CHICAGO (AP) — Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Hammel played hacky sack with a baseball, and manager Joe Maddon chatted amiably with his players and staff as he made his way around Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon.
Down 2-0 to the New York Mets in the NL Championship Series, the Chicago Cubs are sticking with what worked for them during a breakthrough season.
"We'll come out tomorrow, we'll be ready to play," Maddon said. "Our guys are always ready to play."
It might not matter if the Mets continue to pitch as well as they did in New York. Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard shut down Chicago's powerful lineup in the first two games of the series, putting New York in an ideal position to make it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years — a quaint little drought compared to the Cubs' seven mostly empty decades since they last played in the Fall Classic.
According to STATS, the winner of the first two games of a best-of-seven series in the baseball playoffs has advanced 83 percent (63 of 76) of the time, and the Mets have Jacob deGrom heading to the mound for Game 3 on Tuesday night.
"We have a lot of confidence," manager Terry Collins said. "Any night that he pitches, we've got a good chance to win."
DeGrom is coming off a pair of impressive victories in the NL Division Series, albeit for different reasons.
The 27-year-old was dominant in Game 1 at Los Angeles, striking out 13 while pitching seven scoreless innings in New York's 3-1 win. Then he came back for Game 5 and worked six effective innings despite not having his best stuff.
The reigning NL Rookie of the Year matched Bartolo Colon for the team lead with 14 wins this year, but it was the gutsy start against the Dodgers that really cemented his place among the best young pitchers in the game.
"The second game was definitely a battle," deGrom said. "I feel like it was more impressive just because it wasn't easy. When you have your best stuff, it's a lot easier to pitch."
While deGrom has struggled in three career starts against Chicago, Harvey and Syndergaard provided a roadmap for the right-hander in the first two games of the series. Harvey and Syndergaard pounded the strike zone, getting ahead of the Cubs' young sluggers and keeping them off balance.
The Mets started the Cubs with a strike in 43 of 68 at-bats in New York, according to STATS. They threw 177 of their 274 pitches for a strike, a 64.6 percent success rate.
Those are important numbers against the patient Cubs, who finished second in the majors to Toronto with 567 walks this season. St. Louis, Chicago's opponent in the NLDS, threw a first-pitch strike 56.3 percent of the time and had a 59.9 strike percentage for the series, and the Cubs clubbed 10 homers and walked 15 times.
"I don't want our guys to change based on an umpire in the previous game, it could change in the next game," Maddon said. "Regardless of the fact that the strike zone is a static or supposedly a static area, it's not. It's just depending upon the guy.
"So I prefer that we just stay with our normal patterns, and then we have to adjust sometimes during the course of the game. That's it. You just have to make adjustments, but you don't necessarily want to change," he said.
Bryant, who had two hits and drove in Chicago's only run in Game 2, said everyone on the Cubs just has to stick to their own approach.
"We've gotten pretty far just the way we've been going," he said. "I think it's a matter of, we've hit some balls hard and they haven't been falling. That's the way baseball goes sometimes."
While Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom rely on their electric stuff, Kyle Hendricks, the Game 3 starter for Chicago, is more dependent on location for his success. The Dartmouth graduate threw six shutout innings in each of his last two starts of the season, but was yanked in the fifth inning of his Game 2 start at St. Louis in the division series.
Job No. 1 for Hendricks against New York is stopping Daniel Murphy, who is one away from matching Carlos Beltran's record of homering in five straight postseason games.
"He's swinging a hot bat," Hendricks said. "Sometimes the best thing to do is pick your spots. See when guys are on base, when they're not, when you can pitch around him. Regardless, when he comes up, you've definitely got to be careful. You can't make any mistakes with him."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap