Series Preview: Mets vs. Cubs II
By beating the Brewers two out of three, the Mets helped propel the Chicago Cubs into a first place tie in the NL Central. The Cubbies are riding high, winning six of their last ten and overcoming a nine-game deficit to pull even with the league leaders. Wrigley Field will be abuzz with electricity this weekend, and the series with the Mets rekindles memories of a similar excitement between these two teams in mid-July of 1969. The oldsters remember the series to which I’m referring — it was a three-game set that was the turning point of the season for the Miracle Mets. Back then the Cubs and Mets were in the same division — this was before there were teams in Canada and a commissioner who felt it OK to switch his team from the AL to NL when no one was looking. Anyway, I digress … back to the preview:
Game 1: Orlando Hernandez vs. Carlos Zambrano
This could turn out to be a really fun matchup. Both pitchers are fantastic competitors, and will help themselves all over the field — on the mound, with the glove, at bat, with their legs. The last time we saw Zambrano, he was in a serious funk — to the point where there were whispers of dumping him in the right deal. Today, however, Zambrano is back to his old self: one of the top righthanders in the NL. El Duque will have to turn out one of his marvelous outings to keep the Mets in the game, but we’ve seen him do it before — it was only a few weeks ago he out-pitched Jake Peavy, for example. I think he gets “up” for challenges like this, and if his curveball is on, there’s every reason to believe the Mets have a chance to beat the Cubs’ ace.
Game 2: John Maine vs. Ted Lilly
Another great pitching matchup — at least, on paper. Maine is 12-5, Lilly is 11-5, and both have been surprises to the rest of the NL, pitching their hearts out this season. Lilly’s sharp curve is key to his success, but he doesn’t rely on it as heavily as, say, a Matt Morris or Barry Zito. Rather, he sets it up with a fairly good fastball and change, keeping the curve in the back of hitter’s minds all the while. Plus he has that annoying smug look on his face that recalls Greg Maddux — no wonder his former manager wanted to punch him in the mouth.
Game 3: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Marquis
Glavine takes a second shot at #300 opposing the Staten Island Express. Marquis was a major surprise in the first month of the season, winning five of his first six decisions. Since then, he’s fallen back to earth and regressed to the .500 enigma we all know and love. The Mets might have had something to do with his falling off the high horse, smacking him around for four runs on five hits in five innings just five days after throwing a three-hit shutout on May 9th vs. the Pirates. Still, Marquis has intriguing talent, with a fastball that once consistently hit the mid-90s and still has good movement — when it’s kept down. His issue is his head — he’s like a 13-year-old with ADD, especially with runners on base. If Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo can get on base a few times and break his concentration, it could be a really good day for the Mets — and Glavine.
The Mets broke out for 12 runs yesterday, with 9 coming after the fifth inning. David Wright had a huge day and remains hot, as does Lastings Milledge and Damion Easley. Jose Reyes’ mini-slump appears over, and it would be nice to see him get hot this weekend. Moises Alou also looks to be back in the swing of things, just in time to show off in front of his former Chicago fans. Plus, Shawn Green is quietly swinging a better bat of late, driving the ball with a bit more power than we’ve seen in a while. Mixing Green, Marlon Anderson, and Easley into the lineup could prove to be a viable concoction in the outfield corners for the time being.
The Cubs aren’t a bad offensive club, and their lineup looks a lot better when Zambrano or Marquis are pitching. Both pitchers can handle the stick, with Zambrano hitting nearly .300 this year. The Chicago regulars look good on paper, but often rely heavily on the top of the order — specifically, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez. Recently, though, the lesser players have provided a spark, as manager Lou Piniella has done a lot of lineup shuffling and just now understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his players. He’s doing a nice job of juggling the bats of Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, Matt Murton in the outfield, and hitting paydirt with the platoon of Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot at second base. Pineilla also has received a surprising performance from former backup shortstop Ryan Theriot, who pushed Cesar Izturis to Pittsburgh and hit .348 for the month of July. Newcomer Jason Kendall hasn’t added much to the offense, but his presence is a reminder that Michael Barrett is no longer around to poison the clubhouse.
This promises to be an exciting weekend for both clubs. The Mets could be overwhelmed by the momentum of the Cubs’ vault into first place — not to mention the stellar starters going to the hill against them. However, the Mets have been a first-place club since April, and the Cubs are new to the top of the mountain, so maybe that will play in their favor. I’m not making any guarantees either way — just going to sit back and enjoy what should be a fun series.