NLDS preview: aces high

by Paul West

The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are two teams whose dominant starting pitching is the secret to their success.

The Dodgers can legitimately claim the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is the reigning Cy Young Award winner, and has won the award three times since 2011. His ridiculous 2.13 ERA and .88 WHIP, combined with his 301 strikeouts, would make him a sure thing for another Cy Young in most seasons. Astonishingly, his own teammate might have an even better argument for the award. Fellow ace Zack Greinke, who won the Cy Young in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals, has a preposterous 1.66 ERA to go with a. 84 WHIP. He didn’t strike out 300, but his 200 strikeouts is obviously nothing to scoff at. Kershaw will get the Game One start at Dodger Stadium, but the Dodgers have cause for concern as his postseason ERA is .512 in six starts.

Jacob deGrom is hoping to help the Mets reverse home-field advantage.
Jacob deGrom is hoping to help the Mets reverse home-field advantage.

The Mets’ starting rotation is arguably the best, top to bottom, in baseball. The Big Four of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are all flamethrowers with strong repertoires and mound presence beyond their years. The reigning Rookie of the Year, deGrom has emerged as the ace of the staff and will start the series opener. He finished this season with a 2.54 ERA and a .98 WHIP, with 205 strikeouts in only 191 innings. Again, if not for the historic nature of this year’s leaderboard, he’d also be in the Cy Young conversation. DeGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard all finished strong to close out the regular season, with Harvey and Syndergaard recording double-digit strikeouts in their final starts. Lefty Jonathan Niese is a solid middle-rotation option, and his postseason role is up in the air as he’s struggled with attempts to come in as a reliever. Veteran and former ace Bartolo Colon has seemed more comfortable in long relief, and might be asked to serve as a bridge between the starters and dominant closer Jeurys Familia. Familia gives the Mets a slight edge in the closer department, as Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has been consistently good for years and saved 36 games this season. Neither team is particularly confident in the middle stretch of their bullpen.

On offense, the Mets and Dodgers have trended in opposite directions since early in the season. Early on, the Dodgers were getting contributions from veterans and rookies alike; Adrian Gonzalez was one of the more dangerous hitters in the league, Jimmy Rollins and Justin Turner looked solid at the top of the lineup, and rookie Joc Pederson looked impossible to pitch to. In the second half, Pederson dropped off so precipitously that he lost his spot in the starting lineup. Dodgers have struggled to hit down the stretch, and hitting is their biggest concern going into the postseason.

Greinke will look to reverse his postseason fortunes against the Mets.
Greinke will look to improve his postseason fortunes against the Mets.

The Mets’ offense was mostly deficient in the first half, unless Duda or Curtis Granderson was in the middle of a hot streak. But the Mets made roster moves close to the end of July and haven’t looked back. Their late-season offensive turnaround was one of the greatest in memory, and their lineup now holds threats from top to bottom; their biggest concern is that their lineup is lefty-dominant, and the Dodgers have a rotation full of lefty starters. Manager Terry Collins has indicated he’ll go with his regular starting lineup, including lefties Duda, Granderson and Daniel Murphy, in the series. Further complicating matters is the fact that Cespedes, the team’s biggest right-handed power threat, hits righties much better than lefties. Righties Travis d’Arnaud, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer will have to set the tone and put pressure on the Dodgers’ starters, and Duda will have to continue to prove that he hits lefties better than people once believed.

WHO WINS?

All things considered, this is a fairly well-matched series. Concerns about the Dodgers having home-field advantage can be somewhat alleviated by the fact that the first two games are night games; Dodger Stadium’s notoriously difficult shadow arrangements will no longer be a factor. If anything, it turns into more of a hitter’s park at night, which might end up favoring the Mets in the long run. Both teams are solid, but not overwhelming, on defense. The Dodgers have more postseason experience, but the Mets have more firepower. If the Mets can swipe home-field advantage in one of the first two games, their positional depth and rotational depth should allow them to advance.

Prediction: Mets  in five

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