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.”

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

Siera Santos, Kelly Crull, and David DeJesus go into the audio archives to break down the biggest games for the Cubs in Cincinnati.

David DeJesus gives us his top 3 ballgames with such gems as The Schwarber Game, The Kris Bryant Game, Starlin Castro’s debut, and Jake Arrieta’s second no hitter.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: