Cubs vs. Mets: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 2

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2015

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) throws during the first inning of Game 3 in baseball's National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Paul Beaty/Associated Press

The New York Mets drew first blood in the National League Championship Series, defeating the Chicago Cubs 4-2 in Game 1 on Saturday at Citi Field.

Now, with another contest in Queens on Sunday at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS before the scene shifts to the Windy City, the Cubs will look to even the ledger.

They'll send NL Cy Young hopeful Jake Arrieta to the hill, where he'll be opposed by hard-throwing Mets rookie Noah Syndergaard. It figures to be a pitchers' duel between two of the Senior Circuit's better right-handers, though the hitters on both sides may have something to say about that.

As we prepare for this pivotal contest, let's run through a few key factors that could tip the outcome one way or the other.

Granderson vs. Arrieta

After finishing the regular season on an absolute tear, posting a ridiculous 0.75 post-All-Star break ERA, Arrieta teased his vulnerability in the division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, surrendering four runs in a wobbly win.

"He's not going to be perfect every time," Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said of his ace, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Arrieta has held Mets hitters to a .160 average this season, but outfielder Curtis Granderson has owned the Cubs stud over his career.

Curtis Granderson has 10 hits in 30 career at-bats against Game 2 starter Jake Arrieta.
Curtis Granderson has 10 hits in 30 career at-bats against Game 2 starter Jake Arrieta.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

In 30 at-bats against Arrieta, Granderson has 10 hits, including two doubles, a triple and three home runs. And Granderson has been hot this postseason, going 8-for-21 with seven RBI.

Arrieta could well shut down New York, as he did so many lineups this summer. But if you're searching for a New York hitter to break through, keep your eyes on Granderson.

Prediction: Ownage is ownage, meaning Granderson will get at least one big knock off Arrieta.

Syndergaard's Stamina

Arrieta's counterpart, Syndergaard, has carried his impressive rookie campaign into October, racking up 11 strikeouts in 7.1 innings in the Mets' NLDS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to lighting up the radar gun, the 23-year-old Syndergaard showed remarkable poise, particularly in a clutch Game 5 relief appearance in the clincher in L.A.

Noah Syndergaard made a rare relief appearance in the NLDS.
Noah Syndergaard made a rare relief appearance in the NLDS.Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

The question now is, how much does the kid they call Thor have left? Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran parsed that query:

As impressive as Syndergaard was in the division series, he reportedly threw upwards of 100 pitches in the bullpen before working his 17-pitch inning in Game 5. That was Thursday, giving Syndergaard just two days of rest since that unfamiliar usage. Syndergaard hadn't pitched in relief since he was a 19-year-old Blue Jays prospect in A-ball in 2012, so it's unclear how the disruption of his usual schedule will impact him in this start.

Closer Jeurys Familia was unscored upon in the NLDS and pitched an unblemished inning-and-a-third in Game 1. If Syndergaard runs out of steam in the early innings in Game 2, though, manager Terry Collins will be forced to turn to the rest of his pen for the first time in this series.

And a potent young Cubs lineup that set a record for home runs in a single playoff game with six in NLDS Game 3 will be waiting.

Prediction: Thor puts the hammer down and pitches deep into the game, despite his recent workload.

Murphy's Law

Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was a hero in the division series, scoring from third after some astute baserunning and later launching a go-ahead home run off Zack Greinke in Game 5.

The veteran infielder continued his scalding ways Saturday, smacking a first-inning home run against Cubs starter Jon Lester to set the tone.

The Mets' Daniel Murphy shares a name with a certain billy goat.
The Mets' Daniel Murphy shares a name with a certain billy goat.Elsa Garrison/Associated Press

The Cubs will need to contain Murphy beginning Sunday, from a practical and symbolic standpoint.

"Murphy" was the name of the billy goat that supposedly cursed the Cubbies in 1945, the last time they went to the World Series, after owner P.K. Wrigley banned it from his park.

Does that mean vanquishing Murphy (Daniel, not the goat) en route to their first Fall Classic appearance in 70 years will push Chicago over the championship hump? Or should long-suffering North Side fans gird themselves for more suffering?

Or, perhaps, does it simply mean there's a guy named Murphy who plays for the Mets and cursesgoat-related or otherwisedon't exist?

Prediction: No, curses aren't real. But hot streaks are, and it says here Murphy's will continue, sparking another New York win and a commanding (but not insurmountable) 2-0 series lead. 

All statistics current as of Oct. 16 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.