A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Wood, Andre Ethier, base running, Brett Anderson, bullpen, Carl Crawford, Chase Utley, Chris Hatcher, Citi Field, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, David Wright, Dodger Stadium, experience, home field advantage, Howie Kendrick, J.P. Howell, Jimmy Rollins, Joc Pederson, Juan Uribe, Justin Ruggiano, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Kike Hernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Scott, New York Mets, NL Division Series, NL West pennant, one-hitter, San Francisco Giants, stolen bases, The Giants, World Series, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Yoenis Cespedes, Zack Greinke
After stumbling by losing eight out of ten games, including a pair of four game losing streaks, the Dodgers finally clinched their third straight NL West crown. It is the first time in the history of the franchise that they have won three straight of any title. Fortunately, the Giants weren’t playing much better when the Dodgers slumped and they didn’t gain much ground over that period. They were only able to cut the Dodger lead from 8½ games to 6 games.
Clayton Kershaw’s second straight complete game victory over the Giants in the month of September finally brought the Dodgers the crown on September 29. His one-hit shutout was the second best pennant clinching performance in major league history, bested only by Mike Scott’s no-hitter for the Astros against the Giants in 1986. Kershaw held up his half of the expected pitching duel against Madison Bumgarner, the Giants hero in their championship run last year. But “MadBum” was reached for four runs, including three home runs, as Dodger bats came alive for the 8-0 win.
As play began on September 30, the Dodgers had five games to play and they were one game behind the Mets to determine who would have home field advantage for their NL Division Series matchup. Since the Mets have the tie-breaker in their favor should the teams end up with the same records, the Dodgers need to win two more games than the Mets by the end of the season. With so few games remaining, that is not a likely scenario. Both teams will be looking to give their starters some down time and get their starting pitchers lined up for the postseason.
(Since that was originally written, the Dodgers and Mets are now tied with the same 89-70 record.)
But who are the starters for the Dodgers right now? Adrian Gonzalez at first base is about the only sure thing, and he just came back after a couple of games off with a pinched nerve in his neck. Expect him to be given plenty of rest until the playoffs.
Behind the plate, Yasmani Grandal has been the starter most of the year. But A.J. Ellis has been swinging a hot bat at the end of the season (for the third straight year after disappointing output for the first 5 months each year). Meanwhile, Grandal has struggled offensively lately with shoulder problems.
At second base, Howie Kendrick has returned from an injury. If he is ready to play every day, late season veteran acquisition Chase Utley will be on the bench, able to back up at every infield position except shortstop. At shortstop, Jimmy Rollins has returned from a finger injury, but Corey Seager has swung a hot bat since coming up from the minors. However, he has made five errors in only 18 games started at shortstop. Justin Turner will get the starting nod at third base. While his knees will not allow him to start more than three days in a row, there are two travel days scheduled during the best of five series.
The outfield is a real muddle. Rookie Joc Pederson rode a homer filled early season and a plethora of miraculous catches to a berth in the All Star Game. But he was already slumping by the time that game was played and while his defense is still dazzling, his offense has been mediocre for most of the season. He might not even be named to the roster now that Kike Hernandez is back from a hamstring injury. Kike returned to the lineup with four straight hits, including one of the homers off of Bumgarner. He won the center field job from Pederson and Pederson did little to win it back in his absence. A resurgent Andre Ethier figures to start most of the games in right as the Mets starting rotation is dominated by right-handed pitching. Regarding the Mets two lefty starters, rookie Steven Matz is questionable with back problems and Jon Niese has not pitched well this season, especially down the stretch. Justin Ruggiano was added to the roster because he is murder on left-handed pitching. At most, he might see action as a pinch hitter. If Pederson stays on the roster, Ruggiano will be left off. Left-handed swinging Carl Crawford, hitting .315 in September, should get most of the starts in left field. It is not expected that Yasiel Puig will be back in time for the Mets series and he quite possibly may miss the rest of the season, even if the Dodgers get past the Mets.
Zack Greinke and Kershaw might be called on to start two games each if the series against the Mets goes the distance. Alex Wood or Brett Anderson will get the nod for Game 3. Kenley Jansen is certain as the Dodgers closer. After a terrible start to the season and an injury, Chris Hatcher has become a more dependable pitcher as the Dodgers were hoping for. J.P. Howell will be effective if rested enough. He ran out of gas at the end of last season. The rest of the bullpen will be mix and match and hope that Greinke and Kershaw can take them deep into games without requiring the bullpen too much.
The key for the Dodgers to win the series against the Mets is for Greinke and Kershaw to dominate and the Dodgers to generate just enough offense against Mets starting pitching (which hasn’t been quite as strong down the stretch) to keep the games from turning into a battle of the bullpens. The Dodgers also have to hope that their late season roster changes will help them more than the changes the Mets have made since the teams faced each other in two series in July. The Dodgers have seen a much better performance in their bullpen lately. And after a first half with almost no stolen bases and conservative base running in general, they are stealing bases and taking the extra base on base hits far more often.
One hopeful sign for the Dodgers is that while they struggled against teams with winning records for much of the season, from the time they rebounded from a five game losing streak against AL West teams through their pennant clincher, they were 9-5 against teams with winning records. But the Mets offense has become far more potent since their acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit at the trade deadline, calling up Michael Conforto, and picking up Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from Atlanta. They have also gotten offensive threats David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud back from injuries in August.
The Mets as a team have less playoff experience than the Dodgers do, but that doesn’t seem to be as big a factor as it used to be. Younger players aren’t awed by such situations like they were in previous decades.
Seeing that these are quite different teams than the ones that faced each other in July, this series is difficult to prognosticate. Assuming that the Mets will retain home field advantage, it is difficult to be optimistic regarding the Dodgers chances. And if they do advance, they will either face the Cardinals for the third straight year or another team (Pirates or Cubs) that has also won more games than they have during the regular season. The road to the World Series will be an uphill one for the team with by far the largest payroll.
The Mets are a team that I grew up following from their very first spring training. When the Dodgers aren’t involved, I root for them. So I don’t have strong emotions about this series as I might against many other teams.
I am working on some new posts that should be published soon.
And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise. – 2nd Samuel 2:14