Mets Prepare For Playoffs

Photo courtesy of Flickr user SLGCKCG.

It’s that magical time of the year again for baseball fans. Summer is over, fall has begun and October is here to bring us playoff baseball. There are quite a few interesting matchups this postseason, which is looking like it can be one for the ages.

First in the American League (AL), the Toronto Blue Jays will face off against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Rangers’ deep pitching staff is one of the few that can put a stop to the Blue Jays’ terrifying offense, but I actually think Toronto is going to win this one. The Blue Jays have looked like a team on a mission the past two months, and they have a chip on their shoulder considering this is their first postseason appearance since 1993. But the Rangers certainly won’t go down without a fight. Don’t be surprised if this series goes the full five games.

The other ALDS matchup features the reigning AL Champion Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros. Absolutely no one expected the Astros to contend this season let alone make it to the division series. As much as I love to cheer for an underdog, I think the Royals have this series. The Royals do have some pitching problems, but since the Astros used Dallas Keuchel in the wild-card game against the New York Yankees he may make only one start in the series. I don’t see the Royals having that much trouble with the Astros.

The first National League Division Series (NLDS) matchup will feature the St. Louis Cardinals, who had the best record in baseball, against the Chicago Cubs. This will no doubt be a very exciting series, as this will be the first time these rivals meet in the playoffs.  I have the Cardinals winning in four, they are just too strong of a team.

Then of course the last postseason matchup will feature the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The thing that sticks out about this series is the pitching. The Dodgers have the best one-two punch in baseball at the top of their rotation in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Meanwhile, the Mets feature the best young starting rotation in baseball, with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.

This could be the most interesting series of all the first-round matchups. Very few people expected the Mets to be here at the beginning of the season. On the other side, the Dodgers have spent more money than any team in baseball over the last few years in hopes of winning their first World Series title since 1988.

The Dodgers have the home field advantage in the series, meaning that the Mets will face Kershaw and Greinke in Los Angeles in the first two games of the series. This also means that if the series goes the full five games, the Mets will be facing either Kershaw or Greinke in a do-or-die Game 5 in Los Angeles. Essentially, if the Mets have any hopes of winning this series they will need to beat one of the Dodgers’ two beasts in Dodger Stadium at least once, no doubt a very challenging task. Kershaw and Greinke both made two starts against the Mets this season, and the Dodgers went 1-1 in each of their two starts. But Kershaw and Greinke posted a 0.56 and 1.29 Earned Run Average (ERA) against the Mets this season, respectively. Granted, those starts were against a Mets lineup that was much weaker than the one they’ll be facing in this series, but that is still nothing to sneeze at.

The good news for the Mets is that they’ll have deGrom and Syndergaard to counter Kershaw and Greinke in Los Angeles. deGrom has been the Mets best pitcher all season and while Syndergaard struggled in road starts for most of the season, he pitched very well in his last few road starts of the season. “Thor” is also entering this series as arguably the hottest of any of the Mets starters. deGrom and Syndergaard each made a start against the Dodgers this season, with Syndergaard’s coming against Kershaw and deGrom’s coming against Greinke. The Mets won both of those starts.

Games 3 and 4 will take place at Citi Field and look much more favorable for the Mets. Harvey will start Game 3, which will be his only start of the series. This will be done to limit his innings since he underwent Tommy John surgery last season. But there will be no limit to the amount of pitches Harvey throws in his start, which will be a crucial one. If you could pick only one start for Harvey to make in this series, it should be Game 3. If the Mets are down 2-0 in the series, Harvey will be pitching a must win game. If the series is tied 1-1, Harvey stands a good chance at putting the Mets ahead in the series. If the Mets are up 2-0, which means by some miracle they beat both Kershaw and Greinke in Los Angeles, then Harvey is the guy you want on the mound to clinch the series. Matz is aiming to start Game 4, but stiffness in his back could prevent that from happening. Veteran and fan favorite Bartolo Colon would likely start in his place. Whoever started Game 1 for the Dodgers, Kershaw or Greinke, would likely start Game 4 on short rest.

One difference between the two pitching staffs is that unless Colon starts Game 4, this will be the first career postseason appearance for each of the Mets starters. Kershaw and Greinke are no strangers to the postseason. This is the Dodgers’ third-straight postseason appearance and Greinke has pitched very well for the Dodgers in the playoffs the past two years. Kershaw on the other hand is a different story. He owns a 5.12 ERA in the postseason in his career. However, most of Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason have come against the Cardinals. It may not so much be that Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs, he may just not be able to pitch against the Cardinals.

Aside from the teams’ starting pitching, the Mets have the upper hand in every other category. The Dodgers’ offense was more consistent this season, but since the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes they have had one of if not the best offenses in the National League. The Dodgers’ bullpen has been a disaster at times this season while the Mets’ bullpen has been one of the better ones in baseball. Even though the Mets will be without ex-Dodger Juan Uribe in the series, I believe the Mets’ bench is deeper than the Dodgers’.

So now comes the question of who I think will win this series. Without a doubt it is the toughest series in this postseason to pick a winner, and I honestly have no idea who will come out on top. I only have two predictions I am confident in. I don’t think Kershaw will struggle against the Mets the same way he has struggled against the Cardinals, and this series is going to go five games. If I have to pick a team to win, it pains me to say it but I would lean towards the Dodgers. If this series goes the full five games, Kershaw or Greinke will be starting in four of those five games. That is a fact that absolutely terrifies me as a Mets fan. But even still, the Mets have more than a fair shot at beating the Dodgers. This is truly a series that could go either way.