NLCS 2015: Cubs vs. Mets Position-by-Position Breakdown, Predictions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2015

NLCS 2015: Cubs vs. Mets Position-by-Position Breakdown, Predictions

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    The National League Championship Series (NLCS) field is officially set, as the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets both came away victorious in their respective division series.

    The Cubs bested the rival St. Louis Cardinals in four games in what was the first postseason meeting between those two teams.

    This is the first time the Cubs have made the playoffs since 2008 and the first time they have advanced to the NLCS since 2003. They will now be looking for their first NL pennant since 1945.

    Meanwhile, the Mets traded wins with the Los Angeles Dodgers through the first four games of their series before coming away with a 3-2 victory in Game 5 behind a go-ahead solo home run from Daniel Murphy and another strong start by Jacob deGrom.

    The Mets are in the postseason for the first time since 2006, when they lost the NLCS in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. They are playing for their first NL pennant since 2000.

    The NLCS will begin Saturday at Citi Field in New York, with the first pitch of Game 1 scheduled for 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.

    Before that series gets underway, let's take a position-by-position look at how the two teams match up and make a quick prediction for who will come out on top.

            
            

Catcher

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Miguel Montero113.248.754861115533611.8
    Travis d'Arnaud67.268.825641412413101.7

    Position Overview

    With Jon Lester scheduled to start Game 1 of the series for the Cubs, it will actually be veteran David Ross behind the plate in Game 1, but Miguel Montero figures to see the bulk of the action in the series.

    Ross hit just .176 with 10 extra-base hits in 159 at-bats during the regular season, but he brings invaluable veteran leadership to a young locker room and is one of the few players on this Cubs team with postseason experience.

    As for Montero, he has good pop from the left side of the plate and plus plate discipline. He was also sixth in the league in pitch framing, according to Stat Corner, as he's one of the best in the league at stealing strikes.

    It was another injury shortened season for Travis d'Arnaud, but when he's healthy he's one of the best all-around catchers in the game today.

    Just how good can he be?

    From tools and potential standpoints, he graded out as the second-best catcher in the league in Zachary Rymer's B/R 300 series last month. He has plus pop, solid plate discipline, good receiving skills and a terrific arm. It's all there; he just needs to stay on the field for a full season.

    Rookie Kevin Plawecki is his backup, but d'Arnaud was behind the dish for all five games of the NLDS.

    Edge: Mets

    While d'Arnaud was just 3-for-19 in the NLDS, he's the best all-around backstop suiting up in this series. The value Ross brings to the Cubs as a leader can't be overstated, and Montero can go deep on anyone, but slight edge to the Mets here.

First Baseman

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Anthony Rizzo160.278.899163383110194176.2
    Lucas Duda135.244.8381153327736703.0

    Position Overview

    Two years ago, Anthony Rizzo struggled to a .233/.323/.419 line in his first full season in the majors due in part to a complete inability to hit left-handed pitching. My, how things have changed in two years.

    He's now a bona fide superstar and one of the game's premier middle-of-the-order threats, and hits lefties just as well if not better than righties.

    He also stole a career-high 17 bases this season and contributed 10 defensive runs saved (DRS) with the glove, as he's stepped into a leadership role and provided value in a number of different ways.

    Rizzo began the postseason 0-for-12 but had three hits including two home runs in his final five at-bats of the NLDS, so he comes into the series swinging a hot bat.

    As for Lucas Duda, he put up strikingly similar numbers to his breakout 2014 performance, in which he posted an .830 OPS with 27 doubles, 30 home runs and 92 RBI.

    He too has made the necessary adjustments against left-handed pitching and actually had a higher OPS against southpaws (.878) than he did against right-handed pitching (.823).

    Duda had a rough NLDS, going 2-for-18 with 11 strikeouts, but was red hot down the stretch in the regular season with a 1.033 OPS and 17 RBI in 19 games in September, so he could flip the switch in the NLCS.

    Edge: Cubs

    Duda has turned into a solid, somewhat overlooked player for the Mets in the past two years. Rizzo is one of the best players in the game, though, and an easy choice here.

Second Baseman

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Starlin Castro151.265.6711452311695250.6
    Daniel Murphy130.281.7701403814735621.4

    Position Overview

    It looked like Starlin Castro was headed for a part-time role around midseason when the Cubs shifted Addison Russell to shortstop and began giving Chris Coghlan regular at-bats at second base.

    However, he kept grinding and wound up playing his way back into an everyday role thanks to an impressive .426/.452/.750 line in September, and he entered the postseason as one of the hottest hitters in baseball.

