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Cubs vs. Mets NLCS Preview: Young pitching vs. young hitting

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Cubs vs. Mets NLCS Preview: Young pitching vs. young hitting

Once upon a time, the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets were bitter rivals.

But that was a generation ago. The 1969 season is in the past and so, too, is the dreaded black cat that ran in front of Ron Santo in the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium.

In fact, the Cubs' 7-0 record against the Mets in 2015 even feels like ancient history at this point as the two teams get set to square off in the National League Championship Series.

[RELATED - Jorge Soler showing Cubs why he thrives on playoff pressure]

"I feel like New York is a lot like us," Cubs veteran catcher David Ross said. "They've grown up over the year. They're a much different team than when we played them earlier in the year."

That's something of an understatement.

When the Cubs put the finishing touches on their season sweep of the Mets July 2, the "other" New York baseball team was just 40-40 and managed only one run against the Cubs in the three-game series at Citi Field.

The Mets beat Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2, Thursday night with a lineup that featured four key players who, combined, did not take one at-bat in any of the seven games against the Cubs this season.

Third baseman David Wright and catcher Travis d'Arnaud were injured and missed both series against the Cubs while rookie left fielder Michael Conforto didn't make his big-league debut until July 24 and centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes wasn't even acquired until right before the trade deadline.

This truly is a different Mets team - one that can put up runs in bunches and a far cry from the squad Cubs pitching limited to just 11 runs in seven games in the regular season.

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

Add in the Mets' young pitching and this will be quite a tough test for the Cubs.

Young pitchers vs. young hitters

The foundation of the Mets' team is a core of young arms - Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. All four are 27 or under, with both Syndergaard (23) and Matz (24) making their MLB debuts this season.

Those four guys are making up the Mets' postseason rotation and combined to sport a 2.77 ERA in the regular season, striking out 593 batters in 566 innings. The Mets' pitching staff as a whole struck out 54 batters in 44 innings in the postseason.

The Cubs' young hitters, meanwhile, led all of baseball with 1,518 strikeouts in the regular season, more than 100 above the next team (Houston Astros - 1,392).

So even though the Cubs clubbed 10 homers in the four-game NLDS and have shown off impressive power this postseason, they have their work cut out for them against the Mets pitching staff.

How they got here

The Mets obviously rode their young pitching to the NLCS, but they really took off when they traded for Cespedes. The 29-year-old outfielder didn't even join the NL until late July, but he was so awesome in 57 games with the Mets (.941 OPS, 17 HR, 44 RBI) that some actually believed he should be the league's MVP.

[MORE: Cubs get back to work after partying it up following NLDS win]

Cespedes gave the Mets lineup a new look, but they also got healthy and hot at the right time, going bold by calling up top prospect Conforto and getting Wright and d'Arnaud back from injury. Add in Lucas Duda's hot second half (.955 OPS), Curtis Granderson's steady veteran presence and Daniel Murphy's underrated skillset and the Mets are a scary team on offense, too.

X-Factor

Speaking of Murphy, he could be the key to the series. Anybody watching Game 5 of the NLDS Thursday night could see the impact Murphy can have on a game. He collected three hits and accounted for all three Mets runs, including arguably the smartest play of the postseason when he took advantage of the Dodgers' shift and stole third to set up d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

Murphy also performed well against the Cubs, hitting .360 with an .865 OPS against them in the regular season, though he didn't score or knock in a run in any of the seven games.

Game dates/Probables

Game 1: Saturday, Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m. (@ Citi Field, New York) - Jon Lester vs. Matt Harvey

Game 2: Sunday, Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m. (@ NY) - Jake Arrieta vs. TBD

Game 3: Tuesday, Oct. 20 (@ Wrigley Field), time and starters TBD

Game 4: Wednesday, Oct. 21 (@ Wrigley Field, time and starters TBD

Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 22 (@ Wrigley Field, time and starters TBD

Game 6: Saturday, Oct. 24 (@ NY), time and starters TBD

Game 7: Sunday, Oct. 25 (@ NY, time and starters TBD

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPN.com) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Welington Castillo’s 80-game PED suspension, the Cubs struggles and if Joe Maddon could be on the hot seat if the Cubs somehow miss the playoffs in 2018.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: