On Friday night, the New York Mets (90-72, 1st NL East) opened their National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70, 1st NL West) at Dodger Stadium. This is the first postseason appearance for the Amazins since 2006. For the Dodgers, this is their 3rd straight postseason appearance; they won the NL West this season for the 3rd straight time (2013-2015), which is – believe it or not – a first for the franchise.
Series Schedule (best-of-5):
Game 1 — Fri, 9 Oct at Dodger Stadium (9:30 pm Eastern / 6pm Pacific); RHP Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
Game 2 – Sat, 10 Oct at Dodger Stadium (9pm Eastern / 6pm Pacific); RHP Noah Syndergaard (NYM) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (LAD)
Game 3 – Mon, 12 Oct at Citi Field (TBD); LHP Brett Anderson (LAD) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (NYM)
Game 4 – Tue, 13 Oct at Citi Field (if necessary / TBD)
Game 5 – Thu, 15 Oct at Dodger Stadium (if necessary / TBD)
Offense. Edge: Mets
For the first 4 months of the season, the Mets offense was the worst in the National League. There were nights well into July when the anemic Mets had John Mayberry, Jr. or an injury-riddled Michael Cuddyer (knee) hitting in the cleanup spot. In the week before the trade deadline, the Mets promoted OF Michael Conforto from Las Vegas, and General Manager (GM) Sandy Alderson acquired INF/OF Kelly Johnson and INF Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves. This instantaneously provided the offense, and team, with a much needed shot in the arm; days later, Alderson provided the entire franchise an injection of adrenaline by acquiring OF Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. From August 1st onward, the Mets had the best offense in the National League – scoring 316 runs / 5.8 runs per game.
Whether because of injuries, wearing down, or finding their equilibrium, the Mets did slow down during the stretch drive. New York only scored 69 runs in their last 19 games, which does provide Manager Terry Collins concern heading into the playoffs. In this matchup with Los Angeles, Collins and the Mets will likely face a lefty starter 3, if not 4, times; LHP Kershaw (Game 1), LHP Anderson (Game 3), LHPs Wood/Kershaw (Game 4). With Uribe (chest bruise) out of the NLDS and limiting some of his flexibility, Collins has hinted that he will play his regular left handed starters – Curtis Granderson (RF), Daniel Murphy (2B), and Lucas Duda (1B) against Kershaw/Anderson/Wood. He does have some options to consider in the OF vs. the Dodger lefties. Michael Cuddyer is likely to platoon with Michael Conforto in LF. Conforto, is an excellent young hitter, who only batted 14 times against lefties; he can hit lefties and plays LF very well. Cuddyer battled knee injuries all year, which limits his mobility in the outfield, although his bat started to come alive during the last two months (.302 after the All-Star Break). Granderson is sub-standard vs. lefties in his career, and only batted .183 in 2015. Juan Lagares – who lost his starting CF job after the Cespedes trade – did bat .273 vs. lefties, and provides Gold Glove-caliber defense, winning a GG in 2014.
On the Dodger side, injuries, age, and underperformance proved that even a $300 million payroll has its limitations. Yasiel Puig (hamstring) only played in 78 games, and is likely to come off the bench in this series, or serve as a spot starter. Entering the NLDS, the Dodger OF looks to be: LF Carl Crawford, CF Joc Pederson, and RF Andre Ethier. Pederson’s first half was tremendous, earning him a spot in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game; shortly thereafter, he went to the bench, finishing .210, 26 HRs, 54 RBI and splitting time with INF/OF Kike Hernandez. The Dodgers’ best hitter, 1B Adrian Gonzalez started well, but slowed in the second half, finishing at .275, 28 HRs, 90 RBI. 2B Howie Kendrick missed several weeks with a hamstring, and started to regain his footing during the last 10 days of the regular season; for the season he batted .295 with 9 HRs, and 54 RBI. C Yasmani Grandal flashed his offensive potential during the first 4 months of the season, but started to give way more to C A.J. Ellis in September. Rookie SS Corey Seager (21 years old) joined the team in August from AAA, and hit .337 down the stretch, effectively seizing the job from veteran SS, and former NL MVP (’07), Jimmy Rollins. Former Met, 3B Justin Turner has stabilized the Hot Corner for LA during the last two seasons, batting .294 with 16 HRs, 60 RBI in ’15.
Starters. Edge: Mets
With Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and Zack Greinke in Game 2, the Dodgers will open up with this generation’s version of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Kershaw and Greinke bear much of the hopes and pressure for a Dodger fan base that hasn’t won a World Series since 1988, and knows Greinke will enter Free Agency at the conclusion of the season. In the regular season, Kershaw finished 16-7, with 2.13 ERA, fanning 301 batters; the first Dodger to strikeout over 300 hitters since Koufax (1966) and only the 3rd pitcher to accomplish the feat in this century (Curt Schilling ‘02 and Randy Johnson, ’00-’02, with Arizona). Greinke vied with Chicago Cubs’ RHP Jake Arrieta for the NL Cy Young Award throughout this season; Greinke finished 19-3, with a 1.66 ERA, only allowing 148 hits in 222 2/3 innings – and he still might not win the NL Cy Young, which says volumes for Arrieta’s legendary 2nd half. Arrieta only allowed 4 ERs after the All-Star Break.
