LA Dodgers-NY Mets 2015 NLDS Playoff Preview: Top Ten Questions

October 9, 2015

Los Angeles -- When the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets clash Friday night in Game One of their National League Division Series, it will be natural for baseball aficionados to reminisce about the Dodgers' 1988 championship season.  During that memorable postseason run, the underdog Dodgers defeated a powerful Mets squad featuring Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and a ghostwriting David Cone, in a classic seven-game series.

Although we don't yet know if this series will match the controversy of Jay Howell's pine tar incident or the drama of Mike Scioscia's ninth inning blast, we do know that given the quality arms on both teams, we are likely to see tremendous pitching performances -- perhaps not on the historic level that Orel Hershiser provided in 1988, but strong nonetheless.

History aside, this competitive matchup presents several variables that demand further analysis in our series preview.  Below are the Top 10 questions of the Mets-Dodgers series:

#10 Who starts at shortstop for LA, Rollins or Seager?

When Jimmy Rollins suffered a hand injury late in the season, the Dodgers called up hotshot prospect Corey Seager and the young phenom took the job and ran with it.  Seager has given the Dodgers a red hot bat, hitting .337 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in just 27 games.  Moreover, his calm demeanor has belied his youthful 21 years, as he has avoided the emotional highs and lows that typically affect other young players.

Rollins, meanwhile, is healthy again, and despite his mediocrity at the plate this year, he provides the Dodgers with the outstanding defense, experience, and leadership that they so desperately need.  The fact that he has been a bit of a Mets killer over the years does not hurt either.

"Particularly Howie and Jimmy, I feel like [they've given] big leadership all year long," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly of Rollins and fellow veteran Howie Kendrick.  "When you see those guys,  and the pitcher is in trouble, or something is going on, and when you go out to get a pitcher, those guys are both really calm. Never any disarray out there."

Expect Mattingly to start Seager and continue to play him until his bat cools.  Rollins will likely be utilized as a late inning defensive replacement or as a versatile pinch hitter off the bench, but should Seager get jittery under the bright lights, manager Don Mattingly will have no problem sitting him in favor of the veteran Rollins.

#9  Will Matt Harvey be a distraction for the Mets?

When talk arose of limiting starting pitcher Matt Harvey's innings due to health concerns, a controversy emerged because of the potential playoff implications of such a decision.  The organizational debate led to reports of internal clubhouse animosity, which perhaps only became more exasperated this week when Harvey missed a team workout after getting stuck in traffic.

At Thursday's media workout, the Mets made no real mention about the practice slip up.  Either Harvey's absence is a non-issue, or the team is simply masking a problem, nobody knows quite yet.  It also did not help that the team ended the year losing 5 of their last 6 games and home field advantage in this series.

Harvey is due to pitch Game 3 in New York.

#8 How will the Dodgers handle the Mets revamped lineup?

The Mets team that will take the field Friday will be much deeper than the squad the Dodgers faced earlier this season, as trades have added Kelly Johnson and slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the roster.  In addition, third baseman David Wright has returned to the lineup after a lengthy recovery from back problems, adding another power bat to the lineup.

"[Adding] two professional bats in that lineup, in that clubhouse, all of a sudden guys are looking at their jobs saying, 'Oh my gosh I have to step up here,'" said Mets manager Terry Collins of the impact of the trade for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. "That to me is when we started turning things around."

Cespedes has likewise had a huge impact on the team, as he not only has been productive (17 blasts in 57 games), but his presence has allowed other hitters such as Lucas Duda and David Wright to see better pitches.

#7 Greinke, Kershaw, and Roger Murtaugh?

The Dodgers have two legitimate number one starters in Cy Young candidates Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 k's) and Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA), but after them, the team's rotation has been more beat up than actor Danny Glover in one of those Lethal Weapon movies.

Third starter Hyun-jin Ryu had shoulder problems and never pitched this season, and from there things went downhill.  The team used a countless variety of pitchers all year, lost another starter in Brandon McCarthy to injury, and executed a late trade for two more arms that produced mixed results.

Depending on how things go in the series, Kershaw and Greinke could take the hill twice -- with Game One starter Kershaw pitching on just three-days rest in Game Four, if necessary.  Otherwise, the team will be forced to rely on its inconsistent pitchers in the back half of the rotation, where trade acquisition Alex Wood would be pressed into service in a hostile road environment.

