CHICAGO — After losing the first two games of the National League Championship Series, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon acknowledged that the home run is “a big part of our offense” — and that the New York Mets have neutralized it, permitting only one over the Cubs’ first 68 plate appearances.
Maddon has a point: The 2015 Cubs are only the third team in Major League Baseball history to strike out more than 1,500 times in a regular season, according to STATS LLC. The previous instances — the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2013 Houston Astros — were last-place clubs. So the Cubs probably aren’t capable of the metronomic, singles-heavy rallies authored recently by the Kansas City Royals, who had the fewest strikeouts in MLB this year.
Tuesday night, Cubs fans should look to the heavens in assessing the chances of reviving hopes for their first NL pennant in 70 years. In a desperate Game 3, the Cubs will hope the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field. Otherwise, they could struggle to hit the ball over the ivy against Mets ace Jacob deGrom. He allowed 0.8 home runs per nine innings during the regular season, the lowest rate of any Mets starter.
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“It’s windy here,” deGrom said at a Monday press conference. “The ball carries pretty well. Going into this, my game plan’s going to be try to get a lot of ground ball outs.”
As a result, deGrom may use his four-seam fastball less frequently than usual. The four-seamer generated the lowest ground-ball rate during the regular season among deGrom’s five primary pitches, according to the BrooksBaseball.net database. His changeup and sinker had the highest.
DeGrom threw 269 changeups to left-handed batters this year, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Only one resulted in a home run, and lefties batted .225 against the pitch. That’s especially important against a Cubs lineup that includes left-swinging power hitters Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber.
One piece of good news for the Cubs: They’re now facing a right-handed power pitcher for the third straight game, which could help their approach and timing.
Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen said Monday that the team has tried to avoid starting Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and deGrom in succession for that reason; the club considered left-hander Steven Matz for Game 2 before deciding Syndergaard was ready after a relief stint in the National League Division Series clincher.
“Over the year, we’ve experienced where the third guy (in a row) has a little bit more trouble, because (the other team is) experiencing 95 to 97 (mph) every day,” Warthen said Monday. “The hitters are a little more on time; 95 becomes an average fastball, which it generally isn’t.
“It’s really nice to sandwich a Bartolo (Colon) or (Jon) Niese in between the two powers, and then come back and do another power guy. That’s what I’ve noticed, more than anything else: The third guy gives up a few more hits. They square him up. They have better swings.”
So there’s some optimism for the Cubs, who otherwise appear to have encountered a team engineered in a baseball laboratory for the purpose of dashing their World Series dreams.