Cubs-Mets NLCS set after Dodgers fall in Game 5
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Abracadabra, witches and demons.
The Cubs are headed back to where the magic began this season, trying to take this enchanted playoff ride to places the franchise hasn’t seen in 70 years.
When the New York Mets eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 3-2 victory Thursday, it assured a National League Championship Series matchup between the Cubs and the franchise that ended their fabled 1969 team’s pennant run in the final month of the season.
It also set up a Game 1 appointment Saturday in the same Citi Field clubhouse in which a magician named Simon greeted the Cubs on the heels of a five-game losing streak and sent them on to a three-game sweep of the Mets and the hottest finish in the majors.
‘‘I want to say I don’t believe in magic,’’ rookie Kris Bryant said as recently as a few weeks ago, recalling the moment. ‘‘I don’t believe in it until it affects us like that.’’
The Cubs will take their own magic to New York this time around, sending fresh starters Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta to the mound for the first two games. They also will bring a rookie-centered lineup that has slugged 12 home runs in the Cubs’ five playoff games.
The Lester-Arrieta order wasn’t immediately popular among fans on social media, but it was set long before the Cubs knew whom they would be facing because manager Joe Maddon wanted to keep his starters in line.
When Lester wasn’t needed for Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series, it pushed him back to Game 1 against the Mets, whom he beat at Wrigley Field in May and shut down for seven innings in an extra-inning victory in New York.
Lester will pitch on three days of extra rest and Arrieta on two, a major advantage over a Mets staff that needed ace Jacob deGrom in the elimination game against the Dodgers and No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard in relief.
The Cubs went 7-0 against the Mets this season, holding them to an average of 1.6 runs.
‘‘Of course, we had a good record against the Mets this year, but they’re a pretty different team than we had seen earlier,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘The Mets have a lot of power pitching across the board. . . . On the field, I don’t know what the Mets look like right now. I know what they looked like a couple of months ago.’’
The Mets’ lineup is unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t seen it in the last three months. Since the Cubs allowed them only one run during the three-game sweep in New York on June 30-July 2, the Mets:
• Acquired hitting depth in Kelly Johnson and postseason veteran Juan Uribe in a trade July 24 with the Atlanta Braves.
• Promoted outfielder Michael Conforto to the majors on the same day. Conforto, who was drafted six spots behind Kyle Schwarber last year, hit .270 with an .841 OPS down the stretch.
• Acquired season-changer Yoenis Cespedes, who hit 17 home runs with a .942 OPS in the final two months, in a deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers.
• Got face-of-the-franchise third baseman David Wright back from the disabled list Aug. 24, then got a .277 batting average and an .818 OPS from him in the final 30 games.
The Mets were 53-50 and averaging 3.5 runs before trading for Cespedes. They went 37-22 and
averaged 5.4 runs after his arrival.
‘‘I don’t even look at those wins as even being relevant, other than getting us in the position that we’re in now — to put us in the postseason,’’ catcher David Ross said. ‘‘That’s an entirely different team with an entirely different roster and probably entirely different confidence and set of circumstances they’re dealing with.’’
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