Since this series is a best-of-five format, expect the team's two aces to pitch in Games 4 and 5.

#6 Can deGrom hang?

Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA, 205 k's) hasn't had an easy journey to the big leagues.  The Mets starting pitcher for Game One is a converted college shortstop who had Tommy John surgery before finally finding his way.  His stuff is impressive, as he is a live-armed power pitcher whose fastball averages 94.9 MPH.  Matching zeros with ace Clayton Kershaw is another matter however.

Late in the season, a seemingly fatigued deGrom tailed off and was less effective.  The Mets tried to get him additional rest here and there in the hope that he can recapture his earlier form.

At Thursday's media workouts, deGrom did not seem too fazed by the moment.  When asked whether he had recently reflected on his career path, a focused deGrom replied, "I really haven't thought about it too much.  Just trying to prepare like I do for every other start."

#5  Have the Dodgers solved their bullpen issues?

If there was one factor that doomed the Dodgers last season, it was the lack of a reliable set up man in the bullpen for closer Kenley Jansen.  Los Angeles could not count on their assortment of relievers to bridge the gap between the starters and Jansen, causing Mattingly to leave his tired starters in the game too long.

This season, the Dodgers got rid of some of the high-priced veteran "names" in the 'pen, such as Brian Wilson, and went with a younger group.  The results have been mixed, with similar inconsistency displayed for much of the season until the relief corps picked it up a bit down the stretch, particularly righty Chris Hatcher.  Whether that uptick continues remains to be seen.

#4  Are the Dodgers healthy enough to win?

All teams are battling injuries around this time of the season, but the Dodgers have been hit hard at some key spots lately.

Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez provides the most explosive bat in the Dodgers' lineup, but his production has dropped off lately while playing through back issues.

At catcher, switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal gave the Dodgers another power hitter in their lineup, but has not been the same since injuring his shoulder after the All-Star break.  Infielder Justin Turner was one of the teams most reliable hitters before suffering from an infection on his leg, and has yet to regain his stride.

Dynamic right fielder Yasiel Puig and second baseman Kendrick have battled hamstring injuries, and although both are expected to play in this series, each figures to be somewhat rusty.

Mattingly does have a collection of players he can count on to fill those gaps -- Andre Ethier, Chase Utley, Alex Guerrero -- but at some point, those injuries could make an impact in the series.

#3 Who has the edge at manager, Mattingly or Collins?

Mattingly has been solid at juggling egos in the clubhouse, but has been frequently criticized for his in-game decisions.

Collins has had his share of managerial difficulties too, especially during his stint with the Angels many years ago, but his simple "you hit, you play" message has resonated with the Mets this season.  A midseason talent infusion didn't hurt either.  Collins' vast experience, and the realization that his career could be coming to a close relatively soon, also give him the extra edge over Mattingly in this series.

#2  Who starts in the Dodgers outfield?

With Puig claiming to be fully healthy, and with Scott Van Slyke still appearing to be far from 100 percent, Mattingly has several decisions to make in the outfield.

Veterans Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier are expected to see significant time in left and right field respectively, but center field is a bit of question mark.

Rookie Joc Pederson is good defensively and can hit for power, but slumped badly during the second half of the season.  Enrique Hernandez has been effective in center and is swinging the bat better than Pederson, so he will be the likely starter.

Puig and his highlight-reel game, however, must be incorporated into the gameplan if possible, provided he can shake off some of his rust.  In the past, Mattingly has praised Ethier's routes to the ball in center, so LA could at times field a more offensively-inclined Crawford-Ethier-Puig outfield.

Ethier has had a bounce back season this year and has been one of the Dodgers most consistent players, hitting .294 with 14 blasts.

When asked about playing in center for this series, Ethier stated that Mattingly, "Hasn't said a word about that, but it's kind of been a thing this year where we just wait and see what we're doing, and everyday we show up for whatever he thinks is best for that lineup."

#1 Who wins and why?

The Dodgers.  Yes, the Mets have good pitching and power throughout their lineup, but the Dodgers' one-two punch of Kershaw and Greinke alone gives them an advantage over almost any other squad, including the Mets' talented staff.  Moreover, their questionable bullpen seems to finally be on the right track.  Throw in the Dodgers' home field advantage and the spark provided by youngster Corey Seager, and the Dodgers win this series, 3 games to 1.

By Mike Elliott
Editor for

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