Daniel Murphy extends his 'time,' homers in fifth straight playoff game


Daniel Murphy extends his 'time,' homers in fifth straight playoff game

Hey Cubs, you’re not alone -- even Daniel Murphy’s New York Mets teammates are in disbelief over his performance.

The second baseman continued a terrific postseason on Tuesday night as he homered in a playoff-record tying fifth straight game and singled during a key rally for the Mets, who are within one victory of a World Series berth after they defeated the Cubs 5-2 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field. Murphy also established an all-time club postseason home run record with his sixth home run as the Mets took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

“He’s on another planet right now,” Mets reliever Tyler Clippard said.

A solid hitter throughout his career (he boasts a .288 average in seven seasons), Murphy hasn’t been known for his power. Prior to 2015, when he hit 14 homers, Murphy only had 48 round-trippers in his first 3,081 career plate appearances -- an average of one every 64.2 trips to the plate.

But this postseason has seen Murphy -- who’s headed for free agency next month -- perform at a new level. Before Tuesday, Murphy had homered five times in 29 plate appearances in the playoffs, delivering key blow after blow for the Mets. The team’s previous mark for a single postseason was four, shared by Carlos Delgado (2006), Mike Piazza (2000) and Rusty Staub (1975). Murphy’s six homers is the most in a baseball postseason since Nelson Cruz tied the all-time mark with eight for Texas in 2011.

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“It’s his time,” said closer Jeurys Familia, who pitched a perfect ninth for his third save in three games.

Murphy’s been so good he’s reached the point where it’s surprising to see him retired. But that’s just what the Cubs did in the first inning when Kyle Hendricks threw three straight sinkers past Murphy for a strikeout.

The next time up, however, they weren’t so lucky.

Hendricks left a 2-1 sinker up off the outer edge and Murphy planted it in the center field bleachers for a tie-breaking solo homer. The blast ties him with Carlos Beltran, who also homered in five straight postseason games for the Houston Astros in 2004.

“I've watched a lot of baseball over the years, I don't think I've seen anybody put on this kind of a show on this stage like he has so far,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I mean, even the guys in the dugout, they're baseball guys too and they're saying the same thing.

“Question is who is this guy? I mean, he's been unbelievable. So hopefully he just keeps it up for certainly a few more games.”

Murphy said he hasn’t tried to put too much thought into the ride, he merely wants to enjoy it. If you were just handed the keys to a Porsche, would you question it?

[MORE: Lifelong Mets fan Matz stands between Cubs and elimination]

But Murphy attributes much of his success to hitting between David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes.

“I'm in the best spot in the lineup you could possibly be in, in between those two guys,” Murphy said.

Wright’s just as dumbfounded as the rest of his teammates. Murphy -- who also homered in the first inning of the first two games of the NLCS off Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta -- has become the topic of conversation in the Mets’ dugout.

And why not?

His homer off Hendricks on Tuesday helped him surpass Piazza’s all-time club postseason record. Whereas Piazza hit five homers in 22 playoff games for the Mets over two postseasons, Murphy has done it all in eight games.

And he’s hit ‘em off Arrieta, Lester, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

“It's ridiculous,” Wright said. “We were talking in the dugout and being here in Chicago, should have given the shoulder shrug to (Michael) Jordan after that last one. It's fun to watch. Being a hitter, I understand how difficult it is to do what he's doing, to continue this hot streak for 10 days or whatever it's been. I mean -- it's impressive doing it off these pitchers. It's fun to watch.”

[ALSO: Mets pounce on Cubs to take commanding 3-0 lead in NLCS]

The team on the other side isn’t enjoying Murphy’s run as much.

“We have to do something to take it back,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

But as Maddon confessed, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s on the mound for the Cubs -- Murphy has everything working in his favor. During a seventh-inning at-bat against Travis Wood, Murphy fouled off five fastballs between 92-94 mph before he got just enough of a slider to hit it past the mound for an infield single. Kris Bryant retrieved the ball and double clutched his throw, which allowed Murphy to beat it out and put runners on the corners for the Mets with one out. New York, which led 3-2 at the time, scored twice to extend its lead to three runs.

“He was on everything leading up to the slow roller,” Maddon said. “From my perspective, it's pretty much it doesn't matter who is pitching right now. Obviously, if you look at the line of pitchers that he's hit home runs against, he's just in one of those moments.”

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."