NLCS a classic clash between young Cubs, Mets

NEW YORK (AP) — Matt Harvey bringin' heat, Kris Bryant goin' deep.

Noah Syndergaard firing 100 mph fastballs as Kyle Schwarber swings from his heels.

Jacob deGrom rearing back and going right after Anthony Rizzo.

In an NL Championship Series teeming with top young talent, it's a classic baseball confrontation: the New York Mets and their power pitching versus the Chicago Cubs and those potent sluggers.

"Strength against strength, in some respect," Chicago executive Theo Epstein said Friday.

With the wild-card Cubs four wins from their first World Series in 70 years, Game 1 in the best-of-seven set is Saturday night at Citi Field. Harvey is scheduled to start for NL East champion New York against postseason pro Jon Lester.

But while the series features two of the country's largest media markets — the city that never sleeps against the city of broad shoulders — this savory matchup was grown down on the farm the last few years, sprouting up off dusty minor league diamonds at Double-A Tennessee and Binghamton, Triple-A Iowa and Las Vegas.

As both franchises (and their loyal fans) endured half a decade of consistent losing, Epstein and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson were stockpiling prospects.

Chicago rebuilt around rookie sluggers, while New York pinned its plan on lively arms.

And here they are in October, perhaps a year or so ahead of schedule.

The scouts saw it coming.

"The successful teams, whether they're big market, small market, large payroll, small payroll, you've got to develop your own players. That's the currency with which we deal," Alderson said. "Ultimately if you don't develop your own players, you're going to come up short at some point, either on your own team or in the trade market."

One glance at the young studs on each club doesn't tell the entire story, though.

Chicago actually had a lower ERA than the Mets this year, while New York had more homers and a higher slugging percentage. So despite their obvious differences, this really isn't some head-to-head clash of baseball cultures and philosophies.

"We're not in it for the narrative. We're in it to go to the World Series," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations.

Still, everyone involved is acutely aware of all the young talent that will be on display.

"We've kind of ascended. The Mets showed their muscle the latter part of the year like we did," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's really kind of like a renaissance going on right now with the youth in baseball."

Maddon and Mets skipper Terry Collins go back a long way. When he was hired to manage the Angels before the 1997 season, Collins chose Maddon to be his bench coach. And when Collins resigned in September 1999, Maddon took over the team on an interim basis.

This season, Maddon got the best of his old friend as the Cubs won all seven meetings by a combined score of 27-11. It was the first time the Mets were swept in a season series of seven games or more — and the first time Chicago did it since 1885 against the Buffalo Bisons.

But the last time they played was July 2, weeks before the Mets revamped a scuffling lineup. Since then, New York added Yoenis Cespedes and rookie Michael Conforto, among others, while Travis d'Arnaud and David Wright returned from injuries. Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed were acquired to deepen the bullpen.

"I think we all believe that we're a completely different team," Harvey said. "I think we match up very well against them. I think we're excited to give them another run and have it be in this important of a series."

Maddon agreed.

"They're an entirely different team," he said. "I take zero stock in that whatsoever."

New York hopes to reach its first World Series in 15 years, the longest drought in franchise history. Cubs fans, meanwhile, scoff at such a wait.

With the city at a frenzied fever pitch, Chicago is trying to end a championship drought that dates to 1908. The Cubs haven't even captured a pennant since 1945.

"It's got to end sometime, right?" said Lester, who joined the Cubs as a free agent last offseason when he signed a $155 million, six-year contract. "It's fun to think about, but we've got some games to go before we get there."

Well rested after eliminating the NL Central champion Cardinals at home on Tuesday, the Cubs worked out Friday at Citi Field.

The Mets did not practice following a Game 5 victory at Los Angeles to clinch their Division Series on Thursday night. They flew back to the East Coast overnight, their fourth cross-country flight in 10 days.

"We're tired. I mean, I put my head on the pillow this morning at 9:30 and got to be here now. So that's hard," Collins said Friday afternoon. "But we've got a night off, and this place is going to be fueled with a lot of energy tomorrow night. I think we'll be able to use that as a little medicine to find some extra adrenaline."