MLB Picks: Cubs Get NLCS Payback vs. Mets In Series Opener

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, June 30, 2016 12:20 PM UTC

Thursday, Jun. 30, 2016 12:20 PM UTC

It's the start of one of the most anticipated National League series of the season on Thursday night at Citi Field as the Cubs and Mets face off for the first time since last year's NLCS. 

CH Cubs vs. N.Y.  Mets
Of course the Cubs were the NL's second wild-card team last year and the Mets were winners of the NL East Division -- most experts thought both teams reached their potential a year early.

Chicago went to Pittsburgh and won the wild-card game behind eventual NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. The Cubs then upset the top-seeded St. Louis Cardinals in four games in the NLDS. The Mets weren't supposed to beat the Dodgers in the NLDS considering L.A. had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. But the Mets did in five games, with Jacob deGrom beating Kershaw in Game 1 in L.A. and then Greinke in Game 5 back at Dodger Stadium. DeGrom, incidentally, is expected to start Game 2 of this series on Friday.

The Cubs were favorites on MLB odds to win the NLCS, but Chicago's bats went cold against that stellar young power pitching staff of the Mets. New York never trailed in the entire series and held Chicago to a combined eight runs in a sweep.

Both teams are a bit different since then. The Cubs added big-ticket free agents in pitcher John Lackey and outfielder Jason Heyward  from the Cardinals this offseason. Chicago also lost young slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber in early April to a season-ending injury. The team is also without fellow injured outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler. The Mets no longer have second baseman Daniel Murphy, who homered in every game against the Cubs in the playoffs and was named NLCS MVP. He's now with Washington. The Mets traded for Pirates second baseman Neil Walker to take his place. New York also is without third baseman David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda, both on the DL. Wright won't be back this year.

To no surprise, the first three games of this marquee series are all nationally televised, with Thursday's on the MLB Network. The Cubs remain +150 favorites on MLB picks to win the NL pennant for the first time since 1945. The Mets are +750 to repeat.


Probable Pitchers
Lackey gets the call for Chicago, which comes in off a three-game sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati, with the best record in the majors and a huge lead atop the NL Central. The Cubs probably wouldn't have beaten the Mets even with Lackey last year, but they needed an upgraded third starter after Arrieta and Jon Lester (who lost the first two games of the NLCS).  So far so good as Lackey is 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA. He does come off his worst outing of the season, allowing seven runs and seven hits over 4.1 innings in a loss at the Miami Marlins. That ended Lackey's streak of 10 straight quality starts.

Last year with St. Louis, Lackey was 1-0 against the Mets with a 1.29 ERA in two starts. He's 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in four career starts against them. Curtis Granderson has faced Lackey more than any Met, going 10-for-41 with five extra-base hits and 11 strikeouts; Granderson has been dealing with calf strain so monitor his status. Yoenis Cespedes is 1-for-4 off Lackey with an RBI. Asbrubal Cabrera is 7-for-31 off him with a homer.

The Mets start young lefty Steven Matz (7-3, 3.29). He was originally set to start Wednesday's series finale against Washington but has been pushed back a day because Matz has been diagnosed with a bone spur in his pitching elbow. The team hopes he can pitch through it the rest of the season and have surgery after. But that's no sure thing -- doctors say Matz can't injure himself worse, but it's a matter of comfort/pain management. If surgery is needed, Matz's season would be over.

Matz didn't look right in his most recent outing, allowing six runs and nine hits over 4.1 innings in Atlanta, and he could be seen rubbing that elbow after allowing all six runs in the fifth inning. Matz has never faced the Cubs in the regular season but started the clinching Game 4 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field and took a no-decision, allowing one run and four hits in 4.2 innings.

Think Chicago wants a little payback this weekend? The Cubs are 12-3 in their past 15 road games vs. a lefty. The Mets are 1-4 in Matz's past five starts. The 'under' is 7-2 in Lackey's past nine. The 'under' is 6-1 in the Mets' past series openers. 

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MLB Free Picks: Cubs -121 and 'under' 7½  -118  
Best Line Offered: Cubs -121? at BetOnline and 'under' 7½  -118 at Pinnacle

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