    Somehow, the 25-year-old is now the longest-tenured Cubs player, and after homering in the NLDS he'll be looking to make his mark on the NLCS as well.

    Daniel Murphy was the hero for the Mets in Game 5 of the NLDS, as his sixth-inning home run off Zack Greinke gave the Mets a 3-2 lead that held up as the final score.

    That gave Murphy three home runs for the series, with the other two coming off Clayton Kershaw, and overall he was 7-for-21 with five runs scored in five games.

    In a contract year, Murphy showed more pop than he had in years past, with a career-high 14 home runs, and he was penciled into the No. 3 spot in the lineup in the final four games of the NLDS as a result.

    Edge: Mets

    Castro has started to look like his All-Star self once again the past few months, but after Murphy's heroics in Game 5 of the NLDS on the heels of a career year offensively, the Mets get the edge here by a slim margin.

Third Baseman

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Kris Bryant151.275.85815431269987135.9
    David Wright38.289.8144475172420.5

    Position Overview

    Aside from a rough July, when he hit .168/.270/.368, Kris Bryant has been everything the Cubs hoped he would be and then some in his rookie season.

    The 23-year-old set a franchise rookie record with 26 home runs and 99 RBI, and after the struggles in July he hit .323/.400/.567 with 15 doubles and 12 home runs over the final two months to make him the runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    Like teammate Anthony Rizzo, he too got off to a rough start to the postseason at 0-for-11 in his first four games. He was also able to snap out of it, though, going 3-for-7 with a home run in the final two games of the NLDS.

    Bryant played left field in the Wild Card Game when Tommy La Stella earned a start at third base, and he's also seen some time in right field this season, so that will be something to keep an eye on if manager Joe Maddon decides to mix things up.

    It was a trying season for David Wright in 2015, as he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and sidelined for all but 38 regular-season games as a result.

    He returned to the lineup on Aug. 24 after being sidelined since April 14 and hit .277/.381/.437 in 119 at-bats the rest of the way, as he slowly rounded into form.

    He was just 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts in the NLDS, though, hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

    Edge: Cubs

    A completely healthy Wright might still be able to rival Bryant, but right now the rookie is an easy choice, as this is a big advantage for the Cubs.

Shortstop

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Javier Baez28.289.73322614410.5
    Wilmer Flores137.263.7031272216595500.8

    Position Overview

    The Cubs were dealt a blow when Addison Russell was forced out of Game 4 of the NLDS with a hamstring strain, and it was announced on Thursday that he had been ruled out for the NLCS.

    "This permits us to put it on a more planned situation regarding his rehab, and then we'll work it out from there," Maddon told reporters, via ESPN. "I think he was relieved in a sense, so he didn't have to push it right now."

    Stepping in for him will be another young player with tremendous potential: 22-year-old Javier Baez.

    Baez went 2-for-2 after replacing Russell in the middle of Game 3 of the NLDS, then followed that up by going 2-for-3 with a huge three-run home run hitting out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup in the decisive Game 4.

    The Cubs have not announced who will take Russell's spot on the active roster, but there's a good chance it will be utility infielder Jonathan Herrera if they don't opt for another pitcher or pinch-runner Quintin Berry instead.

    The Mets have also been forced to deal with an injury at the shortstop position, as Ruben Tejada suffered a broken leg on that slide from Chase Utley on which the entire baseball world had an opinion.

    They too have a viable replacement, though, as Wilmer Flores saw the bulk of the time at the position this year and delivered some solid offensive production.

    Edge: Cubs

    Not only does Baez have more offensive upside than Flores in this series, but he is also a far superior defensive player at a premium position. Sizable edge to the Cubs, even with Russell sidelined.

Left Fielder

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Kyle Schwarber69.246.84257616435231.7
    Michael Conforto56.270.84147149263002.1

    Position Overview

    Kyle Schwarber been the breakout star of the postseason so far, going 7-for-13 with three home runs, including a mammoth blast that he deposited on top of the Wrigley Field scoreboard in right field.

    The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, Schwarber has moved incredibly quickly from catching at the University of Indiana to starring in the middle of a young Cubs lineup as a corner outfielder.

    He's still rough around the edges defensively but is dialed in right now at the plate, and there may not be a more dangerous hitter on either side entering this NLCS matchup, including Yoenis Cespedes.

    At this point, Schwarber will probably stay in the lineup against left-handers, but the team has gone to Austin Jackson or Chris Denorfia as a defensive replacement late in games.

    As for the Mets, Michael Conforto earned the start in left field in three of the team's NLDS games. Michael Cuddyer started Game 1 and Cespedes slid over to start Game 4, with Juan Lagares playing center field against lefty Clayton Kershaw.

    Conforto was the offensive savior of the Mets long before the team acquired Cespedes, as he was promoted shortly after the All-Star break. With so many standout rookie performances, he sort of flew under the radar, but he turned in a strong season at the plate in his own right.

    A home run off Zack Greinke in Game 2 of the NLDS is his lone postseason hit so far.

    Edge: Cubs

    Conforto probably deserves a bit more recognition for his strong rookie performance, but Schwarber is on another level right now.

Center Fielder

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    Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Dexter Fowler156.250.757149291746102202.2
    Yoenis Cespedes159.291.870184423510510176.3

    Position Overview

    The stats have been referenced to death at this point, but we're going to go ahead and do it one more time here.

    Prior to acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets had a 53-50 record, and their offense was mediocre at best, averaging just 3.54 runs per game.

    After the trade, the team went 37-22 and averaged an impressive 5.39 runs per game on their way to an NL East title.

    Simply put, he's a difference-maker, and not just with a bat in his hands. He graded out as an elite defender this season (11 DRS, 14.5 UZR/150) and has one of the strongest throwing arms in all of baseball.

    Meanwhile, Dexter Fowler has also made a huge impact for the Cubs as the catalyst atop their lineup.

    With 102 runs scored this season, he became the first Cubs player since Mark DeRosa in 2008 to score 100 runs and added 20 stolen bases and a solid .346 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot.

    Fowler has had a great postseason so far, going 6-for-20 with one double, two home runs and five runs scored.

    Edge: Mets

    The edge goes to the Mets here, as Cespedes is an absolute monster, but Fowler may be one of the biggest X-factors of the series for the Cubs, as he provides a huge spark for them offensively.

Right Fielder

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGBAOPSH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    Jorge Soler101.262.72396181047393-0.1
    Curtis Granderson157.259.82115033267098115.1

    Position Overview

    Jorge Soler was limited to just 101 games in his rookie season while battling ankle and oblique injuries, but he finally seems to be settling into his place in the lineup.

    After not playing in the Wild Card Round or Game 1 of the NLDS, Soler became the first player ever to reach base safely in his first nine postseason plate appearances.

    All told, he's gone 4-for-7 with one double, two home runs and six walks in his first taste of postseason action. Chris Coghlan could still steal a start in the NLCS, but at this point Soler has earned his spot in the lineup.

    After a disappointing first season in a Mets uniform, Curtis Granderson has bounced back nicely with a terrific season in 2015.

    The 34-year-old signed a four-year, $60 million deal in free agency prior to the 2014 season but hit just .227 with a .714 OPS, 20 home runs and a 1.2 WAR in his Mets debut.

    This season, he improved that OPS by over 100 points to .821 and saw his WAR climb to 5.1, thanks in part to a terrific season defensively (12 DRS, 5.9 UZR/150) in right field.

    Granderson was 7-for-18 with five RBI in the NLDS.

    Edge: Mets

    Granderson gets a slight edge here thanks to a better regular season, a strong NLDS and a wealth of postseason experience. Don't bet against Soler as a difference-maker for the Cubs, though.

Game 1 Starting Pitcher

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    Jon Lester3211-123.342.921.12247207205.03.1
    Matt Harvey2913-82.713.051.01937188189.14.3

    Position Comparison

    The Cubs will hand the ball to $155 million man Jon Lester in Game 1, opting to give an extra day of rest to ace Jake Arrieta after he battled through some high-stress innings in Game 3 of the NLDS on Monday.

    That hefty contract painted his 2015 performance as something of a disappointment, but when all was said and done he went 11-12 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.122 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in 205 innings of work.

    That included a 2.99 ERA after a rough month of April and a fantastic stretch run, as he had a 2.19 ERA, 0.703 WHIP and .169 opponent batting average over his final five starts.

    With 7.1 strong innings in his Game 1 NLDS start, Lester is now 6-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.051 WHIP in 91.1 career postseason innings.

    Opposing him will be Matt Harvey, who has been turned loose after an oft-discussed potential innings limit during the regular season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.

    Harvey picked up the win in Game 3 of the NLDS, allowing seven hits and three runs (two earned) in five innings of work.

