If Matt Harvey's performance Saturday night is an indication of what the Mets' rotation is ready to unleash during this National League Championship Series, the Cubs have more to worry about than a cursed history of billy-goat hexes or black cats.
Harvey was dominant (nine strikeouts) into the eighth inning, and the Mets -- despite another middle-order vanishing act by David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes -- pieced together enough offense for a 4-2 victory in Game 1 at Citi Field.
Harvey did what he does, what the Mets' sterling rotation has done all season long and through these playoffs. He contained the Cubs' dangerous lineup by pinpointing every one of pitches, and was ridiculously efficient from the jump. He set the tone early by striking out Dexter Fowler (86-mph changeup) and Kyle Schwarber (84-mph curve) as many fans still were settling into their seats.
It was Harvey at his best and brought back memories of a different time, before we became consumed with the mushrooming debate over his innings limits. Harvey tried to silence that discussion, once and for all, during a news conference on the eve of his Game 1 start, but only a performance like Saturday night's is capable of truly squashing it.
As Harvey knows by now, talk matters little, and the sellout crowd at Citi Field was as willing to move on as the pitcher himself. With every two-strike count, the fans climbed to their feet, orange-towels waving, and pumped him up with booming "Har-VEY! Har-VEY!" chants. We all remember the September drama created by Harvey and his agent, Scott Boras, but here, in the NLCS, that tabloid hysteria feels like a lifetime ago.
Just as the Mets are a different team than the one that couldn't beat the Cubs during the regular season (0-7), Harvey no longer appears to be shackled by arbitrary innings counts -- at least not for the immediate future. For the time being, he's just another Met, so we can put aside the 1-and-24 designation for the duration of these playoffs.
"I think we've developed so much as a team," Harvey said about the Mets' transformation heading into Game 1. "We've obviously added a lot of key parts, and we've really grown. We're really going into this with a new mindset, a new team basically, and we're all ready for it. What's happened in the past really isn't on our mind."
That goes for the rest of the rotation, too. Harvey might have been the spearhead for this NLCS, but the Mets need the other starters ready to continue the roll. And this is uncharted territory for that elite group, none of whom have pitched deep into October -- or on such a pressure-packed stage.
The Mets were fortunate before Game 1 when Noah Syndergaard didn't report any physical issues from Thursday's stellar relief appearance. It wasn't so much that pivotal seventh inning as the 80 pitches he threw after the manager asked him to warm up four times during that winner-take-all Game 5 in L.A.
And as long as Syndergaard is fine, that meant the Mets could set up their rotation in the best way possible, with him starting Sunday's Game 2, followed by Jacob deGrom in 3 and Steven Matz in 4. That also left the Mets' top three to go twice in the NLCS, which is their most glaring advantage over the Cubs.
"We've been planning on playing in the postseason since March," Collins said. "And so it was all about making sure they're going to be OK, that's why we rested them, that's why we took them out of games, because we knew that down the line, we were going to need that extra energy. So yes, there's concerns, but this is who we've got, and those are still our best options."
The Mets biggest worry, however, has nothing to do with their young rotation. It's finding a way to fix the weak links in their lineup, including some players Collins didn't expect to see slumping this badly. Collins did what he could Saturday by starting Michael Cuddyer over Lucas Duda (2-for-18, 11 Ks) against lefthanded Jon Lester. But it's not like he has replacements for Wright and Cespedes, who are hitting a combined .140 (6-for-43) with 18 strikeouts so far this postseason.
Presumably, that trend has to change if the Mets are going to advance to the World Series, and win it once they get there. Thanks to Harvey, and the rotation that will follow him in this NLCS, the Mets apparently can carry them for now.