Mets have jumped on a Cubs weakness and it's paid off big time


Mets have jumped on a Cubs weakness and it's paid off big time

The New York Mets have built their team on young pitching, but it was a new style of play that really gave them a leg up in the National League Championship Series.

In the regular season, the Mets were second to last in Major League Baseball (and last in the NL) in stolen bases, but they came out running on the Cubs and it was a huge reason for the series sweep.

The Cubs had issues all year in slowing down the running game, and it goes beyond just Jon Lester's "yips" in throwing to first base.

"We're always working diligently to become better at that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Wednesday's Game 4 loss. "I can't disagree that we've not been the best at that. It's something we're always looking forward to getting better with.

"But it's just a work in progress. No, we don't just say don't worry about the runner. We don't say that at all. We have to get better at it."

[RELATED - Cubs' Montero on crucial dropped third strike: 'It really hurts']

The Mets stole five bases in the first three games of series and then Curtis Granderson and Wilmer Flores both came out and swiped second in the first inning of Game 4.

In the regular season, the Mets stole third base just five times total. In the NLCS, they stole third in each of the first three games and all three guys came around to score on a sacrifice fly, a groundout and a dropped third strike - ways they would not have scored from second base.

That's three runs in a series where the Cubs managed just five runs off the Mets' young pitching in the first three games

"In general, they just have played well," Maddon said. "They've played really well. They've done little things well and they've taken advantage of us in different moments. We've not been able to overcome because we're not hitting the ball like we normally can.

"This time of the year, everything does magnify a bit."

In Game 3 Tuesday, Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill lost track of Yoenis Cespedes on second base and the Mets outfielder stole third easily, eventually coming around to score the game-winning run on a wild pitch/dropped third strike.

That play had Cubs catcher Miguel Montero frustrated after the game.

"The guy was almost sliding into third when the pitcher still had the ball in his hand," Montero said. "That's what's been happening this year.

"We need to do a little better job holding the runners and changing the looks and things like that. But we really don't have time for that [now]."

Mets manager Terry Collins said before the NLCS started that his team would not change their style of play and change their identity, even if it meant taking advantage of the Cubs' weakness.

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Obviously, that was not the case.

"Well, we came in knowing that we had to be a little aggressive on the bases, something we don't normally do," Collins said. "We're not that kind of team. But we told the guys, look, if you get on and you think you can go, go.

"... We saw the numbers and teams steal bases against them, so we thought we could give it a shot. Even though we don't have perhaps the speed other teams have throughout the lineup, we've got a couple guys who can run, so we're doing - [first base coach Tom Goodwin] does a great job of investigating how and why teams are able to run.

"So we're trying to use a little bit of that in ourselves to see if we can set up some runs."

Mission accomplished.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.