The Dodgers were the presumptive favorite in the NL West coming into 2015. They boasted a league-high $271 million payroll and two bona fide aces at the top of the their rotation. They spent the offseason making a series of high profile moves to improve the team up the middle of the diamond, and the middle of their lineup already boasted two offensive stars in Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig. While they may not have been as dominant as expected, the Dodgers led the division almost wire-to-wire, despite some injury and underperformance issues in the lineup. So you could say things went more or less as planned on the way to their third consecutive division title.
The Mets road to the playoffs was a little more circuitous. Despite New York's 11-game winning streak in April, the Nationals easily chased them down by the middle of May, and by the end of July Washington seemed comfortably ahead of their floundering rivals in Queens. But a sweep of the Nats at Citi Field and the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard at the trade deadline propelled the Mets to a 20-8 August, and a second sweep of the Nationals in Washington around Labor Day put the division to bed (though it was difficult to convince Mets fans of that until the champagne was officially popped).
Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv, WARP)
RF-L Curtis Granderson (.259/.364/.457/.314, 5.4)
3B-R David Wright (.289/.379/.434/.315, 1.4
CF-R Yoenis Cespedes (.291/.328/.542/.308, 6.2)
2B-L Daniel Murphy (.281/.322/.449/.283, 2.1)
1B-L Lucas Duda (.244/.352/.486/.320, 3.3)
C-R Travis d'Arnaud (.268/.340/.485/.312, 2.6)
LF-R Michael Cuddyer (.259/.309/.391/.272, 1.1)
SS-R Ruben Tejada (.261/.338/.350/.277, 1.9)
LF-L Carl Crawford (.265/.304/.403/.251, -0.5)
2B-R Howie Kendrick (.295/.336/.409/.272, 2.2)
1B-L Adrian Gonzalez (.275/.350/.480/.302, 4.5)
3B-R Justin Turner (.294/.370/.491/.321, 4.2)
RF-L Andre Ethier (.294/.366/.486/.321, 4.2)
SS-L Corey Seager (.337/.425/.561/.356, 1.9)
C-S Yasmani Grandal (.234/.353/.403/.276, 2.4)
CF-L Joc Pederson (.210/.346/.417/.287, 1.4)
The Mets playoff lineup bears little resemblance to the one that hit .233/.298/.363 in the first half of the 2015 season. The arrival of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline (.287/.337/.606, .334 TAv as a Met) along with the returns of David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud from injury helped power them to the fifth most home runs in baseball over the second half of the season. But the question remains whether that second-half offense will really get to bare its teeth in this series given the Dodgers troika of left-handed starters. Rookie outfielder Michael Conforto was a huge factor in the second-half offensive surge, but we didn't even list him, based on the expectation he'll sit against the Dodgers left-handed starters. Wilmer Flores has killed lefties this year to the tune of .310/.355/.600 this season, but he has tired down the stretch and his range at shortstop draws comparisons to a moai. And Murphy, Duda, and Granderson all have significant platoon splits.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers lineup isn't all that different from what they started the year with, the immediate offensive production of top prospect Corey Seager being a nice bonus. The Dodgers had the best walk rate in baseball this season, and paired it with the sixth best ISO, so it's not a huge shock that they finished the season second in TAv behind only the Blue Jays. Both Grandal (.162/.280/.218) and Pederson (.178/.300/.317) struggled badly in the second half, and their lineup's patience will be put to the test against a strike-throwing Mets staff, but overall this is a balanced, experienced lineup that can beat you a few different ways and with many different guys.
