Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Cubs May Hit Their Share of Home Runs, But...

During the 2015 regular season, the Chicago Cubs became the first team to ever sweep a season series of more than six games against the Mets.  The Cubs outscored the Mets, 27-11 en route to a 7-0 record against New York.  Chicago hit seven home runs in the seven games, en route to a season total of 171 long balls.

Chicago's penchant for hitting the ball out of the park continued in the postseason, as they homered twice in the wild card game against the Pirates and walloped ten home runs in the four NLDS games versus the Cardinals, including six in Game Three.

When you combine the Cubs' power with an ace pitcher like Jake Arrieta, it's not surprising that Chicago won 97 games in 2015.  However, they can be beaten, and the Mets may just be the right team to keep the curse of Murphy the billy goat intact.

As much as the Cubs flexed their muscles at the plate during the regular season, it was the Mets who finished with more home runs.  New York hit 177 homers, or six more than the Chicago's total.

Kris Bryant was one of the Cubs' top home run hitters, smacking 26 homers in 151 games.  However, it should be noted that he hit just five of those home runs on the road, and that handful of homers came off the following pitchers:

  • Kyle Lohse, Brewers (5.85 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
  • Odrisamer Despaigne, Padres (5.80 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
  • David Murphy, Indians (a position player)
  • Alex Wood, Dodgers (4.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
  • Alec Asher, Phillies (9.31 ERA, 1.79 WHIP)

For all you kids out there, those four pitchers and one position player combined for a 5.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP during the 2015 campaign.  Those were the only players Bryant could muster a homer against away from the Friendly Confines.  It should be noted that the Mets will have home field advantage in the NLCS.

With great power comes great strikeout-ability, and the Cubs created enough of a breeze with their swings and misses to power a wind turbine.  Led by Bryant's league-leading 199 whiffs, Chicago batters struck out a mind-boggling 1,518 times during the regular season.  That's the most in franchise history, surpassing the team's old mark of 1,477, which was set just last year.  Prior to then, no Cubs team had ever struck out more than 1,269 times.  In addition, the Cubs had more strikeouts than any other team in the majors.  Houston had the second-most strikeouts in the big leagues with 1,392, but was still well behind Chicago's total.  And with six of the seven games potentially being started by Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who combined to fan 559 batters in 530 innings, Cubs batters should be seeing strike three quite often in the series.

Speaking of the Mets starting pitchers, let's talk about what they did against the Dodgers in the division series.  For as many home runs as Chicago hit, it was Los Angeles that led the National League, as Dodgers players circled the bases 187 times in 2015.  That gave the Mets valuable experience against a team that knows how to hit balls out of the park.  So how many times did the Dodgers take Mets starting pitchers deep in the five-game series?

That's a big fat zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Cubs batters might have done well against lesser hurlers this season, but they're in for quite a surprise when they face the velocity and movement of pitches thrown by Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom.

So if the Mets prevent the Cubs from hitting homers, can Chicago score any other way?  The answer is one that even Grumpy Cat can agree with.

As mentioned before, the Cubs hit 171 home runs during the regular season.  They accomplished this in 5,491 at-bats.  They also had 1,174 hits that didn't leave the yard.  That means when the Cubs kept the ball in front of the outfield fence, they only batted .221.  Chicago scored 414 runs this year that didn't cross the plate on the strength of a home run.  That's just 2.6 non-homer aided runs per game.  In the division series against the Cardinals, it was homer-or-nothing for the Cubs, as ten of their 30 hits in the series left the yard.  Chicago batted just .175 (20-for-114) when they didn't hit the ball out of the park and scored 14 of their 20 runs on homers, averaging just 1.5 runs per game that weren't because of home runs.

The Mets, in particular their starting pitchers, have done their best to limit their opponents from producing big innings against them.  One way they've done this is by keeping the ball in the park.  Including the postseason, Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom did not allow a home run in 50 of their 87 starts.  Harvey, the Mets' Game One starter, has not allowed a home run since September 2.  He has pitched 28 consecutive innings without giving up a tater.

So yes, it's true that the Cubs' offense revolves around the home run ball.  But they may be running into the worst possible team at the worst possible time if they plan on continuing to score most of their runs on 360-foot trots around the bases.  The Mets will still have to score some runs of their own, but they may not have to out-slug the Cubs to do so.

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