After that, the Dodger rotation becomes a lot more human with LHPs Brett Anderson and Alex Wood. Anderson pitched a career high 180 1/3 innings this season, finishing at 10-9 with 3.69 ERA. Wood arrived via a trade deadline deal with Atlanta, and closed out ’15 with a 12-12 mark, and a 3.84 ERA. Both Anderson and Wood rely on their breaking pitches, and although good major league starters, they come with question marks. Anderson has been oft-injured throughout his career and is in unchartered territory with his innings, while Wood ran hot and cold in his starts during September.
For the Mets, this is the team’s strength, its core. While we look forward to the first time we get to see their young starters on a national stage in the playoffs, past injuries and inning concerns do linger with this unit. RHP Jacob DeGrom was the ace in ’15, with a 14-8 mark and 2.54 ERA. He only allowed 149 hits in 191 innings pitched, but showed signs of fatigue in August and September. On the plus side, after the Mets skipped a DeGrom start in September, and he rebounded well in his last two starts, allowing 1 ER in 10 innings with 16 Ks. RHP Noah Syndergaard was the Mets’ best starter in September; he struck out 37 batters in his last 27 innings, only walking 2. Syndergaard is a hard throwing, physical specimen who finished 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA, striking out 166 over 150 IP. RHP Matt Harvey made news missing the team’s workout on Tuesday, and caused headlines with discussions about his innings limit in early September, but when he pitches, he reminds all Met fans why he’s worth the low-level of associated drama. Coming off Tommy John surgery in October 2013, Harvey’s return in ’15 resulted in a 13-8 mark with a 2.71 ERA. In 189 1/3 innings, he only allowed 156 hits and permitted 2 or few Earned Runs (ERs) in 11 of his last 13 starts. LHP Steven Matz has battled back spasms/trouble since his last appearance on September 22nd. Signs point to him starting Game 4, if necessary. Matz was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 6 starts, or Terry Collins can give the ball to 42-year old veteran RHP Bartolo Colon, who marched along in ’15, with a 14-13 ledger, and a 4.16 ERA in 194 2/3 innings.
Benches / Bullpens / Managers / Intangibles. Edge: Dodgers
Dodger President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi diligently re-worked LA’s roster last offseason and right up to the August 31st waiver trade deadline. With that, the Dodgers offer Don Mattingly more options than his New York counterpart, Collins. A combination of Puig – 2B Chase Utley – SS Jimmy Rollins provides veteran pinch-hitters / double switch candidates for Mattingly. OF Chris Heisey, OF Justin Ruggiano, and the versatile INF/OF Kike Hernandez provide defensive depth, pinch running, and right-handed bats in late or extra inning situations. RHP Kenley Jansen closes for the Dodgers, and in ’15 he converted 36 of 38 opportunities. In September, the Dodger bullpen came together with RHP Chris Hatcher, LHP J.P. Howell, LHP Luis Avilan (trade with Atlanta), RHP Yimi Garcia, and veteran RHP Joel Peralta providing a bridge to Jansen.
Terry Collins will have Lagares, Conforto, SS Wilmer Flores and INF/OF Kelly Johnson as depth off the bench. RHP Jeurys Familia was one of the NL’s finest closers in ’15, finishing with 43 SVs. Trade deadline acquisitions, RHP Tyler Clippard and RHP Addison Reed help bridge the starters to Familia. LHP Jon Niese, normally a starter, will serve as the Mets’ lefty out of the bullpen for the NLDS, selected over LHP Sean Gilmartin.
After 11 years managing in the Major Leagues with the Astros (’94-’96), Angels (’97-’99), and Mets (’11 – present), Terry Collins deservedly received reinforcements at the trade deadline, and will now have the opportunity to lead his squad into the postseason. It will be interesting to see the 66-year old Collins under the bright lights of the postseason. Donnie Baseball has led the Dodgers to the postseason in the last 3 years, losing to the Cardinals in the ’13 NLCS and ’14 NLDS. Mattingly has been under scrutiny throughout his 5 years in LA, and is under pressure to get these Dodgers to the World Series. Although under contract in ’16, rumors are swirling regarding his potential departure should the Dodgers and their $300M payroll not reach the Series.
Prediction. Mets in 4. The Mets depth of starting pitching and ability to generate runs provide the edge here. Under the bright lights of the postseason, DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Harvey will evoke comparisons to Seaver-Koosman-Matlack. The Mets get big hits when they need them, find a way to beat Kershaw-Greinke twice, and it’s on to the NLCS.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking NYJ and New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. For more details, please visit www.spadoraonsports.com.