Friday, October 9, 2015

To win NLDS Mets must out-pitch Dodgers

The New York Mets weren't supposed to be here. Back in late July, the Mets were 49-48 and were struggling to stay relevant in the National League East. It was during a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field, that the Mets began their turnaround. The team promoted outfielder Michael Conforto from double-A, and acquired veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson in separate trades without giving up anything significant.

The moves gave the Mets some added pop that they didn't have in their lineup, and team went on to take two of three from Los Angeles that weekend. Days later, the Mets were at it again. After the Carlos Gomez trade fell through, the Mets made the best move they could make, acquiring Yoenis Cespedes for a couple minor leaguers, all while keeping pitcher Zach Wheeler and short stop Wilmur Flores in the process.

Cespedes went on to crack 17 home runs and drive in 44, while Conforto hit .270 with nine homers and 26 RBI. Suddenly the Mets resurgent offense was putting up big numbers, as everyone in the lineup, including Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Lucas Duda and Wilmur Flores were all contributing.

With their starting pitching leading the way, the Mets breezed to a division title in late September, and now find themselves in Los Angeles to face a determined Dodgers team in the NLDS. Let's break it down.

PITCHING, PITCHING AND MORE PITCHING: This series will be about one thing and one thing only, starting pitching. The Mets have a plethora of young arms, all of whom will be making their first ever postseason starts in this series.

The Mets will feature Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and, if healthy, Steven Matz in that order. deGrom has been the Mets most consistent starter, having won 14 games, while striking out 205 batters in 191 innings pitched. Of the 30 starts that deGrom has made this year for New York, the Mets have won 20 of those starts, which is a quarter of their wins  this year.

While Harvey won't start until Game 3, he could be in the most crucial game of this series. Game 3 is typically the swing game of five-game set, and the Mets will have Harvey, who has stirred up a lot of controversy the past few weeks on the hill. Harvey pitches great at home with a 8-3 record and 2.23 ERA.

Syndergaard and Matz will be the guys to watch. Both are rookies, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure of the postseason. Syndergaard will start Game 2, and is 2-5 on the road this year. He did beat LA in July, but again, that was July. Matz went 4-0 in the regular season, but spent most of his time on the DL with back injuries. Who knows how effective he will be in the playoffs.

As for the Dodgers, they have the Big Two in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke. Both starters combined to go 35-10 this year for Los Angeles, and will match-up against deGrom and Syndergaard in this series. There is a good chance that both might pitch twice in this series, meaning Grienke starts Games 1 and 4, while Kershaw starts Games 2 and 5.

For Kershaw, who struck out 301 batters this year, the 2015 postseason is a chance for true redemption. He has been mocked and knocked by fans across the country for his poor postseason performances, as he owns a 5.12 ERA in the playoffs. Last year he had two outings get away from him against St. Louis. If the Dodgers are to advance, Kershaw needs to exercise his own demons. Look for a poised and determined Kershaw in this series.

The Dodgers will also throw Brett Anderson in this series, but, for Los Angeles to be successful, Kershaw and Grienke have to dominate.

Starting Pitching EDGE: Dodgers.

BULLPEN: If we are comparing just the closers, then the Mets have the advantage. Jeurys Familia has been nothing short of spectacular this year. The right hander assumed the closers role after Jenrry Mejia's injury and suspension, and went on to save 43 games for the Mets this year. The guy is lights out, and has a higher ceiling compared to Kenley Jansen.

This is not to say Jansen is not good. On the contrary, he is very good. How does a walk to K ratio of 1:8 sound to you? He's also allowed only 14 earned runs this season with 36 saves. But it is the rest of the Dodgers pen that is impressive. J.P. Howell, Yimi Garcia, Juan Nicasco, Pedro Baez, and Chris Hatcher all have ERAs under 3.50 and WHIPs under 1.25. That's pretty nasty, especially if the Dodgers are forced to go to the pen at any point in this series.

The Mets bullpen hasn't been as consistent, and they are still trying to figure out whether Jon Niese or Bartolo Colon will go into the pen. There is also room for Sean Gilmartin, but we'll see what role, if any he has in this series as well.

Bullpen EDGE: Dodgers.

