The most interesting series of the divisional round is going to be the matchup between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s not a stretch to say that four or five of the best pitchers in the National League will be on display in these five games. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are going to finish in the top-three in Cy Young Award voting. Jacob deGrom’s phenomenal season will probably result in a fourth-place finish behind Jake Arrieta, Greinke, and Kershaw. Noah Syndergaard’s rookie season has been outstanding and Matt Harvey is still an elite talent.
The Mets are back in the postseason for the first time since 2006 and for just the second time since the Subway Series in 2000 when they lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Dodgers, with the league’s biggest payroll, are in the postseason for the third straight season, but they don’t have much to show for their efforts. They were knocked out in the division series last year after making it to the NLCS in their previous three playoff appearances. This is the third season out of the last four that the Dodgers have allowed less than 600 runs during the regular season. The Dodgers have home field advantage, which could prove to be very significant in this series given the cross-country travel.
Here is a schedule for this NLDS matchup:
Game 1 @ LAD: Friday October 9
Game 2 @ LAD: Saturday October 10
Game 3 @ NYM: Monday October 12
Game 4 @ NYM: Tuesday October 13*
Game 5 @ LAD: Thursday October 15*
* - if necessary
The New York Mets are a big underdog in this series, as BetOnline.ag has them priced at +160. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a -180 favorite.
The Mets are as live of an underdog as it gets in the NLDS. Normally I like to start with the offenses, so that’s what I’ll do here, even though the starting rotation is definitely the butter for the bread on this team. Nobody had a bigger offensive turnaround from first half to second half than the New York Mets. Yoenis Cespedes played a big role, but this team’s offensive improvement was truly staggering. In the first half, the Mets posted a .289 wOBA and an 85 wRC+. That wRC+ in the first half tied them for 25th with the Marlins and Brewers. Only the Chicago White Sox had a lower wOBA in the first half of the season.
In the second half, however, the Mets posted a 114 wRC+, which was the best mark in the National League. wRC+ uses a baseline of 100 as league average. The next closest team to the Mets over the second half in the NL was the Pirates, who posted a wRC+ of 107. The 102 home runs the Mets hit were the most in the National League. Their team slugging percentage was 98 points higher in the second half. Yoenis Cespedes hit 17 home runs and had a lot to do with that, but Lucas Duda hit 15 home runs in just 195 plate appearances. Curtis Granderson posted a .278/.392/.506 slash line and led the team in fWAR in the second half. Michael Conforto had a .270/.335/.506 slash. Everybody for the Mets got in on the fun and it turned them into one of the deepest lineups in the NL.
The big question on everybody’s mind is if that stretch is sustainable. In a small sample size like a five-game playoff series, who knows? Anything is possible in a span that small. It’s also hard to put up numbers against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, especially when the Mets have quite a few guys with below average strikeout rates. This Mets offense isn’t as good or as bad as people think and that might be good enough given their starting rotation. The question will be how players with no postseason experience hold up in the limelight. Playoff offense is all about putting together mini streaks. If the Mets are fortunate enough to get hot, specifically with runners in scoring position, they, like every other team, can beat anybody.
The lineup is littered with question marks. The rotation shouldn’t be, but young pitchers getting their first taste of the postseason can be a concern. The difference for the Mets is that their collection of young arms is incredibly talented. It got a lot of press, but the fact that none of the Mets starters have gone over 200 innings is a good thing. They opted for a six-man rotation for as long as they could keep one going. Any time you can save bullets for young pitchers, it’s a big deal.
It all begins with Jacob deGrom, who piggybacked his rookie of the year campaign in 2014 with a 2.54 ERA, a 2.70 FIP, and a 2.92 xFIP. All things considered, he was better in his sophomore season, with an improved strikeout rate and a much improved walk rate. His BABIP went down by 26 points and his strand rate went up a tiny bit. The BABIP decrease may be noise or variance or it may be a guy that learned how to sequence better as he learned the hitters. A drop in line drives and a small increase in pop ups would suggest some of both.
deGrom is probably the most consistent, but you could have quite a debate about who has the best raw stuff on the staff. A lot of people would point to Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard had the highest K/9 of any starter and had a similar walk rate to both deGrom and Harvey. Harvey was coming back from Tommy John and struggled with command out of the gate. He had a 7.18 K/BB ratio in the second half. This is an embarrassment of riches for the Mets and they need to take advantage while all of these guys are still controlled by the team. With health, they may all be nine-figure pitchers by the time they reach free agency. Steven Matz is pretty darn good as well.
