Game 2 of the National League Championship Series seemed like a repeat of the opener. A New York Mets starter was great, with Noah Syndergaard replacing Matt Harvey. An excellent Chicago Cubs starter didn’t seem to pitch badly, but left with a mediocre line. This time it was Jake Arrieta, rather than Jon Lester, who gave up four runs. And most of all this Game 2 sequel was about the character who didn’t change and that’s Daniel Murphy.
Let’s put the Met second baseman’s career in perspective. He’s been in the majors since 2008. His career numbers are a .331 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage. Those aren’t bad, given he plays a position where offensive production isn’t required. He’s not a power hitter, with 62 career home runs in the regular season. There was nothing to suggest the power outburst we’ve gotten from him in October.
In the Division Series, Murphy homered off Clayton Kershaw for the first run of the series. He homered off Zack Greinke for the winning run of the series. Murphy homered off Jon Lester to get the scoring started in the NLCS on Saturday night. And he took Jake Arrieta deep last night for a two-run blast—after first just missing a home run to the right of the foul pole, he came right back and hit it fair.
The power surge against great pitchers is just the most visible part of a postseason that’s seen consistent hitting, defensive gems and heads-up baserunning. Murphy is a free agent in the offseason and the cash register is ringing while lasting memories are being created for Mets fans.
New York’s 4-1 win gives them a two-zip series lead as this series shifts to Chicago for Tuesday night. How you feel about the series right now depends on whether you think homefield advantage or pitching alignments matters most. If you’re a homefield believer, then you just see it as the Cubs’ time to answer in Wrigley Field. But if you look at pitching matchups, you see the Mets set up with ace Jacob de Grom to go on Tuesday while the Cubs have failed to win with Lester and Arrieta.
I focus on the pitching matchups and therefore the Cubs are in serious trouble. It’s about more than just Tuesday night. It’s not like I think winning one game against de Grom in Wrigley Field is a Herculean task. But even if they do, New York is just one win away from guaranteeing another de Grom outing—at the very least, a Game 7 which would be back in New York. And if I’m a Mets fan (which I’m not, though I am pulling for them in this series), that’s the scenario I would have been aiming for when the series began.
The American League Championship Series resumes tonight in Toronto (8 PM ET, Fox). It’s another case of a team going home down 0-2 and having to beat their opponents’ ace. Kansas City sends Johnny Cueto to the mound to put a stranglehold on the series. In Toronto’s case, their rotation depth is better than Chicago’s though, and they can answer with talented young righthander Marcus Stroman.