By: Paul DiSclafani
As “Flounder” said to his Fraternity Brothers while wringing his hands in anticipation of a night out during the movie “Animal House”, “Oh boy, is this great!” – that’s the feeling most Mets fans have as the NLDS begins tonight.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the matchups:
CATCHER: Travis d’Arnaud and A.J. Ellis/Yasmani Grandal
Travis d’Arnaud spent two long stints on the DL with a broken finger and a hyper-extended elbow and played only 67 games. But he still hit 12 HR and drove in 41 runs in just 174 AB’s. His OPS of .825 would have put him second for NL catchers, but he didn’t have enough AB’s. Yasmani Grandal finished the season 3-for-51, so AJ Ellis should get plenty of opportunities. But the veteran does most of his damage against lefties (.913 OPS), and the Mets will start right-handers in the first three games of the set. EDGE: Mets
FIRST BASE: Lucas Duda vs. Adrian Gonzalez
Although the final season numbers are close, Duda did most of his damage in bunches. He is just one HR shy of Gonzalez (27-28), but he hit 9 in 8 games in August and five in three games in September. And the worry about his ability to hit lefthanders was trashed, as Duda put up better numbers vs lefties (.285) than righties (.230). Gonzalez has a much better glove than Duda (he has four gold ones), but has hit only four home runs in his last 149 AB’s. EDGE: Dodgers
SECOND BASE: Daniel Murphy vs. Howie Kendrick
Murphy led the Mets with 38 doubles, but hit 13 of his 14 home runs against righties. He is the one Mets batter you want to see up there when you need a hit, though. But he’s the last guy you want the ball hit to. He doesn’t make as many errors as you would believe (13), but a lot of the mental mistakes he makes in the field and on the base paths don’t translate into errors. Kendrick was on the DL when the Dodgers traded for Chase Utley, but Utley hit just .202 when he came over. Kendricks returned in the middle of September and finished with 54 RBI and hit .288 in the final two weeks of the season. EDGE: Even
SHORTSTOP: Wilmer Flores/Ruben Tejada vs. Corey Seager
Not much of a contest with Seager hitting .337, who won the job over former Mets nemesis Jimmy Rollins. With Flores still battling strep throat (he lost 10 pounds in a week), it will be Tejada. But fear not, Mets fans. Tejada is hitting .357 against Kershaw in 17 AB’s. EDGE: Dodgers
THIRD BASE: David Wright vs. Justin Turner
David Wright looks healthy enough to rule out back issues in this series. He has played well in his 30 games since returning from the DL (.277), but former Met Justin Turner has been good all season. The redhead has hit well against righties (.312) and won’t have to worry about a lefty until Game 4. EDGE: Dodgers
LEFT FIELD: Michael Conforto/Michael Cuddyer vs. Carl Crawford
Rookie Conforto will not play against lefties and Cuddyer came on strong in the last few weeks (.287 after August 10). But this combo is better than Crawford. EDGE: Mets
CENTER FIELD: Yoenis Cespedes vs. Joc Pederson
Pederson hit just .178 in 62 games after the All-Star break and Cespedes has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since joining the Mets. In 57 games with the NL East champs, the Cuban clubbed 14 doubles, four triples and 17 home runs, while compiling a .604 slugging percentage and a .942 OPS. He even has October experience, hitting .350 in 10 career games. EDGE: Mets
RIGHT FIELD: Curtis Granderson vs. Andre Ethier/Yasiel Puig
Puig played in just 79 games for the Dodgers after pulling both hamstrings during the year and was on the DL for five weeks before making it back for the final two games of the regular season. Ethier will start against the righties and we may see Puig PH and get a start in Game 4 vs the lefty Matz. Granderson has a career high 91 walks as the Mets leadoff guy and his 26 home runs. EDGE: Mets
The Mets are not afraid of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke. There, we said it.
Although the Aces are both previous Cy Young winners and no doubt intimidating presences on the mound, facts are facts. The fact is: They are both going to pitch well and there isn’t a lot you can do about it.
Kershaw (a 3-time CY Young winner) won 16 games and struck out 301 batters. Grienke, who is a candidate to win his second Cy Young this year, won 19 games with a microscopic ERA of 1.66. Intimidating, no?
Like the rest of the league, the Mets did not have much success against both of them during the regular season, but their starting pitching kept them in the game and when they got to the LA bullpen, the Mets won both games.
- The Mets went out to LA and scored a run off Kershaw while Noah Syndergaard matched him pitch for pitch, then the Mets got a run in the ninth off closer Kenley Jensen for a 2-1 win.
- Back at Citi Field, they stopped Grienke’s scoreless innings streak at 45.2 by scoring twice off him, then won the game in walk-off fashion when Juan Uribe missed a home run by inches in the 10th inning against Juan Nicasio.