    He threw seven shutout innings of three-hit ball against the Cubs in his lone start of the season against them back on May 13.

    Edge: Push

    Flip a coin here. Lester has the impressive postseason track record and was better in his NLDS start, but Harvey is capable of dominating anytime he takes the ball.

Game 2 Starting Pitcher

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    Jake Arrieta3322-61.772.350.86548236229.08.7
    Noah Syndergaard249-73.243.251.04731166150.02.1

    Position Comparison

    For the first time in months Jake Arrieta looked human, as he allowed five hits and four earned runs and made it just 5.2 innings into Game 3 of the NLDS.

    That came on the heels of a five-hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Round and the greatest second-half pitching performance in baseball history, as he went 12-1 with a record 0.75 ERA in 15 starts after the break.

    With 243.2 innings of work under his belt, Arrieta is already in uncharted territory in terms of his workload, so giving him the extra day of rest and pushing him back to Game 2 makes a lot of sense.

    In two starts against the Mets this year, Arrieta was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings of work.

    He'll square off against rookie Noah Syndergaard, who made his big league debut against the Cubs back on May 12.

    If not for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Syndergaard would have a strong case to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors, as he stepped right into the Mets rotation this year and gave them another ace-caliber arm.

    He took the loss in Game 2 of the NLDS, allowing five hits and three runs in 6.1 innings, and he also worked a scoreless inning of relief and threw 17 pitches in Game 5 on Thursday.

    Edge: Cubs

    He wasn't nearly as sharp in his last start, but one shaky outing doesn't undo a phenomenal season by Arrieta, as it's a clear edge to the Cubs.

Game 3 Starting Pitcher

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    Kyle Hendricks328-73.953.361.16143167180.01.8
    Jacob deGrom3014-82.542.700.97938205191.04.7

    Position Comparison

    Kyle Hendricks was on the bubble to even make the postseason rotation heading into the final month of the season.

    He finished the regular season on a high note, though, allowing just seven hits and three runs while striking out 25 in 18 innings of work over his final three starts.

    That was enough to earn him the nod in Game 2 of the NLDS, but he lasted just 4.2 innings and allowed four hits and three earned runs for a no-decision.

    The 25-year-old will likely be on a short leash once again in Game 3 of the NLCS, as the Cubs have multiple relievers capable of going more than one inning and will take what they can get out of Hendricks.

    The Mets will counter with ace Jacob deGrom, who beat Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and Zack Greinke in Game 5 to lead the Mets past the Dodgers in the NLDS.

    In terms of pure stuff, deGrom is as unhittable as any pitcher in the game when he's on, and we saw that in his Game 1 start, in which he allowed just five hits and struck out 13 in seven scoreless innings.

    He'll have full rest for what could be a pivotal Game 3 start, as the series moves to Wrigley Field.

    Edge: Mets

    This is where the Mets' pitching depth really becomes a clear asset, as they have a third front-line arm to go to, while the Cubs will hope for five solid innings out of Hendricks. Huge edge to the Mets.

Game 4 Starting Pitcher

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison

    PlayerGSW-LERAFIPWHIPBBKIPWAR
    Jason Hammel3110-73.743.681.16040172170.21.7
    Steven Matz64-02.273.611.234103435.21.2

    Position Comparison

    The 2015 season started off very well for Jason Hammel, as he went 5-2 with a 2.65 ERA and nine quality starts in his first 14 games after rejoining the team on a two-year, $22 million deal in the offseason.

    He was nothing short of terrible the rest of the way, though, going 5-5 with a 5.01 ERA and just three quality starts in his final 17 games.

    That trend continued in his Game 4 start in the NLDS, as he lasted just three innings and allowed three hits and two earned runs. He did come through with a big RBI single at the plate, though.

    With all of that said, don't be shocked if the Cubs decide to change things up and give Dan Haren a roster spot and a Game 4 start. They have an open roster spot with the Addison Russell injury, so they could put both guys on the NLCS roster and decide later.

    On the other side, rookie Steven Matz will likely take the ball for the Mets, as he drew the Game 4 assignment in the NLDS.

    Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon are also options to start, but Matz pitched well enough in the Division Series that he should get the nod again, as he allowed six hits and three runs allowed over five innings.

    Matz did not face the Cubs during the regular season, so he should have an advantage the first time through the lineup, as no one on the Cubs roster has faced him before.

    Edge: Mets

    Matz gets the edge as the better Game 4 starter, but this may very well come down to a game of bullpens. The Cubs have guys like Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood all comfortable going multiple innings, so if that does wind up being the case, the edge may shift to the North Siders.

Bullpen

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Side-by-Side Stat Comparison/Leaders

    ChicagoRoleNew York
    514.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 48/67 SVTEAM460.0 IP, 3.48 ERA, 50/71 SV
    Justin Grimm (62 G, 1.99 ERA)MRBartolo Colon (33 G, 4.16 ERA)
    Clayton Richard (23 G, 3.83 ERA)MRJon Niese (33 G, 4.13 ERA)
    Trevor Cahill (26 G, 5.40 ERA)MRErik Goeddel (35 G, 2.43 ERA)
    Fernando Rodney (68 G, 4.74 ERA)MRHansel Robles (57 G, 3.67 ERA)
    Travis Wood (54 G, 3.84 ERA)SUAddison Reed (55 G, 3.38 ERA)
    Pedro Strop (76 G, 2.91 ERA)SUTyler Clippard (69 G, 2.92 ERA)
    Hector Rondon (72 G, 1.67 ERA)CLJeurys Familia (76 G, 1.85 ERA)
    Rondon (30-of-34)SVFamilia (43-of-48)
    Strop (28)HLDRobles (12)
    Grimm (12.1)K/9Robles (10.2)
    Rondon (2.2)WARFamilia (2.7)

    Bullpen Overview

    The Cubs could look to add another bullpen arm to fill the roster spot vacated by Addison Russell, with Neil Ramirez and Jason Motte (if he's healthy) the leading candidates along with fifth starter Dan Haren.

    Either way they will again lean heavily on the one-two punch of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon at the back end and look to piece things together from there.

    The numbers don't look great on the surface, Fernando Rodney (14 G, 0.75 ERA) and Trevor Cahill (11 G, 2.12 ERA) both pitched great after joining the Cubs.

    Clayton Richard and Travis Wood have also become the two left-handed bullpen arms after both guys spent time in the rotation earlier this year. With tough lefties in Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda in the Mets lineup they could find themselves in some big spots.

    For the Mets, closer Jeurys Familia has been a stud all season aside from a few brief hiccups, and he's been phenomenal so far this postseason with 5.1 perfect innings and two saves.

    It's bridging the gap to him that has been a problem a times.

    Addison Reed (17 G, 1.17 ERA) pitched very well after coming over in an August trade with the Diamondbacks, while Tyler Clippard (32 G, 3.06 ERA) was added at the deadline. Those two join rookie Hansel Robles in setting up Familia.

    Erik Goeddel was solid during the regular season, but don't be surprised if his spot goes to Sean Gilmartin (50 G, 2.67 ERA) this round as Jon Niese was the only lefty in the pen during the NLDS.

    Edge: Cubs

    Familia is probably the better closer, but the Cubs have more depth in their bullpen and there is tremendous value in guys that can go multiple innings when October rolls around.

Series Prediction

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    In a matchup of two up-and-coming teams that could battle it out for National League supremacy for years to come, it will likely come down to the Mets' starting pitching against the Cubs' young offense.

    The Cubs had the best road record in baseball this year at 48-33, so not having home-field advantage doesn't mean much for their outlook, while the Mets played well both at home and on the road.

    The Mets will come out on top in a pitcher's duel in Game 1, as a mistake from Jon Lester to Yoenis Cespedes will prove to be the difference and Matt Harvey will pick up the win with seven terrific innings.

    The Cubs will bounce back to even the series in Game 2, though, as Jake Arrieta proves his struggles last time out were just a bump in the road and the Cubs offense jumps on Noah Syndergaard early.

    Advantage will swing back to the Mets in Game 3 as the series moves to Wrigley Field, as Jacob deGrom will prove to be too much for the Cubs offense and Kyle Hendricks will be chased early.

    Jason Hammel will make it through just three innings again in Game 4, but the Cubs bullpen will be brilliant, and the offense will rally with some late-game heroics to knot the series at 2-2.

    The Cubs will close out the Wrigley Field portion of the series by getting some revenge against Matt Harvey in Game 5 and will head back to Citi Field just one win away from reaching the World Series.

    Once again, Jake Arrieta will be on the mound with a chance to pitch the Cubs to the NL pennant in Game 6, and he won't disappoint. He'll pick up the complete game victory, further etching his place in the annals of team history, and the Cubs will finally be back in the World Series.

    Series Prediction: Cubs 4, Mets 2

    All standard statistics and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference, while defensive metrics (DRS and UZR/150) come via FanGraphs.