1ST BASE:  If we are looking at the stat sheet, then obviously Adrian Gonzalez has a clear edge over Lucas Duda. However, Gonzalez hit .188 in the playoffs last year, and with Yasiel Puig relegated to bench duty as he returns from a hamstring injury, there will be added pressure on Gonzalez to lead the way. Duda hit 27 homers this year, has a tendency to strike out a lot, but he can also deliver a big hit every once in a while too.
EDGE: Even. 

2ND BASE: The Mets' Daniel Murphy had another solid campaign for the orange and blue. The second baseman, hit a career high in home runs with 14 and drove in 73, while hitting .281 this year. He is a consistent bat that finds ways to get on base, making him a perfect number two hitter. As a left handed bat, Murphy is more than a slap hitter, he has tremendous power as well. While he has taken a lot of heat for his defense over the years, Murphy could be a very dangerous weapon for New York in this series.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers counter with veterans Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley. Both players can still disrupt a baseball game. Kendrick, though might be the guy Don Mattingly calls on the most in this series. He could be the Dave Roberts of the series.
EDGE: Mets

3RD BASE: David Wright vs. Justin Turner. Turner will look for some revenge against his old team, after he was released by the team two years ago. He has had a nice year this year, with career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (60). However, this will be about David Wright. The Mets captain is healthy and his presence in the middle of the order behind Yoenis Cespedes will be a big key for the Mets. Wright has waited for a return to the playoffs for almost a decade, and he is going to try everything he can to soak it up.
EDGE: Mets. 

SHORT STOP: If Jimmy Rollins starts at short for the Dodgers, the Mets will see another familiar face from Philadelphia (the other being Utley). Rollins hates the Mets. Let me re-phrase that, he loves to kill the Mets. Throughout his career in Philly, Rollins tormented the Mets, especially in the mid-2000s when the Phillies took advantage of the Mets collapses. While he may not be the same guy anymore, Rollins can still do some damage; the Mets have to be careful.

The Mets will likely employ their platoon at short. Wilmur Flores put up better numbers than Ruben Tejada, but, Terry Collins kept a platoon going all season long. Tejada saw even more playing time when Wright was out with a back injury. That being said, expect Flores at short at least at the start of the series. The popular Met, hit 16 homers this year, and the fans love him for his pure emotion.
EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Both Travis d'Arnaud and Yasmani Grandal have had similar seasons in production. Both hit for a number of homers. Both drove in over 40. And both catch two of the better staffs in baseball. This is a hard one to call as to who has the edge here, but keep in mind these guys are calling the game for these staffs too. Should be fun.
EDGE: Even.

OUTFIELD: If the Dodgers do in fact leave Yasiel Puig on the bench, then the Mets have a clear advantage over the Dodgers in outfield. Cespedes has been a monster for the Mets ever since his acquisition from Detroit. Meanwhile, Curtis Granderson has been the most consistent Met this year, with 26 homers and 70 RBI in the lead-off spot for Terry Collins' squad. Michael Conforto has shown flashes of becoming a big time bopper for the Mets in the future, and keep in mind New York could also call on veteran slugger Michael Cuddyer or the speedy Juan Lagares as well.

Los Angeles looks poised to feature an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Either and Enrique Hernandez. Like Conforto, Hernandez is getting his first taste of the postseason, and has show flashes of brilliance. The other two guys are getting up there in age, although both can still do some damage.

EDGE: Mets. 

MANAGER: Neither Terry Collins nor Don Mattingly are not going to be confused with Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox anytime soon. Both managers have come under a lot of heat over the years, and it is fair to say both were on the hot seat coming into 2015. While Collins seat has cooled since the Mets won the NL East, Mattingly's seat is red hot. The Dodgers have been here before in the playoffs under Mattingly, and choked. Another October meltdown, and Donnie Baseball could be on his way out.
EDGE: Even.

Intangibles: The Mets come into this series with nothing to lose. They accomplished more than anyone expected of them to this season, and are now playing with house money. That being said, a lot people think they are going to win this thing because the Dodgers are old, and are classic choke artists. That might be the case, but the Dodgers have something to prove to their doubters. If they have any love for their manager, they will play for him in this series. It also helps they have two Cy Young Award winners in their rotation.
EDGE: Dodgers.

PREDICTION: Dodgers in 5. The Mets will give the Dodgers a fight, but New York needs to win two games against both Grienke and Kershaw to get it done; that won't be easy.

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