After meeting in the NLCS a season ago, the Mets and Cubs were expected to be back there again in 2016, with the victor to be the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series.
Well, the Mets (47-41) have lost three in a row and are six games behind the Nationals (54-36) in the NL East, while the Cubs (53-35), who are 6-15 in their last 21 games, have hit a wall.
We’ll start with the Mets, who have suffered a string of recent injuries. Is it possible that they could go from World Series contender to missing the playoffs?
“Before the season (started), who didn’t have the Mets right there because of that rotation?” MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “This is the one thing in baseball. You can’t predict big injuries. You take away a big injury form any other club and it stings you. The Mets’ rotation to start the season, you’re thinking Matt Harvey, you’re thinking (Noah) Syndergaard, you’re thinking (Jacob) deGrom, you’re thinking Steven Matz and their fifth guy was Bartolo, who’s an All-Star. You’re like, this team’s unbelievable. They don’t even have to hit. They got (Yoenis) Cespedes back. The whole thing now is this is a club that’s struggled. They’re in trouble – and you’re seeing it. They’re in third place. They’re six games out. They’re still six games above .500. So the good news is this All-Star Game came at a nice time. They’ve lost three in a row. They can take a deep breath, but there has to be a move somewhere. With the Syndergaard arm fatigue, that starts getting scary.”
The Cubs, meanwhile, looked like world beaters in April and May, starting the season 25-6, but they’re 2-9 in their last 11 games. The only wins during that stretch? A 10-4 win against lowly Cincinnati at home on July 4 and a 6-5 win on Sunday at Pittsburgh to avoid a three-game sweep.
What has happened to the Cubbies?
“They went bad altogether at once,” Millar said. “Every good team goes through speed bumps in the road. Period. If they would have kept going on their pace, they would have won 135 games. They got such a great start, they did what they wanted to do. Now what scares me is their rotation all went bad at once. They’re still young offensively. They’re exciting, they’re great. You’re looking at Kris Bryant, who’s going to have 30+ homers for a lot of years and drive in 120+ (runs). You’re looking at Anthony Rizzo, who’s your veteran at 26 years old at first base who’s going to do the same thing. But they still have young at-bats.”
Dexter Fowler is still recovering from a hamstring strain, Jason Hayward (.243 batting average) continues to struggle, and Jake Arrieta, who has allowed four homers and 15 earned runs in his last three starts, is suddenly human.
“This team kind of all went bad at once and you saw what could happen,” Millar said. “ They put the Pirates and Cardinals right back in the scene. I left Chicago Father’s Day weekend and they were 14, 15 games up. Now they’re seven and seven-and-a-half games (ahead). It’s back to a fight. . . . When you go cold, it’s a snowball effect. They’re now back to reality. They’re better than they’ve played the last three weeks and they’re probably not as good as they were the first six weeks. So the Cubs are a very good ball club, and if you’re a Cubs fan, it’s a very good time of year.”