Good pitching always trumps good hitting and both teams have good, if not great, starting pitching. The Dodgers have veterans with postseason experience if not postseason success, the Mets with young flamethrowers with zero postseason experience. Maybe they cancel each other out.
GAME 1: Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54) vs Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13)
With a staff that boasts Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, deGrom has emerged as the Ace of the staff. He made 30 starts and struck out 205 in his 191 innings, walking only 38 batters all year. Kershaw has won three of the last four Cy Young awards and was the NL MVP last year. His 301 strikeouts are the most in the majors since 2002. The lefty will be trying to shake his postseason persona of failure, though. In 11 postseason starts, he is just 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA. So the Mets have THAT going for them.
GAME 2: Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) vs Zach Grienke (19-3, 1.66)
Grienke led the league in ERA and is a candidate for his second Cy Young award and had a scoreless innings streak of 45.2 innings. Like Kershaw, Grienke has not seen his regular season success transfer to the post season. He has started seven games in the postseason with mixed results, 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA. The rookie Syndergaard is full of spit and vinegar, boasting that the Mets will “give it to Dodgers wherever we are.” His woes on the road are well documented and he gave up 19 home runs in his 24 starts. His nasty curve will drive the Dodgers nuts.
GAME 3: Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69) vs Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71)
When the series moves to New York, Matt Harvey will take the mound for the Mets. This time, there will be no talk of innings limits. Harvey made 29 starts for the Mets in his post-surgery season and was inconsistent at times, allowing 18 home runs. But he does want the ball in big situations and what better stage will there be than the first home postseason game for the Mets in nine years? And after facing Kershaw and Grienke on back-to-backs nights, you think the Mets are looking forward to Brett Anderson? Anderson was rocked for five runs in four innings against the Mets in his only start.
GAME 4: The Mets will be starting another rookie, Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27) who already has a win against the Dodgers under his belt (6 inns, 1 run, 2 hits). In six starts over 35 innings he has given up only 9 runs, giving up three runs just once. Matz hasn’t pitched since September 24th. And he will most likely be facing Kershaw on short rest.
Game 5: Expect Grienke to take the ball again, this time he will face deGrom.
The Dodgers have blown 21 saves this season, but closer Kenley Jansen is 36 of 38 in saves with 80 strikeouts in 54 innings. The Mets Jeurys Familia tied a Mets franchise record with 43 saves (in 48 chances) and has allowed just 16 runs in 78 appearances.
Both teams have had fairly solid 8th inning guys all season. JP Howell won six games in relief for the Dodgers (1.43 ERA) and had 10 “holds”. The Mets acquired Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed to bolster their pen. Reed has allowed just two runs in his 17 appearances and between them they have 14 holds.
It’s the mess getting to these guys that is the problem for both teams. But that may not be a factor with the strength of the starting pitching. EDGE: Even
Obviously this series will be dominated by the pitching. When you face a Kershaw and a Grienke, you know that scoring runs is going to be difficult, so what do you hope for? You hope your pitchers can keep you in the game. Is there any staff more suited to match Kershaw and Grienke pitch-for-pitch than the Mets?
So your plan is to get into the other team’s bullpen, right? It is well documented that both teams have trouble in the 6th and 7th innings, but seem to have it figured out in 8 and 9. But this is the playoffs. If you are going to the bullpen in the sixth inning, you are in trouble. Grienke and Kershaw were described by Terry Collins as “Those two animals”, and he’s right. They are built to go 8 or 9 innings without breaking a sweat. The Mets kiddies haven’t done that all year. With innings limits and pitch counts, they Mets bullpen got a lot more work than they should have.
Watching the Mets all year, you could see how the starters struggled once their pitch count hit the magical 100 mark. You think that is going to bother Grienke or Kershaw?
Not sure what is more important in this series regarding the pitching, the inexperience and unknown ability of the Mets starters (never played in the post season) or the postseason perception around Kershaw and Grienke that they are different guys when it really counts?
And what Mets lineup will show up? The “no-lead-is-safe” bangers of August and early September, or the pop-gun “no-more-than-one-hit-per-inning” group the rest of the season?
Game 1 is the key to the entire series. If the Mets win, they are assured of at least a split in LA. If the Dodgers win, they have Grienke on the mound for Game 2 and a chance to take a stranglehold on the short series.
Once they get to NY, the Dodgers have an advantage in using Kershaw on short rest for a Game 4 because they back him up with Grienke on regular rest for a Game 5. The Mets will be throwing a 22 year-old kid with just six major league starts into elimination Game 4 with one of the teams up in the series, 2-1.
The Mets don’t want to get to a Game 5 and I don’t think they do. Win a game in LA and Harvey will win Game 3 for you. At the worst, it’s a 2-1 lead going into Game 4 against Kershaw on three days rest with a kid pitcher who has shown no fear and won a Championship game start in every level he has played.
Mets dispatch the Dodgers in four games.