Los Angeles Dodgers fans nor New York Mets fans want to think about the implications of either of their teams losing in the National League Division Series. That statement seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? But there is more to that shallow declaration than meets the reader’s eye.
Let’s look at the Dodgers first, the highest paid team in baseball’s thriving payroll history. Yes, even higher than overpriced Yankee royalty. We always want to try and correlate payrolls to wins just like we try and correlate a vast amount of varying statistics and analytics to wins in baseball. But as I mentioned in my Cubs and Cardinals NLDS preview, somethings in baseball can’t be quantified.
The pressure around this Dodgers team cannot be quantified. Yeah, the Dodgers won the NL West, but really the NL West wasn’t very good this year. The Dodgers should have won the NL West. After two straight postseason collapses, with the best pitcher of a generation in Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers find themselves in a "World Series or nothing" mentality for the third straight October.
The Dodgers are less than outstanding when it comes to facing comparable teams, going just 9-12 against the remaining NL playoff teams this season. But the Dodgers are well equipped to make an October run. They have the best 1-2 pitching punch since the Arizona Diamondacks' Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. Mixed with stellar starting pitching is a somewhat better bullpen and a veteran lineup.
On the other hand, the Mets are full of their own Hollywood drama that keeps the New York back page editors busy. New York took full advantage of the train wreck that was the Washington Nationals and the rest of the NL East, winning 11 of 19 games against the Nats and going 47-29 against their division on the season.
Between a complex and disheartening financial situation, a lightning-in-a-bottle lineup, and the 24/7 Matt Harvey news cycle, the 2015 Mets could easily be a one-hit wonder, or go down in October lore alongside the ’69 Miracle Mets.
New York Mets vs. Los Angels Dodgers
Friday, Oct. 9
Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
Saturday, Oct. 10
Noah Syndergaard vs. Zack Greinke
Monday, Oct. 12
Brett Anderson vs. Matt Harvey
Tuesday, Oct. 13
Undecided vs. Undecided
Thursday, Oct. 15
Undecided vs. Undecided
Three Things to Watch
1. Kershaw’s Continuing Postseason Woes
Fair or unfair, a lot of blame has been placed upon Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers' most recent postseason performances. Does Kershaw deserve some of the blame? Of course he does.
In his last four postseason starts, two against the Cardinals in the 2013 National League Championship Series and two against the Cardinals again in the '14 NLDS, Kershaw’s ERA was 6.30 and 7.82. Kershaw’s career ERA is 2.43. So what gives? Do the Cards simply have Kershaw’s number? It appears so, only in the postseason though.
His career regular season numbers against the Cardinals are good, a .288 batting average against, 100 strikeouts, and just 21 hits and three home runs allowed in 15 starts. But his career ERA against the Cards is the third highest against any other team he has faced, at 3.18, a number that 98 percent of pitchers would kill for — but most pitchers aren’t Clayton Kershaw.
A big reason for Kershaw's mishaps in the last two postseasons is the lack of help from the Dodger bullpen. Kershaw, who last season was forced to throw on three days rest, was absolutely gassed by the time the sixth inning rolled around in Game 4 of the NLDS. Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly had zero confidence in his bullpen to give Kershaw any middle inning relief, and the 27-year-old lefty gave up the go-ahead home run to Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, and that was that.
Luckily for Kershaw and the Dodgers, their ace doesn't have to face the Cardinals in this, the 2015 NLDS. In his two starts against the Mets this season, Kershaw had 18 strikeouts, gave up just one run and one extra-base hit. Look for Clayton Kershaw to be more like Clayton Kershaw against the Mets this series.
2. Dodgers’ Timely Hitting
Traditionally, two things win games in October, starting pitching and timely hitting. Both teams have the starting pitching part down pat. But both teams also struggle to score runs. The Mets and Dodgers were caught right in the middle of the pack in the National League when it comes to crossing the plate, ranking seventh and eighth, respectively, in runs.
Where the Dodgers may have an advantage is in power. They ranked first in the NL in home runs (187), second in OPS (.739) and third in slugging percentage (.413). Most teams that love the long ball are also suspect to strikeout a lot, but not the Dodgers, ranking second in the NL behind the Cubs in walks and 11th in strikeouts.
Watching the veteran Dodgers lineup try to work counts against the young guns of the Mets staff that gave up the second-fewest walks in the league should make for great theater.
3. Matt Harvey Headlines
The Mets' young starting is no stranger to the limelight, both on and off the field. Harvey was an All-Star in his first full season, posting a 2.27 ERA, .931 WHIP, 191 strikeouts, and league-leading 2.01 FIP after 26 starts. Harvey missed ’14 with Tommy John surgery, but returned this year to great expectations and fanfare.
On the mound, Harvey is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Off the field, Harvey still makes headlines, albeit, not the good kind. Often times dry and aloof to the media, which isn’t the best idea in New York, Harvey has been the center of attention in the last month or so as a dispute between his agent, Scott Boras, and the club’s front office over a limit on his pitches and/or innings has gotten out of control. While pinning that issue on Harvey would be unfair, the fact that it is Harvey’s arm in question, makes it a big deal.
Earlier this week, the one known as “The Dark Knight,” failed to show up to a mandatory team workout. Harvey said he was caught in tunnel traffic and couldn’t make it. But several reports are saying Harvey was out and about the night before the workout. In a press conference Harvey kept saying he screwed up and that it wouldn't happen again. Mets’ manager Terry Collins tried to downplay the event as best as he could, but the story became a frenzy when captain and third baseman David Wright spoke about the incident, saying he was only “concerned about the guys who were here” and adding, “We have a ton of guys that put the team aspect in front of personal accolades.”
The last thing that Collins needs is for two of his best players to be beefing during the postseason, or for one of his aces to have his mind anywhere else than on the mound. There is one way for Harvey to make all of the unwanted and negativity surrounding his arm and punctuality: pitch really, really well in Game 3 in front of what is sure to be a raucous Citi Field crowd.
The Mets have been a great story for the second half of the MLB season. Between winning the NL East, the amazing, young pitching rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Harvey, and the Yoenis Cespedes trade, the Mets have been very fun to watch the past couple of months.
But the Dodgers have everything thing that a quality postseason team needs, a star-studded pitching rotation, lineup depth, and an improved bullpen. It feels like the Dodgers are due.
Prediction: Dodgers in 4
— 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.