OF-L Michael Conforto (.270/.335/.506/.315, 1.9)
IF/OF Kelly Johnson (.265/.314/.435, .280, 1.6)
IF Wilmer Flores (.263/.295/.408/.262, 2.2)
OF Juan Lagares (.259/.289/.358/.245, 0.8)
C Kevin Plawecki (.219/.280/.296/.241, 0.6)
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.195/.270/.375/.256, 0.5)
IF/OF-R Enrique Hernandez (.307/.346/.490/.315, 2.0)
IF-L Chase Utley (.212/.286/.343/.240, 0.0)
IF-S Jimmy Rollins (.224/.285/.358/.237, 0.5)
OF-R Yasiel Puig (.255/.322/.436/.286, 1.4)
C-R A.J. Ellis (.238/.355/.403/.293, 2.0)
OF-R Justin Ruggiano (.248/.333/.472/.292, 0.7)
Conforto should start against Zack Greinke and be the first left-handed bat off the bench once the left-handed starters are out of the game. He has been impressive in his rookie season, both at the plate and in left field. Johnson is an old hand who can play five positions in a pinch, and provide a bit of late-game flexibility and pop. Flores might split time with Tejada at shortstop. He has some large holes in his swing, but is dangerous if you throw him a fastball below the waist. Lagares' bat went backward in 2015 and he played through an elbow injury that limited his effectiveness in CF. He might get a start or two against Kershaw, Anderson, or Wood (.279/.325/.427 against lefties for his career) over Cuddyer. Plawecki is the backup catcher, and barring a d'Arnaud injury (never completely out of play I suppose) or a 15-inning marathon, he is unlikely to see even a pinch-hitting appearance. Nieuwenhuis takes the injured Juan Uribe's spot on the roster, which is bad news for fans of swag, but good news for large hunks of chaw.
Mets fans probably are already having visions of a late-inning Chase Utley home run deposited in the Pepsi Porch at Citi (or they certainly are now, my apologies), but he hasn't been much better as a Dodger than he was as a Phillie this season. You can repeat the above for Jimmy Rollins. Puig's the party piece here, but so much depends on his health. He wasn't even a lock to make the postseason roster until Scott Van Slyke's wrist issue failed to improve. He's had a down season marred by injury, but a healthy Puig is one of the five best players in this series. Enrique Hernandez fills a similar role on the Dodgers to Kelly Johnson, minus a decade of veteran presence. A.J. Ellis is one of the better backup catchers around, but like Plawecki, doesn't figure to see much action barring injury. Justin Ruggiano is your run-of-the-mill useful short-side platoon outfielder, but also is unlikely to figure into the series much given how heavily right-handed the Mets staff is.
The Mets' young starting pitching was going to have to carry the team to contention, and it certainly held up its end of the bargain through the end of July. Jacob deGrom followed up his 2014 ROY campaign with an even better sophomore year. He boosted his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate, and threw progressively harder as the season wore on. After a brief swoon in August and September, deGrom has returned to form following a skipped start, and by every metric that doesn't take into account back page New York Post headlines he has been the Mets best starter this season. One thing worth keeping an eye on is deGrom dropped his slider in his last 2015 outing. It's entirely possible he was just using the four-inning appearance to work on the curve and changeup, but like many on the Mets staff, deGrom features the “Warthen slider,” and it has been his best secondary offering throughout his career.
Ignoring innings-limit controversies and midtown-traffic issues, Matt Harvey's 2015 return from Tommy John surgery has been an unqualified success (although I guess I did just qualify it). There is still a bit of uncertainty around how many times he will pitch in the playoffs, and how deep into those games he will pitch. He's scheduled for Game Three in the NLDS, and the Mets have made noises in the press that he will only pitch once per series, but perhaps we will see how stridently they stick to that in say, an NLCS Game Seven.
Syndergaard and Matz were the Mets' top two prospects coming into the season and both their inaugurals went about as well as could be hoped. Syndergaard has had command issues here and there, but he settled down as the summer wore on and added a two-seam fastball and improved changeup to his upper-90s fastball and power curve combo. Matz also features a fastball/curve/change arsenal, and both have been fooling around with a slider in recent outings. While not as experienced or polished as Harvey and deGrom, both match up well with their 'veteran' counterparts in terms of pure stuff.
Kershaw and Greinke, or “”those two animals” as Terry Collins has taken to calling them in the press, likely do not need much in the way of introduction here. But here is a dry recitation of some stats.
