Sunday afternoon in New York, the Mets absolutely clobbered the Cubs (NYM 14, CHC 3) to finish off a four-game sweep of Chicago. The Mets were coming off a disappointing sweep at the hands of the Nationals earlier in the week, so they rebounded in a big way.
Both the Mets and Cubs came into the season as legitimate World Series contenders, and even after the sweep, the Cubbies still own baseball's best winning percentage (.630) and run differential (+149). The Mets are five games back of the Nationals in the NL East with a half-season to go.
This series definitely had a "playoff preview" feel to it -- it's the first time I've gotten than vibe from a series this season -- and that makes it exciting. We're are the halfway point of the season now, so the playoff races are starting to get intense and these head-to-head meetings begin to have more meaning.
How did the Mets beat up on the Cubs this weekend, and what does it all mean? Let's dive in.
1. The Mets beat Arrieta and Lester in back-to-back games. Again.
The Mets hammered Jon Lester on Sunday, tagging him for eight runs in 1 1/3 innings. By Game Score, it was the third worst start of Lester's long career. Here's the list:
|7/22/12|| vs. MIN ||4||9||11||11||5||2||4||-3|
|8/20/10|| vs. TOR ||2||8||9||9||3||1||2||2|
|7/3/16|| @ NYM || 1 1/3 ||9||8||8||1|| 2 ||3||5|
The Mets beat up on Lester one day after scoring four runs against Jake Arrieta. They put up those four runs on eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings Saturday night. How rare is beating Arrieta and Lester back-to-back? Extremely, but the Mets have now done it twice.
Jake Arrieta & Jon Lester had never taken a loss in back-to-back regular-season games until this weekend. But the Mets beat them in Oct too!— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 3, 2016
As I'm sure you'll remember, the Mets beat Lester in Game 1 of the NLCS last fall, then they beat Arrieta in Game 2. This weekend and the NLCS are the only times Arrieta and Lester have lost back-to-back games in their year and a half as teammates, and the Mets did it both times.
2. Flores is not giving up his third base job without a fight.
At some point in the coming days Jose Reyes is expected to rejoin the Mets. He signed a contract a few days ago and is currently playing tune-up games in the minors. Reyes will play third base -- he's never played the position before in MLB -- while David Wright is on the DL following neck surgery.
Utility man Wilmer Flores has been manning the hot corner for the time being, and on Sunday he went 6 for 6 with two home runs and four runs driven in. Here's video if Wilmer's big game at the plate:
Flores is the first player to go 6 for 6 with two home runs in a game since ... C.J. Cron of the Angels on Saturday night. So not that long ago. But prior to Cron, the last to do it was Carlos Pena in 2004. There have only been 15 such games in history, and yet it happened on back-to-back days this weekend. Go figure.
Anyway, Flores went 0 for 11 in the first three games of the series with the Cubs, so it's not like he hammered them all weekend. He is hitting .292/.339/.465 in 112 plate appearances since coming back from a hamstring injury at the end of May though, so if nothing else, he's not making it easy for the Mets to give Reyes the third base job.3. The Cubs are really beat up right now.
The Cubbies have a ton of depth, but I think all the injuries are starting to catch up to them. Here's the team's list of injured position players:
- Chris Coghlan: Placed on the DL Sunday with an injured rib cage.
- Dexter Fowler: On the DL with a hamstring injury, may return next weekend.
- Tommy La Stella: On the DL with a hamstring injury, could return any day.
- Kyle Schwarber: Torn ACL, out for the season.
- Jorge Soler: On the DL with a hamstring injury, could return in late July.
The Cubs have an entire starting outfield on the DL, plus two versatile bench players as well. As a result, they played a catcher (Willson Contreras) in left field the last two games, and the plan to keep Ben Zobrist at second base has had to change. He's seen time in the outfield of late.
Chicago does have quality young players like Contreras and Javier Baez and Albert Almora to step in as injury replacements, so they haven't missed those injured guys too much, but they do miss them. Fowler's absence has been notable atop the lineup and both Coghlan and La Stella are valuable because of their versatility. Getting Fowler and La Stella back soon will be a big help.
4. What does it all mean? Not much, really.
So clearly the Mets have the Cubs' number, right? They swept them in the NLCS and just swept them in a four-game series this weekend. Their power pitching is too much for Chicago's power bats! It's an easy narrative to build.
I don't buy it though. Not fully. After all, the Cubs went 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year, and what good did that do them in the NLCS? These games count in the standings, absolutely, but they're not evidence the Mets "own" the Cubs or anything like that.
Four games in late June/early July very rarely have some greater meaning. If there's some sort of fundamental flaw that makes the Cubs unable to beat the Mets, these four games wouldn't be enough to help us identify it. The Mets have great pitching! But the Cubs have beat up on great pitching all year.
Now, that said, I do think there's an intangible benefit to the Mets sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS last year and again this weekend. They feel comfortable and confident against the best team in baseball because hey, they've beaten them a bunch of times recently. I don't think Joe Maddon would let doubt creep into his players' minds against the Mets, but you never know.
It's very easy to read too much into a series like this, especially after what happened in the NLCS. Baseball is a big picture game though, and a sample of four random games rarely means anything. Most of the time it's just baseball being baseball. The Cubs had a four-game losing streak and it happened to come against one team. So it goes.
Both the Cubs and Mets are World Series contenders this year. They were before their series this weekend and they still are now that the series is over. The Mets had an awesome weekend and they should feel great about it. The Cubs have to regroup and get ready for their next series, and based on how great they've been all season, there's no reason to think they won't be able to do exactly that.