The Dodgers and Mets are no strangers to one another. Last fall’s National League Division Series between the two teams will forever be known as Daniel Murphy’s coming out party. Now, Murphy is a member of the rival Nationals, and the Mets may be even better, especially offensively, than they were a season ago — a season that culminated with a World Series appearance.
The Dodgers are sitting just one game above .500, yet still lead the disappointing NL West by a full game. The biggest question mark coming into 2016 was the starting rotation. Outside of Clayton Kershaw, who did the Dodgers and new manager Dave Roberts have? After the Hishashi Iwakuma deal fell through, it looked like the Dodgers would have a thin starting rotation — until Kenta Maeda showed up.
New York Mets (20-12) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (17-16)
When: 10:10 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Where: Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles)
Matchup: Noah Syndergaard (2-2, 2.58 ERA) vs. Kenta Maeda (3-1, 1.66 ERA)
The driving force behind the Mets’ magical run last season was their pitching staff. While Matt Harvey is still the biggest name in the rotation, Noah Syndergaard has taken over as the best arm on the staff. Syndergaard’s last three starts haven’t been typical Thor outings, posting a 4.42 ERA in only 18 1/3 innings of work.
The issue with Syndergaard isn’t his velocity or his lack of strikeouts. In fact, Syndergaard leads the league in fastball (97.8 avg. mph) and slider (91.7 avg. mph) velocity by a wide margin. Syndergaard’s strikeout numbers are great as well. He is currently striking out batters at a 32.2 percent clip, good enough for third in all of MLB, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.50K/9 vs. 1.88 B/9) is not of this world. The recent problem with Syndergaard is his inability to consistently hit his spots, causing his pitch count to rise in the early innings. In his last three starts, Thor has totaled 302 pitches all without making it into the seventh inning.
On the other hand, Kenta Maeda has been a revelation for the Dodgers’ rotation. Maeda’s eight-year, $25 million deal is looking like an early bargain. Maeda, 28, spent his first six professional seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, but has transitioned to MLB seamlessly.
Maeda’s approach is the antithesis of Syndergaard’s. Where Syndergaard wants to blow hitters away with pure power, Maeda, is changing his spots and velocity to fool hitters — and it’s working. Maeda is currently posting a 1.66 ERA, 3.13 FIP, while stranding more than 90 percent of base runners, and he’s doing it all with an average fastball velocity that’s less than 90 mph. It’s still early, but Maeda has to be the front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year so far.
*In their first two games, the Mets and Dodgers combined for just 11 total runs. Currently, the Mets and Dodgers sit ninth and 10th in the NL in runs scored. With Syndergaard facing off against Maeda tonight and Clayton Kershaw taking the mound tomorrow, don’t expect a slugfest.
*Last night, Trayce Thompson hit a solo, pinch-hit, walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, smashing a fastball (clocked at 96 mph) from Mets reliever Hansel Robles. The long ball was Thompson’s second home run in as many games after hitting a two-run shot off Steven Matz on Monday night.
*Mets starting third baseman David Wright is scheduled to have a day off, while second baseman Neil Walker is expected to be back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a bruised shin.
The return of Walker gives the Mets a little more punch in the lineup, and I think Syndergaard gets back on track tonight at Dodger Stadium. The last time Thor took the mound in Chavez Ravine was actually the seventh inning of Game 5 of the NLDS last fall where he struck out the side. The Mets would hang on to knock out the Dodgers and cruise into the NLCS.
Prediction: Mets 4, Dodgers 2
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)