Tonight, the Mets will play their first postseason game since Carlos Beltran was memorably caught looking to end the 2006 NLCS. The team was considered a long shot to take the N.L. East at the beginning of the season, but already armed with great starting pitching, they surged after adding some offense at the trade deadline, while the Nationals completely imploded. As the N.L. division winner with the worst record, the Mets will have to open the series on the road in Los Angeles, where they’ll face the West division champion Dodgers. Here, ten things to know about the upcoming NLDS.
1. Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw is scary-good — but has been spotty in the playoffs.
Kershaw followed up his 2014 season, in which he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award, with another dazzling campaign. He went 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA and led the league with a career-best 301 strikeouts. He also led the league in a stat called Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that tries to separate the things a pitcher can actually control from those that rely on the fielders behind him. But Kershaw’s hasn’t been as dominant over 11 career postseason appearances, which include eight starts. He’s 1-5 in the playoffs, with a 5.12 ERA. He especially struggled last year, when he allowed 11 runs in 12 ⅔ innings over two starts against the Cardinals in the NLDS.
2. Kershaw might not even be the Dodgers’ ace right now.
Righty Zack Greinke is right up there with Kershaw in this year’s Cy Young conversation (along with Jake Arrieta of the Cubs). Greinke went 19-3 for Los Angeles this year, with a league-leading 1.66 ERA as well as a league-leading 0.844 WHIP (which measures the combined numbers of walks and hits a pitcher allows per inning). With an off-day between Games 4 and 5, the Mets could have to face either Kershaw or Greinke in four of the five games in this series, with only one of those starts (Kershaw in Game 4) coming on short rest. There’s some debate, though, about whether L.A. actually would use Kershaw in such a situation this year.
3. The Mets’ rotation is pretty excellent as well.
This series will feature four of the top six pitchers on the National League’s ERA leader board: Greinke (first) and Kershaw (third), plus Jacob deGrom (fourth) and Matt Harvey (sixth) of the Mets. The Mets designed their rotation so Harvey, whose workload has been the source of much debate, would pitch only once in the series. And so deGrom will start Game 1, Noah Syndergaard will go in Game 2, and Harvey will get the ball in Game 3. Beyond that, Steven Matz is tentatively scheduled to pitch Game 4, but he’s been dealing with back stiffness. At the moment, he appears to be on track to make the start, but if he can’t go, Terry Collins can either go with baseball treasure Bartolo Colon in Game 4, or pitch deGrom on short rest.
4. Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes slowed down over the final weeks of the season.
More than anything, Cespedes’s arrival at the trade deadline powered the Mets’ surge. He’d been playing so well, in fact, there was even chatter that he belonged in the discussion about the National League MVP, even though he played the first four months of the season in the American League (and despite the fact that Bryce Harper is an easy pick for the award). Over his first 36 games with the Mets, Cespedes hit .312 with 14 homers. But since September 10, roughly when the MVP debate peaked, he’s hit just .233 with three homers in 21 games. The drop in average can be mostly attributed to a mid-month slump, but he hasn’t homered since September 14.
5. The Dodgers were much, much better at home than on the road this year.
The Mets losing out on home field means a deciding Game 5 would be held at Dodger Stadium, where Los Angeles went 55-26 this year. (By comparison, they were under .500 at 37-44 on the road.) That said, the Mets played really well on the road in the second half of the season, and won just seven of their final 21 home games.
6. The Mets finished the season on a skid.
The Mets finished two games behind the Dodgers, but that followed a final week in which the Mets lost five of their last six, while the Dodgers won five of their last six, including their final four games of the year. As a result, Citi Field won’t get to finally host postseason action until Monday’s Game 3.
7. This was the worst possible matchup for your sleep schedule.
With only one West Coast team in the playoffs this year, Dodgers home games are the only ones that can air in the late-night slot for TV purposes, meaning you’re going to need to stay up late to watch the first two games from Los Angeles if you live in the East. Tonight’s Game 1 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern, with the first pitch in Game 2 set for 9 p.m. (The game time for a potential Game 5, which will also be played in L.A., hasn’t been announced yet.)
8. The Mets edged Los Angeles head-to-head this season.
The Mets took two of three games at Dodger Stadium in early July as part of their strong finish to the first half. The teams then split a four-game series at Citi Field in late July, shortly before the Cespedes trade signaled the Mets were going for it this year.
9. Injured Dodgers star Yasiel Puig might be available off the bench.
Puig, the exciting young Dodgers outfielder, had two stints on the disabled list this year and missed all of September with a hamstring injury. He’s played in just two games since being cleared to return, but via the Times, Puig says he’ll be on the NLDS roster and will come off the bench. When he did play this season, his numbers were less-than-spectacular: He batted .255 with 11 homers and a .758 OPS (or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), by far the lowest in his three-year career.
10. The winner of this series gets the survivor of the epic Cardinals-Cubs matchup.
There are eight teams remaining in the postseason, and the two with the best record are facing off in the other NLDS. The top three teams in the National League Central had the three best records in all of baseball this year, with the Cardinals winning the division and the Cubs ousting the Pirates in Wednesday night’s Wild Card game. It’ll be the first-ever postseason meeting between the bitter rivals from St. Louis and Chicago.