7:00 PM EST, ESPN – Money Line: Cubs -140, Run Line: 7
A rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series is on tap tonight from Wrigley Field, as the Chicago Cubs host the New York Mets in the second meeting of a three-game series. New York (49-43, 3rd in NL East) currently trails division rival Miami by one game in the race for the final Wild Card in the National League, and heading in the wrong direction; having lost three straight heading into the All-Star Break, Terry Collins’ charges have now dropped five out of their last seven outings overall. It was more of the same in last night’s opening to the series, as the Mets simply couldn’t garner enough offense to best the Cubs in a 5-1 defeat. The visitors were a rough 6-of-30 from the plate, with their first four batters going a combined 2-of-14. First Baseman Wilmer Flores (.260 BA, 9 HR, 25 RBI) was about the only Met that made an impact with the bat in his hands, going 2-of-4 with a solo home run in the Seventh Inning off of Jon Lester. Steven Matz (7-6, 3.56 ERA) got the nod to start the contest, but only lasted five innings after giving up a three-run home run to Anthony Rizzo in the Third Inning. The 25-year old Lefthander allowed four earned runs on eight hits, striking out five Cubs while walking just one walk, before Seth Lugo and Erik Goeddel finished the game. Heading to the bump tonight for the Metropolitans is Noah Syndergaard (9-4, 2.56 ERA), who after experiencing some arm fatigue over the past month, appears to be rejuvenated after getting some much-needed time off during the All-Star Break. It’s a good thing Syndergaard is feeling better, because injuries have done a number on New York’s Rotation, and with them currently occupying one of the final two Wild Cards in the National League, the Ace affectionately referred to as Thor will need to be at the top of his game. The 23-year old Righthander ranks sixth in the National League in Strikeouts (128), eighth in ERA (2.56), and eighth in Win Percentage (.692), while also pacing the Rotation in Strikeouts per Nine Innings (10.9) and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (7.11) by a quite a wide margin. In his last start he clearly looked to be troubled, lasting just 4.2 innings in a 1.3 defeat at home against the division-leading Washington Nationals back on July 8th. The second-year starter relinquished three runs on four hits, including a home run, while striking out five Nationals and walking three. It marked the second time in three starts that Syndergaard failed to make it into the Sixth Inning, which was previously something he hadn’t achieved since late May. In two career meetings against the Cubs, he owns a 1-1 record with a 2.92 ERA, allowing fourteen hits in 12.2 innings of labor, striking out fourteen and walking just four. In fact, his first career start came against Chicago, on May 12th of 2015, in which the sophomore yielded three runs on six hits, while totaling six strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Cubs (56-36, 1st in NL Central) look to have taken full advantage of the extended layoff from the All-Star Break, winning three of their four games since getting back to business last weekend. After taking a 2-1 series victory over the Texas Rangers that could have very well served as a World Series Preview, Joe Maddon’s charges looked to gain a measure of revenge against the Mets, who of course eliminated in last year’s NLCS. Whereas the visitors struggled mightily to get anything going offensively, the hosts had their was scoring five runs on ten hits Monday Night, highlighted by the aforementioned Rizzo’s three-run homer that broke the game wide open in the Third Inning. On the mound, Jon Lester (10-4, 2.89 ERA) put forth a solid display, handling the Metropolitans with relative ease, allowing one earned run on four hits over 7.2 innings of labor, while striking out as many batters as he walked (three). Taking the mound tonight for the Cubs is Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.68 ERA), who like his team has slowed significantly after a blistering hot run to begin the season. After going undefeated through his first eleven starts of the campaign, the 30-year old Righthander has since gone 3-4 over his last eight starts, including winless in his last two. Over that period, the seventh-year veteran has allowed ten runs on seventeen hits, including three home runs, which is nearly as many as he has relinquished in the previous sixteen starts before that (four). The first of those, a 4-3 loss at the Mets, simply wasn’t one of his best; Arrieta checked out after 5.1 innings, in which he was tagged for four earned runs on eight hits, including a homer, with four strikeouts and a pair of walks. It was the fifth time in eight starts that the reigning Cy Young winner failed to make it past six innings of work, a telltale sign that he, just like his counterpart tonight, was far from immune to the symptoms of fatigue. It should be interesting to see how he emerges from the All-Star Break, as he and his teammates have lost a lot of ground to the likes of the Giants and Nationals in the race for first place in the National League. In six career starts versus the Mets, Arrieta is 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA, allowing eleven runs in forty innings of work, while registering thirty-six strikeouts opposed to ten bases on balls. It should also be noted that while he has continued to rack up the wins this season, he’s experienced a decline across the board in a number of categories in comparison to last season. His ERA (1.77 in 2015, 2.68 this season), WHIP (0.865 in 2015, 1.093 this season), Hits per Nine Innings (5.9 in 2015, 6.5 this season), Walks per Nine innings (1.9 in 2015, 3.4 this season), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (4.92 in 2015, 2.81 this season) have greatly increased from his Cy Young campaign a year ago. The major difference has been the volume of free passes that he’s issued; despite averaging more strikeouts over the course of nine innings than he did last year, the seventh-year veteran has walked nearly as many batters this season (43) as he did in all of 2015 (48).