Kershaw's DRA, by season:
- 2015: 2.16 (1)
- 2014: 2.16 (1)
- 2013: 2.40 (2)
- 2012: 2.67 (3)
- 2011: 2.41 (2)
We are confronted by the seemingly impossible notion that Clayton Kershaw is only getting better. Much was made (rightfully) of Jake Arrieta's incredible second half, so you might have missed Kershaw going 10-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 141 strikeouts against 15 walks in 109 2/3 innings. Stretches like that from Kershaw are not even noteworthy at this point. He is the best pitcher in baseball, and if you are lucky or even good, you get to see him twice in a five-game series.
And one could argue that he was only the second best pitcher on his team this season. Greinke posted the seventh-best ERA of the expansion era and may have discovered all the hidden secrets of pitching. He also ran a 45 2/3 scoreles- inning streak that was broken up by the Mets in July (for a window into the Mets offense at the time, the USA Today lead reads: “Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke can thank one of the league's worst offenses for ending his historic streak at 45 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.”). He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and if you are lucky or even good, you get to see him twice in a five-game series.
Anderson and Wood are both serviceable back-end southpaws. Anderson threw 180 innings for the first time in his career this season, but his K-rates have been trending sharply downward since 2013, and he struggled down the stretch this season. He's settled cozily into your standard four-pitch, command/control lefty archetype. The Mets should be familiar with Wood from his time in Atlanta. His funky mechanics draw obvious comparisons to Chris Sale, but the stuff falls well short of Sale's, and after a strong first full season for the Braves in 2014, everything went backward for him in 2015. If Wood does end up starting Game Four, it likely means the Dodgers are in the driver's seat in the series, as Don Mattingly has already indicated he is willing to use Kershaw on short rest if needed.
Relief Pitchers (ERA, Innings, DRA)
RHP Jeurys Familia (1.85, 78.0, 2.99)
RHP Tyler Clippard (2.92, 71.0, 3.45)
RHP Addison Reed (3.38, 56.0, 4.06)
RHP Hansel Robles (3.67, 54.0, 3.68)
RHP Erik Goeddel (2.43, 33.3, 3.08)
RHP Bartolo Colon (4.16, 194.7, 4.57)
LHP Jon Niese (4.13, 176.7, 5.47)
RHP Kenley Jansen (2,41, 51.3, 2.18)
RHP Chris Hatcher (3.69, 39.0, 4.45)
RHP Juan Nicasio (3.86, 58.3. 4.65)
RHP Pedro Baez (3.35, 51.0, 3.98)
RHP Luis Avilan (4.05, 53.3, 4.00)
LHP J.P. Howell (1.43, 44.0, 4.30)
If the Mets can get the ball to Jeurys Familia with a lead, they should be pretty confident in their chances. Familia wasn't even supposed to be the Mets closer in 2015, rather the eighth-inning bridge to Jenrry Mejia. An April PED suspension for Mejia thrust Familia into the role, and he had one of the best seasons by a closer in team history. Since introducing a splitter in July, the pitch has averaged almost 94 mph, and garnered a 32 percent whiff rate. Most importantly, it has given Familia a real weapon against left-handed hitters, against whom he struggled in 2014.
The rest of the Mets pen is a healthy mix of the highly unproven and the slightly concerning. Clippard has the most late-inning experience, but he has turned into a bit of a high-wire act as his fastball velocity has eroded. He's made a career out of outperforming his peripherals by inducing weak flyballs, but he doesn't miss many bats anymore, and late in the season the flyballs started to go a long way. He is penciled in as the Mets eighth-inning arm, but he may just be one meltdown away from ceding that role to Addison Reed who has been excellent since he came over from Arizona in August. Robles and Goeddel are the young power arms in the pen. Robles is a big fastball and not much else, but he can touch 99. Goeddel doesn't have the top end velocity of Robles, but he features a plus curve and a split-change that has made strides over the last year. However, both of their fastballs can be very hittable when the command isn't there.
