We are hours away from the first National League postseason game in New York since 2006, but instead of a conversation about how Matt Harvey will fare in the most important start of his career during a year in which he has disappointed Mets fans with his words, we're going to hear a lot more about whether or not the Mets should retaliate against Chase Utley.
In case you just got back from Mars like Matt Damon (just kidding, I don't really know how that movie ends), Utley slid late into second base during the seventh inning of Game 2 on Saturday night. Violently colliding with Ruben Tejada's leg, the former Phillies All-Star succeeded in breaking up what would have been a pivotal double play. He also broke Tejada's leg and reignited a debate about whether or not Major League Baseball is doing enough to protect its middle infielders against "hard-nosed" plays like Utley's.
Baseball responded on Sunday night by suspending Utley for Game 3 and Game 4. On one hand, this won't have much of an effect on the remainder of the series because the veteran was very close to being left off of Los Angeles's NLDS roster and could have been heading back to the bench anyway. On the other, Utley is 6-for-18 in his career versus Harvey, including a home run belted earlier this season.
Utley is appealing the punishment, which could allow him to play in the upcoming NLDS games, but I would have been surprised to see him in the lineup anyway. Not only is he not the player he used to be from either an offensive or defensive perspective, but his presence would cause a huge distraction that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly would do well to avoid. If Utley is in the lineup, the Mets will surely throw at him, which could lead to a benches-clearing situation, which could lead to more injuries and more suspensions. That's something that no one wants (expect perhaps the media).
That's why the Mets should let bygones be bygones and not throw at Utley if he comes to the plate again in this series. I know everyone wants to be cool and stand up for their injured teammate, but the postseason is not like the regular season. The Mets can't afford to give a free pass to a guy who hit .212/.286/.343 this year when the fate of the franchise is at stake. Want to slide into second base hard to send a message? That's fine, but don't go crashing into someone's leg the way Utley did. After all, the Mets (and others) just spoke out against that nonsense.
Also, don't forget that Utley himself could have been seriously injured when his head collided with Tejada's body. Any attempt to rough up the Dodgers at second base has the risk of backfiring and landing another Mets player on the shelf.
During a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Harvey said that he wouldn't be afraid of pitching inside, even if warnings are issued to the benches before Game 3 begins. That's good, because we don't want the right-hander compromising his game plan just because of something that Utley did. However, Harvey has to remember that he is New York's MVP on Monday and that means he can't allow himself to get thrown out under any circumstances.
Arsenal: fastball (91 mph), slider (82 mph), curveball (76 mph), changeup (83 mph)
Another story that is being buried by the Utley slide is the one about the Mets getting a chance to hit against a pitcher who doesn't have all-world capabilities. That will happen at least once this week, as Anderson is locked in as Don Mattingly's Game 3 starter. The oft-injured lefty pitched a complete season in 2015 for the first time since he was a rookie six years ago. Anderson set career highs in game started (31) and innings pitched (180.1) while posting a 3.69 ERA and 3.94 FIP.
Those are pretty unspectacular numbers for a pretty unspectacular guy, but something that Anderson does really well is keep the ball on the ground. His 66-percent ground ball rate is the best of his career, and it has helped Anderson maintain success this season despite sub-par strikeout stuff. The good news for the Mets is that Anderson isn't particularly strong against lefties. While right-handed hitters sported a higher OPS versus him during the regular season, lefties unexpectedly got on base at a higher clip. Those facts could affect the way Terry Collins lays out his lineup tonight.
Arsenal: fastball (89 mph), curveball (80 mph), changeup (82 mph)
Mattingly has not announced a Game 4 starter yet, but we know the top two candidates are Wood and Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw. While Kershaw would be working on three days of rest, Wood hasn't taken the mound since October 2, when he allowed two runs in seven innings versus San Diego. After splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in Atlanta for two seasons, Wood was traded to Los Angeles this July and has made a full season's worth of starts between the two cities.
Wood's strikeout rate is down seven percent compared to last year, but he has still managed to post a 3.84 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 189.2 innings. Unlike Anderson, the 24-year-old Wood is much more effective against same-handed hitters, but the more important comparison is with Kershaw. That's whom Mattingly will have to tell to sit out if the ball goes to Wood on Tuesday night. For that reason, it's a pretty safe bet that Kershaw will start in Game 4 if there's a chance that the Dodgers could be eliminated. Should that be the case, Zack Greinke would pitch Game 5 on full rest against Jacob deGrom. During his postseason career, Kershaw has made two starts on short rest. In those, he has a combined 12 innings pitched with a 2.25 ERA.
Notes from the weekend
Los Angeles's rotation depends a lot on what happens in Game 3, but the Mets have already announced what they are going to do. Steven Matz will start Game 4, with deGrom going in Game 5 if we need one.
In both Game 1 and Game 2, Adrian Gonzalez struck out in his first three plate appearances before driving in runs with his fourth appearance. On Saturday night, Collins opted to have Addison Reed enter from the bullpen to face Gonzalez instead of the left-handed Jon Niese. This season, Gonzalez is hitting .267/.352/.498 versus righties and .296/.348/.438 against lefties. If you're not worried about his power, it doesn't pay to use the platoon advantage against him.
Speaking of platoons, Collins is thinking about giving Michael Conforto a start in left field against the left-handed Anderson in Game 3. Although Conforto only has 15 plate appearances against southpaws in his career, there are three factors in his favor. First, he just hit a home run in Game 2. Second, Anderson doesn't kill lefties. Third, Michael Cuddyer was a nightmare in the outfield on Friday night. Juan Lagares is also a starting option if Collins wants to go for more defense.
To replace the injured Tejada on the NLDS roster, the Mets are calling upon Matt Reynolds, the shortstop who had a shot at the Opening Day roster but still has yet to debut in the majors.
Prediction: Mets win both home games and move on to the NLCS!