National League Division Series Preview: New York vs. Los Angeles
New York versus Los Angeles. Yeah, this is something that Major League Baseball executives are just fine with.
The National League East champion Mets (90-72) managed to thwart the demons of 2007 and 2008 this year and run away with their first division title since 2006. For the Dodgers, their NL West crown (92-70) is their third in a row, and also marks the first time since 1976-78 that L.A. has won at least 90 games in three straight seasons.
Even though these two teams play in the two biggest markets in the country, only one of them acts like it. And boy, do the Dodgers act like it. For them (and their $270-plus million roster), this is a World Series-or-bust season. Nothing less than an appearance in the Fall Classic will do. For the Mets, who opened 2015 with a payroll barely over $100 million, it's a reintroduction to the big stage.
The Dodgers should be the more desperate team. But that ain't always a good thing.
So much of the narrative surrounding this series is concerning the struggles of Clayton Kershaw in postseason play. In 11 games (8 career starts), Kershaw has a 5.12 ERA and a 1-5 record. In 51 innings he's struck out 58 and walked 18, but given up 45 hits and 29 earned runs in the playoffs. Here is what he's done in his career, year by year, round by round.
While Kershaw hasn't been as sharp in recent postseason games, it's unfair to say he's been terrible. And given his motivation to put this narrative to bed, it's more than likely he's going to bounce back strong in this series. Of course, he won't be facing a slouch in Jacob deGrom in Game 1, who burst onto the scene nationally at the All-Star Game this season and has turned himself into one of the most dominant starters in the NL.
In Game 2, Los Angeles turns to the man who will challenge Jake Arrieta for the Cy Young Award this year, Zack Greinke, and his historic 1.66 ERA in the regular season. He'll be opposed by Noah Syndergaard, who's had a fantastic rookie season for New York. Game 3 is where the Mets have the advantage over L.A., with Matt Harvey opposing Brett Anderson, although there is a question over just how many pitches New York will let Harvey throw as they continue to watch his pitch count.
While New York's strength has been their starting rotation all season, the dominance of Kershaw and Greinke in a short series gives L.A. the edge here.
Below are the stats for each team's offense in the second half of the season.
|Mets||373 (1)||102 (1)||.275 (6)||.328 (T-2)||.443 (1)||.770 (1)||.332 (1)|
|Dodgers||291 (13)||74 (T-6)||.248 (T-11)||.323 (6)||.393 (11)||.717 (9)||.313 (8)|
Why focus on the second half numbers? Because the Mets have become a completely different team since acquiring Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. In just 57 games with New York, Cespedes entered the NL MVP conversation for a little while there by hitting .287/.337/.604 with 17 homers, 44 RBI, and a 157 weighted runs created (wRC+). Overall he hit .291/.328/.542 with a career high 35 homers, 105 RBI, 101 runs scored and 135 wRC+. Not a bad way to enter free agency, and it goes without saying the Mets need him to rake this fall.
New York also got a terrific season from the ageless Curtis Granderson, who led the team in fWAR at 5.1 and hit .259/.364/.457 with 26 homers, 70 RBI and 98 runs scored. Lucas Duda followed up a break-out campaign last year with another 27 homers and wRC+ of 133, and don't sleep on David Wright, who played in just 38 games this year but hit .289/.379/.434 in 174 plate appearances and is looking to take advantage of his first taste of postseason play since the '06 NLCS.
As for the Dodgers, their offense was no-hit twice in under two weeks here in the second half and have basically been trying to piece something together game by game. Manager Don Mattingly has an interesting task at hand, deciding whether to use playoff-savvy veterans who have struggled this year, like former Phils Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins or whether to use a young, but productive player, like Corey Seager.
Justin Turner has had a breakout season, with a team-high 4.0 fWAR, but the most dangerous player in the Los Angeles lineup is Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .275/.350/.480 this year with a team-high 28 homers and 90 RBI. Andre Ethier will be in the lineup against the Mets' stable of right-handed pitchers, where his .306/.383/.517 slash line against righties will work nicely. And it will be interesting to see what rookie Joc Pederson, who started the season so hot and finished so poorly, will be able to do this fall.
Neither the Mets nor the Dodgers have a bullpen that has been particularly effective in the second half. The Mets' 4.20 bullpen ERA since the All-Star break is just 11th-best in the National League, and L.A.'s 4.33 ERA is 12th-best.
That being said, New York's closer Jeurys Familia is downright unhittable at times. He saved 43 games this year with a 1.85 ERA in 78.0 innings and an average of 9.92 strikeouts per nine innings. Tyler Clippard has playoff experience in the later innings, and Sean Gilmartin and Hansel Robles are two more dependable arms New York likes to go to to close things out.
For the Dodgers, their closer Kenley Jansen put up a 2.41 ERA while striking out an insane 13.76 batters per nine this year. If he comes on to pitch the ninth with the lead, good luck. Chris Hatcher has been a godsend for the bullpen since coming off the disabled list, putting up a 1.31 ERA in 22 games and giving up just three runs during that stretch. Luis Avilan and Juan Nicasio are both young and throw hard, but lack playoff experience.
Simply put, the bullpen is not the strength of either team.
Our numbers say the Dodgers will win this series, putting their odds at 57.62%, while the Mets are at 42.38%. And while New York absolutely can win this series, especially with such a strong advantage at the plate, it's more likely the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke will help get the Dodgers past this opening round of the playoffs.
I'm picking the Dodgers in four.