Since Jerry Blevins went down with a broken forearm in April, the Mets have struggled to find a left-on-left pen option. They road-tested Alex Torres, Sean Gilmartin, Eric O'Flaherty, and Dario Alvarez, but enter October with a starter, Jon Niese, as the most likely candidate to face Adrian Gonzalez in a big spot. Niese hasn't been particularly good against lefties in 2015, but he hasn't been particularly good against anyone in 2015. Bartolo Colon is a national treasure, but Mets fans probably won't be thrilled to see him in this series. It means a starter has gotten knocked out early, or that Steven Matz's back has acted up again. Bartolo can be plenty entertaining in the dugout anyway.
If the Dodgers can get the ball to Kenley Jansen with a lead, they should be pretty confident…you can probably guess the rest. Perhaps it is a bit of East Coast bias on the author's part, but Jansen seems almost unheralded at times. All he does is strike out around 40 percent of the batters he faces. Every season. With a cutter that merits comparison to Mariano Rivera's. This year he struck out 27 batters before issuing his first walk of the season and finished with a 80:8 K:BB ratio. Rivera posted a better ratio exactly once in his career.
The rest of the Dodgers bullpen seems like they should be better than their actual 2015 results, Juan Nicasio and Chris Hatcher handled the bulk of the setup work, though Nicasio may be out of favor after a poor September. Both are power arms that have been hit harder than you would expect. Pedro Baez fits that mold as well, but has generally seen lower leverage work in 2015. You remember Luis Avilan, right? He had those two unsustainably good seasons with the Braves. Well, he's not sustaining them anymore. Although the buckets of changeups he started throwing this season did bump the K-rate up. J.P. Howell is the LOOGy, and he remains as effective in that role as ever. I am reasonably confident he will pop up in a 2025 Playoff Prospectus.
By most metrics the Mets defense hasn't been all that bad at turning balls into outs this season, but their likely postseason defensive alignment doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. Up the middle, Tejada and Murphy can be an adventure (though an upgrade on Flores and Murphy) and Cespedes, while a great athlete, is an inexperienced center fielder. And David Wright, a former Gold Glove winner, has looked awkward at third, especially throwing the ball, since returning from spinal stenosis. Behind the plate d'Arnaud grades out as an excellent receiver, so the Mets best defensive strategy might be to steal as many strikes as they can.
You would think just relocating Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp to E-Space would have improved the Dodgers 2015 team defense, but on the whole the club remained just average. The metrics have not been kind to the middle infielders the Dodgers imported (though FRAA is rosier on Howie Kendrick than UZR or DRS, for what its worth). In the corners, Justin Turner has been fine at third, and Adrian Gonzalez is still an excellent defender at first. Like the Mets, the Dodgers outfield alignment choices might be important. They probably don't want to head into another elimination game with Andre Ethier in center field.
Terry Collins' last two managerial gigs featured clubhouse revolts, so by that standard, he has done much better in New York. And he definitely deserves credit for keeping the team in it and the clubhouse together in the first half of the season when they were scoring the fewest runs in the National League. He tends to more aggressively platoon with younger players than his veterans, something that may be a major factor in this series, but at least he did finally figure out that his roster is terrible at bunting. His bullpen management has been curious at times, but this is as close to a push button 'pen as he has had in his Mets tenure.
Don Mattingly put many years in on Joe Torre's staff in New York, so he should be well aware that a ludicrous payroll carries with it certain expectations. Three straight division titles is nice and all, but there may be some heat on Mattingly if the team loses in the Division Series for a second straight year. To his credit, Mattingly has kept a genuinely weird locker room more or less humming along. To his detriment, he was probably a bit too keen to keep running Jim Johnson and Joel Peralta out there before the division was locked up,
On paper the Dodgers and Mets match up well. The Dodgers' top two starters are a level above the Mets, but deGrom and Syndergaard are capable of matching them, and the Mets could conceivably have a big advantage in the Game Three and Four pitching matchups. Both teams will put well-balanced, above-average lineups on the field, but the Dodgers abundance of left-handed starters neutralizes several of the Mets best hitters and makes this a very difficult matchup for them. Throw in the fact that they could see Kershaw and Greinke four times in a five-game series, and I lean Dodgers.