The Los Angeles Dodgers will host the New York Mets in Game 1 of the National League Division Series from Dodger Stadium on Friday evening. While the Dodgers are the favorites in many different betting odds, the Mets are a dangerous team that stole the NL East from the favorite in that division, the Washington Nationals. As is customary in the playoffs, truly anything can happen in a division series.
While the Dodgers have been a perennial postseason team as of late, the Mets return to the postseason for the first time since 2006, when they last played the Dodgers, sweeping them in the NLDS. These two teams have even more postseason history beyond that. The Dodgers stunned the favorite Mets in the 1988 NLCS on their way to their most recent World Series title. While both teams play in different parts of the country, these two teams do have a lot in common such as their large home markets and their long World Series droughts. Both teams look to get off they respective postseason losing streaks when they meet on Friday night.
Beyond the Los Angeles and New York city and postseason comparisons, both teams have also experienced somewhat similar runs to the postseason in 2015. While the Dodgers were the favorites in the NL West, and the Mets seemingly came out of nowhere to win the NL East, both teams have been in similar positions over the last two months of the season. Both teams have held rather large division leads over the last few months of the season and faced only minimal threats from their divisional foes. With the Pirates and Cubs both on fire in the Wild Card race, both the Mets and Dodgers were preparing for a postseason match up as early as the beginning of September. Now that the postseason is finally here, the Dodgers and Mets are ready to square off in what should be a pitching clinic.
With two of the top five starting pitching staffs in the league this year set to square off Friday night, this may be the lowest scoring series of any of the four division series match ups. The Dodgers staff, led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, boasts the second best ERA in the entire league in 2015, while the Mets staff, led by the young quartet of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, boasts the fourth best ERA in the league this season. Runs will definitely be at a premium when these two staffs square off.
For the Dodgers, the main question mark will be whether they can get enough out of their supporting cast of starters, including Brett Anderson and possibly Alex Wood, as well as their bullpen once Kershaw and Greinke are removed from their starts. Given how the series is set up, with games one and two on Friday and Saturday before an off day on Sunday and game three and four on Monday and Tuesday, the Dodgers could theoretically start Kershaw on Friday and then use him again on Tuesday on three days rest if they do not trust Alex Wood or someone else in a game four situation. This is also contingent on if they are leading the series or behind in the series, but it is a possibility to watch for.
For the Mets, all four of their expected starters will be making their first playoff appearances. For them nerves could come into play, especially for deGrom and Syndergaard who must go up against arguably the two best pitchers not playing in Chicago this season. It will definitely be a heavy test for the Mets young staff, although Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese both provide some veteran presence should they be used as starters or in a relief capacity. While the Dodgers certainly have a stronger top of the rotation, it appears fairly evident that the Mets have a deeper staff overall.
Game 4: LAD: TBD VS. NYM: TBD
While both these teams have relied on their strong pitching throughout the season, their offenses have taken different paths into the postseason. After having one of the strongest offenses in the entire league over the first half of the season, the Dodgers truly fell apart in the second half. While Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, and several others were having career years in the first half of 2015, it seems like almost the entire Dodgers offense took the second half of the season off. By comparison, the Mets had one of the worst offenses in the entire league in the first half of the season, and arguably the best offense in the entire National League in the second half.
With the strong pitching staffs of the both the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, this series could come down to which team is able to manufacture the most runs in what looks to be a low scoring series overall. For the Dodgers the key will be getting guys like Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal playing well again, and keeping Corey Seager hot. Yasiel Puig may also play a big role for the Dodgers now that he is healthy, and is definitely an important player to watch.
For the Mets the focus will rightfully be on Yoenis Cespedes, who had arguably the best second half of any player in the entire league. The Mets will rely heavily on him to plate some runs for their young staff but they also must rely on other key offensive players to continue to contribute at a high level as well. One important player to watch for the Mets is David Wright, who is back healthy from his almost season long injury and is looking just as good as he has in years past. While Yasiel Puig is the x-factor for the Dodgers, Wright might be the key player for the Mets.
Keys to Victory:
New York Mets
1. Cespedes Must Stay Hot
If the Mets have any hope of beating the favored Dodgers they are going to need to get strong production from Cespedes in the middle of the lineup. Runs are certainly going to be at a premium in this series, and Cespedes could be the deciding factor against Kershaw and Greinke in games one and two.
2. Young Mets Pitchers Must Not Be Fazed
As mentioned above, all four of the Mets projected starters will be making their first postseason appearances and starts in the NLDS. This brings with it an added layer of pressure, especially for deGrom and Syndergaard who must not only go on the road for games one and two, but must also face Kershaw and Greinke respectively. If the Mets have a chance at winning the series, they must rely heavily on their young pitching studs.
3. David Wright Needs to Show Up
Of all the players not named Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright may be the most important cog in the Mets postseason machine. Wright is the only remaining player from the Mets last postseason appearance and has been the emotional leader of the Mets even when not playing at the highest level during his many battles with various injuries. Wright is healthy for the Mets now and must play a big role if the Mets hope to beat the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Kershaw and Greinke Must Do What They Do Best
The Dodgers are truly counting on Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke more than ever going into the first round of the postseason. With the Dodgers offense struggling throughout the second half of the season, and going into a series against a strong Mets pitching staff, both Kershaw and Greinke must be at the top of their games in games one and two. If the Dodgers can come out with wins in game one and two from Kershaw and Greinke, the series is in their hands.
2. Young Dodgers Players Must Perform
The Dodgers may have a lot of offensive depth throughout their lineup but they still must rely on young players such as Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig to produce and provide a spark against the strong Mets staff. Seager seems to have won the starting shortstop job and could play a big part in the Dodgers quest to return to October. Look for these guys to make or break the Dodgers first round series.
3. Yasiel Puig Must Contribute
With Yasiel Puig finally completely healthy (or at least 75-percent healthy), the Dodgers have included him on the postseason roster, although it is unlikely he will start in game one. Puig will be a high energy option off the bench for Don Mattingly and the Dodgers, and should factor into the series sooner rather than later.
Despite a strong young pitching staff and an overachieving offense, the Los Angeles Dodgers two aces will be too much for the Mets to overcome. The Mets wont go down quietly in the series but the Dodgers still have the edge.
Dodgers in five.