By Jesse Grossman
Only nine years ago, the New York Mets faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. The New Yorkers, with one of the most complete Met lineups in recent years, swept the Dodgers in three games, highlighted by Paul LoDuca tagging two Dodgers out at the plate on the same play. On Friday, the two teams meet again, however the matchup is much different.
First off, the Dodgers were a wild card team in 2006. This year, the Dodgers finished a game ahead of the Mets led by two Cy Young candidates, Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Greinke finished with an ERA of 1.66 and Kershaw was the first 300 strikeout pitcher since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002. That combination sounds a lot better than Derek Lowe, Hung-Chih Kuo, and an over-the-hill Greg Maddux, the Dodgers starters for those three postseason games in 2006. Not to mention, the LA lineup featured a lot of guys on the tail end. Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, and Kenny Lofton were all past their primes.Embed from Getty Images
The Mets, on the other hand, were an offensive powerhouse finishing top ten as a team in runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. Injuries took ace Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez out of this series, but the Mets dominated with clutch hitting and a strong bullpen. This year, on the backs of their young pitching studs – Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard – and a balanced lineup that took shape after the addition of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline, the Mets have much better pitching than that 2006 team finishing with a team ERA of 3.43, a point ahead of(none other than) the Dodgers. However, the dominant hitting core of the late 2000s was dismantled. David Wright, the only remaining player for the 2006 NL East champs, is a shell of his 26 home run, 116 RBI 2006 campaign. Plagued by injuries, Wright is one of the few with a veteran presence on the team.
The Mets greatest strength might be their greatest downfall. Their young pitchers have zero postseason experience – not a game, not an inning, not a pitch. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have been cast aside the past two playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals.
There are many notable matchups to watch in this series. First off, the pitching matchups in game 1, as well as game 3 are very intriguing. DeGrom vs. Kershaw is a matchup of past and future Cy Young winners. Game 3, the Mets first home game, will be Matt Harvey’s first ever postseason start against Brett Anderson, a very average third starter who finished 2015 with a 3.69 ERA. If Harvey brings the goods, the Dodgers will have a lot of trouble getting going, however, if the Dark Knight looks tired and rundown, it could be a field day for the Dodgers. On the other hand, Brett Anderson does not have the arsenal or the dominance that Kershaw and Greinke possess. The steep drop-off in quality of pitching could lead to a hit parade from the Mets. The last interesting matchup is that of two high-flying, exciting, aggravating Cuban outfielders, Yoenis Cespedes vs. Yasiel Puig. Puig caught the injury bug while Cespedes carried the Mets into the postseason. Yet, Cespedes struggled in the last few games for the Mets and was also hit by a pitch on the hand on September 30. Puig comes into the series as the fourth outfielder for the Dodgers. Given the opportunity, Puig can change a series. Both outfielders can either flourish or flounder with expected criticism for the latter.
In my opinion, the series depends on the first two games. If the Mets can come home with the series tied, they can close it out at home. However, this will be difficult because of Los Angeles’ frightening 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Not to mention, Kershaw and Greinke will get the ball for games 4 and 5 should the series go that far. If the Mets’ offense shows up against one of the two, the Mets could be headed to the pennant.