The Ghosts of Kershaw – his postseason struggles are well-known and discussed ad nauseam. Career postseason, he’s 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA (as opposed to a 114-56, 2.43 ERA regular season career). That said, the (active) Mets have hit a cumulative .213 w/ a .553 OPS vs. Kershaw, and this includes a near-perfect game in July (ended up with a 3-hit shutout, 11 K’s). He also has a career 2.07 ERA in Chavez Ravine.
Bullish on the Pen – both bullpens stink. The Mets had a 3.48 ERA, Dodgers 3.91, albeit with a 3.43 in the second half. The closers are the – pun intended – saving grace for both squads. Kenley Jansen hasn’t been as unhittable as previous years (2.41 ERA, but still 13.8 K’s per 9), but still saved 32 of 34 chances. Jeurys Familia was a revelation for the Mets, saving 41 games in 46 opportunities to go with a 1.63 ERA. Otherwise, it’s a handful of mix & matching for both managers, as Chris Hatcher has ’emerged’ as the ‘set-up man’ for the Dodgers, although his 8+ first half ERA could portend problems for the converted catcher. JP Howell is the one reliable arm in the Dodgers’ pen, though Mattingly tends to use him solely in the 7th inning and versus lefties, leaving Juan Nicasio, Pedro Baez & Yimi Garcia – all flamethrowers – to sort out the rest of the Mets batters, and though they all garner high strikeout ratios, they’re all very hittable. The Mets have an even sloppier mix of names, Eric Goeddel, Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and the suddenly gas-on-fire Tyler Clippard. So essentially this series is going to come down to. . .
Can These Starters Be Hit – We know Kershaw. Greinke, who had an ungodly 1.66 ERA this season, has traditionally been hit in the playoffs (3.63 ERA). That said, he’s only allowed 12 hits in 22 innings as a Dodger, to go with 21 K’s. What worries me slightly is that he is the modern pitcher most reminiscent of Greg Maddux. Great movement, pinpoint control, cerebral approach and pitches backwards; but Maddux was average at best in playoffs, and pitchers that tend to miss bits are the ones that dominate the most in the postseason. The number three starter, Brett Anderson, is a bit better than average and frankly – a roll of the dice. The Mets answer with Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey; three absolute Aces, or Aces-to-be. They are all young, untested, and most importantly – fatigued, as each has exceeded their innings maximum and never pitched in the postseason. Simply put – who can get to who’s bullpen. . .that will determine the series.
But What About Offense – there likely won’t be much. The Dodgers, who led the National League in homeruns for the first time since 1983 (!!!), hit a ton of solo homeruns and struggled with runners on base. They also tend to be the proverbial ‘feast or famine’ squad – they’ll compile eight runs one game, one the next. The talent is there – Adrian Gonzalez, Puig is allegedly healthy, Andre Ethier has a good year when Mattingly allows him to play, and Corey Seager is amazing. But there are a ton of question marks – who plays second? Kendrick? Utley? Turner? Who plays third? Turner for sure, or do you put Seager at third and Rollins at Short? Do you need Rollins in the lineup due to his leadership and presence, not to mention postseason experience? Or is he out of the lineup since he hit .224 this year? And what about the outfield – Van Slyke is hurt and likely off the roster, Joc Pedersen had a spectacular first half but has been middling at best since, Carl Crawford is an injury waiting to happen (though clutch), leaving the unlikely trio of Enrique (Kikê) Hernandez, Chris Heisey and lefty-killer Justin Ruggiano as the potential keys to the series. AJ Ellis has probably reclaimed the job from All-Star Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, as Grandal is an unsightly 4-for-86 since his shoulder injury, and Ellis handles the pitching staff better anyway.
For the Mets – this was a tale of two halves. They were hands-down the worst offensive team in baseball in the first half (.233 avg). . .then they traded for Yoenis Cespedes, who along with call-up Michael Conforto sparked a run that had them near the top of the NL leaderboards in most categories in July and August. They normalized in September and flustered over the last few weeks, but there’s some pop in the form of Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and catcher Travis D’Arnaud – though all have holes in their swings that can be exploited with precise pitching. Daniel Murphy is a sneaky hitter that has potential to be the annoying X-factor in the series. Not too much depth otherwise, and the Mets bench isn’t to be feared.
Hometown Hero – David Wright is a pleasant story for the Mets and deserves mention. He had a near-career-ending back injury and he battled his way back to provide a productive second half (.277, 4 dingers) but is nowhere near the superstar he was. That said, he’s beloved in Citi Field, and being that Game 3 will be the first playoff game ever in the newish stadium (2009), there will be abundant emotion flowing through Queens.
Nearly Negated – The Matt Harvey fiasco(s), however, may counterbalance the floral aura in NY, as there may have never been a player in the 21st Century that garbaged his goodwill so quickly. As the leader of the feel good story of the Major League Baseball season, Harvey recovered from Tommy John surgery to manifest back into the Ace he was, dominating in most of his starts and carrying his Dark Knight persona through the five boroughs. Then his agent, Scott Boras, announced that Harvey was being shut down for the season and all hell broke loose. The Mets management knew of no such arrangement, and Harvey was backing his agent over the team. You can imagine how that played out in New York, and only after a stern talking to from David Wright did he come to his senses and agree to pitch again. The damage was done, though not to the depth it could have been if he didn’t agree to take the ball again, and his last couple of starts showed that the innings limit is imaginary, and all would be well with his arm. Then he decided to skip a mandatory workout and made the back pages of the NY papers blow up again, leading to the memorable David Wright quote: “I’m only concerned with the players that showed up.”
In short, this is going to be an incredible series laden with tense, pitching-centric baseball. New York vs. Los Angeles, the young upstart squad versus the third-of-a-billion-dollar payroll, the team with no expectations against the team with the burden of a must-win ownership and championship-starved fanbase. The Dodgers should take Games 1 and 2, the Mets likely win Game 3, but the bats come alive for Game 4 in a surprisingly high-scoring series finale, as the Dodgers move on to the NLCS.
Bonus Postseason Observation:
Arlington, Texas Rangers
Toronto, Canada Blue Jays
Kansas City, Missouri Royals
Houston, Texas Astros
not ONE of these is a market that MLB can be happy about representing the AL in the World Series.
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
ALL of these cities would make MLB representatives very happy about representing the NL in the World Series