown. If Murphy tormented them again, as he did the Dodgers in the Division Series (.983 OPS, six RBIs), Lester’s statement would have proved flimsy.
“I think it left a lot of bitter taste in guys’ mouths as far as how far we had come that season to get to that point and then really not even put up a fight,” Lester said. “Those guys really dominated us.”
So the Mets aren’t here for what would have been a fun rematch. But the memories linger at Wrigley.
KERSHAW: GAME 2?
CHICAGO — The Dodgers named Kenta Maeda their starter for Saturday night’s Game 1 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, for the simple reason that three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw had to be used as a closer just to get to this point.
So that begged the question: When will Kershaw be ready to return to his regular role as the best starter on the planet?
He threw 101 and 110 pitches in his two NLDS starts, then shocked the world by returning on one day’s rest to record two outs and save an epic Game 5 victory over the Nationals.
When asked about Kershaw’s status, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wouldn’t officially announce a date, but the suspicion is he’ll be ready for tomorrow’s Game 2.
“Clayton came through well,” Roberts said. “Physically, he feels great. He’s going to go out there and get a lift in and throw and run and do what he does. Obviously, we’re not prepared to make that decision yet, but he’s tracking to start when we all think.” — DAVID LENNON