What's going on with the Dodgers?
Backed by a payroll of nearly $230 million and strong seasons from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers have cruised along in the National League West this season. While the pair of aces has helped keep opponents off the board, the offense has been boosted by a pair of young stars at the top of the lineup. Dee Gordon has turned into a very productive second baseman thanks to his ability to play defense and steal a ton of bases while getting on base at an acceptable clip. Meanwhile, Yasiel Puig has topped his sensational rookie season by striking out less, walking more, and generally crushing every pitch that he's able to reach.
However, there is trouble in paradise lately. The Giants have been able to creep up on the Dodgers in the standings while Los Angeles has dealt with a rash of injuries. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched very well against the Mets back in May, was recently sidelined with a strained glut muscle, and Josh Beckett had his resurgent campaign interrupted by a hip injury. Paul Maholm has served as a useful swingman and spot starter for the Dodgers, but he's out for the season with a torn knee ligament. Matters appeared to be getting worse when Greinke came down with elbow discomfort, but an MRI showed no structural damage, and he's only being pushed back a couple of days.
What are the Dodgers to do about the rest of the injuries, though? Maybe if they knew this wave of hurt was coming, they would have dealt for Rays ace David Price, but word on the street was that the team didn't want to part with its top prospects anyway. Guys like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager have the potential to keep the Dodgers competitive for years to come without expanding the club's payroll too much. Instead, Los Angeles has added minor pieces like Roberto Hernandez (from the Philies) and Kevin Correia (from the Twins) to help out in the rotation until Ryu is ready to return to the mound.
Who are these guys?
The rotation isn't the only area of concern for the Dodgers lately. The team is also starting a pair of reserves on the left side of the infield thanks to recent injuries to third baseman Juan Uribe and shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Those losses would be tougher to swallow if Justin Turner wasn't having such a stellar season. That's right, the reserve infielder who was cut by the Mets not too long ago is hitting .314/.386/.441 in 249 plate appearances this season. That has made him quite the valuable backup for a Dodgers team whose offense is filled with injury-prone veterans. If the Mets knew Turner was capable of hitting this well for even half of a season, he could be starting for New York at shortstop right now.
Turner is playing third base for the Dodgers, though. That's because 25-year-old rookie Miguel Rojas is a superb defender at shortstop despite being a liability at the plate so far. He was never much of a hitter in the minors, either, but this season at Triple-A Albuquerque, Rojas hit .302/.353/.434 to earn a promotion to the big leagues. Those Pacific Coast League stats might never translate into big league hitting success, but Rojas could be good enough with his glove to make a living as a reserve infielder.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Jon Niese vs. Dan Haren
A far cry from the reliable innings-eater he used to be, Haren has seen his ineffectiveness this season limit his ability to pitch deep into games. After getting off to a great start in April, Haren wilted as spring turned to summer despite a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3:1. The 33-year-old is still throwing a lot of strikes, but opponents like hitting them a lot more than they used to. He's already let up 24 home runs in 143 innings.
With Haren struggling badly since the All-Star break, Niese should give the Mets a decent chance of taking tonight's opener. Although he previously showed the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter, Niese has pitched more like a back end guy lately. His strikeout rate of 17 percent has been boosted a little since a recent pair of six-strikeout outings, but it shows no signs of reaching the 19 percent it stood at during his first three major league seasons.
Saturday: Jacob deGrom vs. Zack Greinke
Greinke, the one premier pitcher that the Mets are facing this weekend, is blossoming this season into the pitcher many fans thought he could be when he was traded into the National League following the 2010 season. He may have been a mild disappointment during his stint with the Brewers, but Greinke is posting career-best strikeouts and walks per nine innings as a Dodger in 2014. He's supposed to be a little past his prime at 30 years old, but Greinke's stuff is as nasty as ever, and he's capable of brilliance every time he takes the mound.
deGrom has been one of the most exciting parts of the Mets' 2014 campaign, so you can imagine the groans coming from fans when he went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury after an August 7 start in Washington. Nevertheless, deGrom is back in action after just two weeks, and New York's morale would be boosted if he can show that he hasn't missed a step.
Sunday: Bartolo Colon vs. Kevin Correia
After providing replacement-level pitching support for the rebuilding Twins during the first four months of the season, Correia now finds himself in the middle of a pennant race thanks to the fact that he doesn't serve much purpose to a rebuilding franchise. In fact, Correia probably isn't much use to the Dodgers, either, but he got off to a good start with his new team when he allowed just one run in six innings during a win over Atlanta. Correia's next start was more of what you'd expect (four runs in five innings against the Padres), so he's probably looking forward to getting back in the Dodgers' good graces with the Mets in town.
In Colon, the Mets hold a player that should be coveted by at least one of team Southern California contenders. While the Dodgers could easily stand to upgrade over guys like Correia and Hernandez, the Angels just lost a major piece of their rotation in Garrett Richards. Colon has been liable to blow up on the road this season, but he's peaking again with a pair of brilliant performances in his past two outings. The Mets couldn't ask for better timing with the Dodgers watching closely as the next trade deadline approaches.
Prediction: The Mets manage to take two of three games against a Dodgers team that is hampered by shoddy starters.
What about some highlights?
Turner has been a surprisingly important player for Los Angeles this season. Here he is rescuing the team from a potential loss to the Padres on Thursday night.
The Mets don't get to see Kershaw this weekend, so here he is being awesome against a San Diego team that isn't the doormat it was in the first half of the season.
Whenever we're feeling down about the Mets, we should just think of this girl, whose passion for the orange and blue was undeterred by the fact that the boys were losing by five in the ninth inning.
Don't forget to visit FanDuel.com for exciting one-day fantasy leagues!