Cubs

Cubs know Mets are different NLCS team with Yoenis Cespedes

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Cubs know Mets are different NLCS team with Yoenis Cespedes

NEW YORK – The New York Mets have a completely different dynamic with Yoenis Cespedes flipping bats, barging into the MVP conversation, loving the bright lights and the big city.

The Cubs went 7-0 against the Mets during the regular season, but that was before Cespedes and the trade-deadline dealing that transformed a fringe team hovering around .500 into a potential pennant winner.

“I take zero stock in that,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday. “We won some close games. Things just happened to work in our favor in those moments. Their offense wasn’t nearly what it is right now. I’m not even looking at that as being pertinent.”

This is the National League Championship Series you didn’t see coming this year with Game 1 on Saturday night at Citi Field. Maybe by 2017 or 2018 as two big-market franchises slowly rebuilt with homegrown talent, big-picture trades and targeted free agents.

But when the Cubs completed a three-game sweep at Citi Field on July 2, the Mets dropped to 40-40 after scoring one run across 29 innings, leaving for a West Coast trip as a dead team walking.

[MORE: Cubs vs. Mets NLCS Preview - Young pitching vs. young hitting]

The next day, the New York Daily News took aim at the Mets general manager on the back page: “Hey Sandy, stop joking and DO SOMETHING to fix embarrassment you built: GET OFF YOUR ALDERSON!”

Alderson’s front office made a series of incremental moves, acquiring Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves on July 24 to diversify the lineup. On the same day, the Mets promoted Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton, fast-tracking an outfielder the Cubs considered with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft before taking Kyle Schwarber.

Within the same week, the Mets added an All-Star reliever from the Oakland A’s (Tyler Clippard) and landed the big bat at the July 31 deadline, sending two minor-league pitchers to the Detroit Tigers for Cespedes, a two-time Home Run Derby winner who’s making a salary drive before hitting the free-agent market.

“He’s a huge threat,” said Jon Lester, who got traded from the Boston Red Sox to Oakland in another Cespedes deal at last year’s deadline and will start Game 1 for the Cubs. “That was a really good pick-up for these guys.”

Starting Aug. 1, Cespedes put up 17 homers, 44 RBI and a .942 OPS in 57 games with the Mets, making the hitters around him better and giving this lineup a jolt. A 53-50 team that had been averaging 3.54 runs per game jumped to 5.39 runs per game during a 37-22 finishing kick. 

“He’s obviously a guy you can’t make mistakes (with),” Lester said. “What makes him even tougher is he can cover both sides of the plate at any given time, so it’s not like you have him set up for a location later in the at-bat. 

“It’s just a matter of trying to make a quality pitch and hopefully he hits it at somebody. But he’s such a good hitter, being able to cover both sides of the plate (and) also expand and cover the ball down and up and all that.”

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There was a point in the rebuild where the Cubs thought they might sign both Cespedes and Jorge Soler — until Oakland made a surprisingly aggressive offer (four years, $36 million) for the older Cuban outfielder.

To be honest, the Cubs probably didn’t think Soler would be that good that fast, producing 23 homers and 82 RBI in 129 games for an Oakland team that won the American League West in 2012. 

The Cubs didn’t have the financial flexibility to sign both Cespedes and Soler, an elite international prospect who made so much more long-term sense. Seeing how many win-later trades the Cubs made to get into this position — and with Cespedes already on his fourth team — that looks like another flip deal in hindsight anyway.    

But Cespedes — who has an .883 OPS in 60 postseason at-bats — should make his presence felt in what should be a classic NLCS. 

“We all believe that we’re a completely different team,” said Matt Harvey, New York’s Game 1 starter. “We’ve developed so much as a team. We’ve obviously added a lot of key parts, and we’ve really grown. I don’t think any of us have really looked towards any series in the past. We’re really going into this with a new mindset – a new team basically – (and) we’re all ready for it.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.