NEW YORK -- Perhaps if both teams were at full strength or the series were played a little closer to the postseason, the Chicago Cubs might feel that they’re facing a bigger test this weekend, when they see the New York Mets for the first time since the Mets eliminated them from the playoffs last year.
Consider this: All three starting outfielders for the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS are currently injured. New York won’t see Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler or Kyle Schwarber this weekend -- and that’s just one reason manager Joe Maddon isn’t “connecting the dots” from the past season to this weekend.
“It’s not really a true indicator of what it’s going to look like at the end of the year,” Maddon said Wednesday. “Last year is last year. They beat us. They pitched really well.”
The Cubs will face some of those pitchers again, though not all are at the top of their games at the moment. Injuries are a storyline for the Mets -- that’s an understatement, if you read the New York papers -- just as they are for the Cubs. Plus, playoff hero Daniel Murphy has moved on. The rematch isn’t as dramatic as it could be, but that doesn’t mean the Cubs have forgotten what happened in October. Even mild-mannered pitcher Kyle Hendricks is looking forward to it.
“We definitely want to go there with a little chip on it [our shoulder],” Hendricks said. “Get some wins, especially in their ballpark. We remembered what happened last year, but still, we know where we’re at this year.”
Hendricks means the results aren’t going to matter much because it's June. The results certainly didn’t matter last year, when the Cubs went 7-0 against New York in the regular season, only to get swept in the postseason.
Of more interest could be some of the one-on-one matchups. Anthony Rizzo versus Jacob deGrom on Friday will be fun to watch, as will Kris Bryant against Syndergaard on Sunday. Both sluggers went 3-for-14 (.214) in the NLCS, as the Cubs were challenged inside the strike zone and came up short.
Rizzo played it straight in the Cubs' clubhouse on Wednesday, after the Cubs swept the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t want to make more of the meeting than necessary.
“Their expectations are to win the division -- same as ours,” Rizzo said. “They’re a good team. They have good pitching. We’re a good team, so it’ll be a pretty nice weekend series.”
Said Maddon: “Even when they’re banged up, they’re good. I don’t take anything for granted.”
The best bulletin board material actually came back in January, at the Cubs' annual fan convention. Team board member Todd Ricketts ripped into Mets fans and Matt Harvey.
“I don't know if you guys know this, but Mets fans are really, really obnoxious,” Ricketts said to a room full of Cubs fans.
Later, he recalled his wife cheering on the Royals in the World Series, especially when they scored on Harvey.
"Screw you, Matt Harvey! Screw you, Mets fans!” Ricketts recalled his wife screaming.
In any case, Maddon’s team isn’t tuned in to what went on then or in October. After a 15-inning game Tuesday in Cincinnati, a quick turnaround for a day game Wednesday and a trip to New York, the only thing the Cubs manager wants to do in this stretch of 24 games in 24 days is survive. That means taking it one day at a time, no matter the opponent. The Cubs have done pretty well so far with that attitude this season.
“We’ll be going in there with an entirely different look,” Maddon said. “I don’t even think about connecting those dots from last year. Let’s just go play.”