After a thrilling one game playoff win over the Pittsburgh Pirates the Chicago Cubs are playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS while the Los Angeles Dodgers face the surprising New York Mets, anchored by a strong young rotation with Yoenis Cespeds in the outfield and David Wright back after missing most of the year.
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The Cubs of course are seen by many as a team of destiny this year, thanks to the movie Back to the Future II. While they are still a long way from that moment, they certainly can’t be dissatsifed for how things have gone so far for them this season. After all, this post-season is full of teams that seemed to arrive “one year earlier than expected”. The New York Mets knew heading into the season that they had a good young pitching staff, but they knew their offense was anemic and the Nationals looked completely stacked after having a strong pitching staff already and then getting Max Scherzer. If you had mentioned that you knew Max Scherzer would throw not one but two no-hitters this year as well, the Mets shot looked pretty bleak.
The Cubs came in with a lot of hype too. We knew that Kris Bryant would be here as soon as he waited long enough in the minors not to start his MLB arbritation clock, but did they expect Rookie of the Year? I was watching this guy play at University of San Diego just a couple of years ago. We knew that Jon Lester had been acquired and would provide a great mentoring presence for other young arms like Jake Arrieta. Speaking of him, did we expect a sub-2.00 ERA from him?
No, that is why we love baseball and why the Padres year was frustrating, because we were hoping a few more of our questions would result in positives than negatives (i.e. Will this be the year Andrew Cashner becomes an ace? Can Will Myers stay healthy all season? etc).
The Cubs lost the first game before scoring six runs in one inning thanks to a couple of errors and bunts. Bunts are cool again, thanks to the always innovative Joe Maddon and they worked. Now they get to throw the master Arrieta again on Monday in Game 3 after he just dominated the Pirates in the wild card playoff. Experience? These Cubs may just be young enough not to care that the Cardinals have it and they don’t, but don’t expect the Cardinals to roll over either.
On the flip side of expectations come the Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered 2015 once again as MLB’s highest payroll by some $50M over the New York Yankees, who the upstart Houston Astors made quick work of in the AL Wild Card Game. Certainly anything short of a World Series Championship would be disappointing to the Dodgers. After all Carl Crawford still mans the outfield for them and Zack Greinke is a free agent after the season. Rookie Joc Pederson had a terrific first half all the way to the All Star Game, but faltered afterward. Their window is still several seasons and they have to be encouraged by how Clayton Kershaw pitched in game 2, but they aren’t here just to play well and do their best. Questionable calls from Don Mattingly may result in his termination.
The Mets biggest move was acquiring Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline and he has been a godsend offensively for the team. They were able to defeat Kershaw in game 1 and were on pace to do the same in Game 2 until the 7th inning. With veteran Chase Utley on first base, a chopper was hit up the middle. The toss went to second where shortstop Ruben Tejada was obliterated by the incoming Utley. It could’ve been an inning ending double play to keep the Mets lead. Instead the Dodgers tied it before Adrian Gonzalez doubled in both runs with the next at-bat and the Dodgers didn’t look back. The Mets are still in good shape however as they send Matt Harvey to the hill Monday in New York. Back to that slide though.
Baseball can be a funny game with very fine and often unwritten lines dictating what is cheating or what is dirty or not. I don’t think you can remove the fact that this was the wealthy Dodgers – sliding into the upstart Mets. I was a little surprised by initial media reactions because Chase Utley is well recognized as a great person and baseball player. Next when watching the play it certainly seems like Utley had no intention of actually touching second base. The fact that Tejeda failed to resulting in a replay reversal makes it that much worse. Talk about being kicked while you are down, writhing on the ground with a fractured fibula.
In my own mind, I still haven’t decided if the play was blatantly “dirty” or exactly what you want a veteran doing in a playoff game down 1 game to none already in a best of 5. Again, if it was Ty Cobb instead of Chase Utley it would be a no-brainer, because history speaks for itself. Is Utley supposed to just peel out of the baseline when again – the final outcome was that Tejada didn’t touch the base! Utley had been ruled out immediately despite never touching the base himself but it was not ruled a “neighborhood rule” play because the flip was not routine for Tejada to pick up from second baseman Daniel Murphy. So while the character of the slide was certainly to break up the double play, an effort less than what Utley gave would likely have resulted in the end of the inning and perhaps give the Mets a 2-0 advantage.
I also liked the fact that with the Gonzalez double the Dodgers were able to score all the way from first. In the past couple of post-seasons, we have seen the Dodgers look a little stagnant in the playoffs, but both of those plays might show that this year’s Dodgers has a little more motivation behind them. Chase Utley knows he doesn’t have many chances left. Yasiel Puig of course brings an energy very few others bring – even if unwarranted by some. Adrian would love a chance to play in the World Series, and Kershaw seems intent on showing that he too can be Kershaw in the post-season and not just the regular season. He doesn’t all the attention and fanfare going to that Bumgarmer guy in San Francisco. With three games left, we shall see how it all turns out.
Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets. Who is your pick for this series and going the rest of the way?