The Mets bullpen, which seemed like a problem area before the season, has actually been really solid. Jenrry Mejia’s injury and suspension seemed to cast a dark cloud over the team, but they’ve spread the appearances around really well. Jeurys Familia, who had 43 saves with a 1.85/2.74/2.55 slash, is the only one that had more than 60 appearances for the Mets. Tyler Clippard had 69 between Oakland and the Mets, but he’s always had a rubber arm. Hansel Robles has been a pleasant surprise. Like the starting staff, the bullpen is full of guys with low walk rates and that’s very important in the postseason.
The best team money can buy is apparently the 92-70 Los Angeles Dodgers. With a payroll well over $200M, the Dodgers are in the playoffs as the NL West champion and managed to get home field for this series. Because of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers offense doesn’t get the credit that it deserves. The Dodgers offense posted a .322 wOBA to lead the NL and a 106 wRC+, which was second in the league. Dodger Stadium is not known as a great hitter’s park, so the team’s numbers rate well in park and league-adjusted statistics. It’s also worth pointing out that the Dodgers had the best walk rate in baseball at 9.2 percent.
The Dodgers wound up with a lot of contributions from a lot of guys. The most consistent of them was probably Adrian Gonzalez, who had a .275/.350/.480 slash on the season. He and Joc Pederson were the only players with at least 150 games played. Gonzalez is the only player that exceeded 600 plate appearances, so injuries did cause some problems for the Dodgers. Andre Ethier had a fine season in a platoon capacity with a .294/.366/.486 slash and a .366 wOBA. The problem for the Dodgers is that the team was held back by a lot of bad baserunning and a lot of suspect defense. Because of the lower run environment in the postseason, Los Angeles’s shortcomings in those two areas are definitely worth extra consideration.
Corey Seager could very well be the most important Dodgers hitter in this series. The 21-year-old set the league aflame with a .337/.425/.561 slash over 113 plate appearances. It doesn’t matter if Seager hits near to the top of the order or in a run-producing spot because he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to impact the game. Will Terry Collins be willing to pitch around other, veteran hitters to get to the relatively inexperienced Seager? Will it burn him? There are a lot of variables surrounding Seager and his importance to the Dodgers lineup is very evident.
There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. They’re elite. You know it. I know it. It’s the rest of the rotation that is interesting. Of course, Don Mattingly can simply use one of them on short rest in Game 4 and then there aren’t a whole lot of questions. Alex Wood should be the #3 starter, right? It’s not as cut and dry as you may think. Wood finished the regular season 12-12 with a 3.84 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and a 3.90 xFIP. He was 5-6 with a 4.35 ERA, 4.10 FIP, and a 3.71 xFIP for the Dodgers.
Perhaps Brett Anderson is a better option. Anderson doesn’t miss as many bats as Wood, but he was 10-9 in 31 starts with a 3.69 ERA, 3.94 FIP, and a 3.51 xFIP. If the Dodgers need four starters, both of these guys have to be ahead of Mike Bolsinger on the pecking order. Anderson is an extreme ground ball guy with a 66.3 percent ground ball rate. There’s a lot of value in that, especially in the playoffs, where forcing the opposition to string hits together to score runs seems to carry more value. Bolsinger can be a valuable reliever in a spot where a double play is necessary against a tough righty since he has huge platoon splits.
The Dodgers bullpen is pretty hard to gauge past Kenley Jansen. JP Howell continues to be a valuable lefty matchup guy and Yimi Garcia has been really good. There are a lot of guys that miss bats here without high walk rates, and that’s a big building block for success. There’s nothing that jumps off the page about this group being a weakness for the Dodgers. The Dodgers pen was in the top five in FIP during the season and had not had a heavy workload because of Greinke and Kershaw.
Series Pick: New York Mets
The Mets hold a lot of value in this series at the +160 price. They have better rotation depth than the Dodgers. The offenses are probably closer to a wash than most people think. Kershaw and Greinke are influencing this line a lot. They should. They’re both Cy Young caliber pitchers. But, the Mets have a pretty good rotation of their own. The Mets may not win this series, but I’d give them better than a 3/2 chance of doing it.