Tonight in Los Angeles at precisely 8:07 p.m. (but probably a minute or two later just to drive me a little crazy), the Mets will take on the Dodgers in a game that will eliminate one of the teams from the postseason. The winner will host Game 1 of the NLCS versus the Cubs on Saturday. "Game 5" doesn't have the same sense of foreboding as "Game 7," but that's essentially what tonight's game is: a winner-take-all contest that could swing on something as trivial as the catcher's throw back to the pitcher deflecting off of the batter's bat.
Hopefully the fans and umpires won't have to deal with something like that tonight, but you never know. Game 5 is just one baseball game and anything can happen. It can be as weird and controversial as Game 2 or as clear and decisive as the two Citi Field games. The best we can do is hope for Jacob deGrom to be as dominant as he can possibly be. The ace of New York's staff has shown that he's capable of winning games almost by himself this season.
Eight times in 2015, deGrom has pitched at least seven innings while allowing zero runs. Before the postseason began, the most recent instance of that was on August 12 versus Colorado at home. Then deGrom went out and pitched one of the best games of his career in Game 1. The 13 strikeouts he posted in seven shutout innings were enough to tie Tom Seaver's franchise postseason record.
Back on July 26, deGrom was nearly as brilliant against the Dodgers with eight strikeouts, two walks, and two hits allowed in seven-and-two-thirds innings. Add both together, and deGrom has 21 strikeouts and zero runs allowed in 14.2 innings versus Los Angeles.
Another good sign for the Mets is that road teams historically have had the advantage in Game 5 of a Division Series. Since the postseason expanded in 1995, visiting teams have a 15-10 record in Game 5, but we don't need that to have confidence in the Mets, who have been dominant on the road since the trade deadline and carried that momentum into a decisive Game 1 win last Friday night. However, with Texas and Houston both blowing leads and failing in their elimination games on Wednesday night, the Mets are trying to become the first team to clinch a Division Series on the road this postseason.
There is still Zack Greinke to deal with, as well. He'll be pitching on regular rest after an impressive outing in Game 1 that saw him strike out eight batters with zero walks in seven innings. The only two runs he allowed were on solo blasts by Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto in the second inning.
Like deGrom, Greinke has had a lot of regular season success against the team that he'll face tonight. Back on July 4, he shutout the Mets for seven innings during his epic scoreless innings streak that was eventually snapped at 45.2 by those same Mets when Greinke met them in Queens on July 26.
In fact, it was deGrom who broke the streak with an RBI ground out in the third inning, but Greinke still pitched quite well with just two runs allowed in seven innings. Jeurys Familia blew the save in the ninth inning to spoil deGrom's outing, but then Juan Uribe struck back with a walk-off single in the 10th.
The deGrom RBI is a reminder of how the hurlers in this game can have an impact with their bats. The Dodgers might not have scored any runs last night without a third-inning single by Clayton Kershaw, and Greinke also knows how to handle the stick with two home runs hit this season and six for his career that was mostly spent in the American League. The former shortstop deGrom is no slouch himself with a pair of doubles and a walk this year.
It is likely the regular Mets bats who will make the difference, though. The good news for them is that they're better suited to break through against a right-handed ace than against Kershaw. With lefties like Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, and Conforto in the lineup, New York is a team that has a weakness versus southpaws. Add in the reverse splits of the right-handed Cespedes, and it becomes obvious that Kershaw was the bigger threat.
With all those quality left-handed bats, there's a good chance that the Mets will once again find a way to score a run or two off of Greinke. If they do, it won't be the regular old bullpen on hand to protect the lead. Both Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey have told Terry Collins that they'll be available to pitch an inning or two if needed tonight. Sure, the Mets want to protect their young arms, but they'd be silly not to call on their very best in a close game.
Thor and Harvey in the seventh and eighth innings? There's hope for New York even if deGrom does finally allow a run to the Dodgers.
Prediction: I'm just as nervous as everyone else, but I'll say the Mets smash some cups in Chavez Ravine and come out on top.