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NLDS first leg preview: Can Mets survive Los Angeles aces on the road?

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The longest week is almost over. Let's get this party started.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We've waited almost an entire week, but today is the day that the Mets finally start playing baseball again. Not only that, but this marks the beginning of the team's first postseason campaign in nine years. During a week with no Mets baseball games, the Amazin' Avenue staff has been hard at working attacking the upcoming NLDS from all angles, so I've decided to bring everything together under one post and add some original commentary. Series previews are kind of important to me, after all.

The most talked about aspect of the Mets vs. Dodgers matchup has been the starting pitching. That makes sense when you consider that Los Angeles will put two of the top three National League ERA leaders on the mound this weekend. In response to Clayton Kershaw (Game 1) and Zack Greinke (Game 2), the Mets merely have Jacob deGrom, who posted the fifth-lowest ERA in the league this year, and Noah Syndergaard, who doesn't qualify for the ERA title but has been as impressive as a rookie hurler can be in his 150 innings pitched.

Clayton Kershaw

Arsenal: Fastball (94 mph), slider (88 mph), curveball (74 mph)

We've said it earlier this season, but we'll say it again because it's so important: Kershaw has been a more impressive pitcher than Greinke in 2015 despite his slightly higher ERA and WHIP. While pitching 10 more innings than Greinke, Kershaw has walked just two more batters... while striking out an additional 101! That makes the left-handed wonder the first pitcher to post more than 300 strikeouts since 2002, when Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson both performed the feat for the purple-and-teal-clad Diamondbacks.

Chris McShane posted a terrific in-depth breakdown of Kershaw earlier this week, which goes into detail regarding the kind of trouble the Mets are in for tonight. In a nutshell, Los Angeles's ace has been incredibly dominant since May ended, and he didn't slow down once the Dodgers had their division wrapped up. In his past two outings, Kershaw has 20 strikeouts and one walk in 12.2 innings, which includes a complete-game effort against San Francisco that registered a game score of 97.

In two starts against the Mets in 2015, Kershaw allowed just one run with 18 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings.

Zack Greinke

Arsenal: Fastball (92 mph), changeup (89 mph), slider (87 mph), curveball (74 mph)

With just about eight strikeouts per nine innings, Greinke has had to rely on a .229 BABIP and 87-percent strand rate to post his league-leading ERA. Still, Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the game and one who just got done with his most successful campaign since winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2009. Unlike Kershaw, the right-handed Greinke has been remarkably consistent all season long. The worst ERA he's had in a single month this year is his 2.45 mark in August. That's pretty scary.

What's even scarier about Greinke is the way he's refined his changeup over the years. As you can see above, it's not that different from his fastball if we're only talking about velocity. You'd think that would be a bad thing for a pitcher's fastball and changeup to be so close together, but instead it's just made Greinke more similar to Felix Hernandez. That's usually a good thing, and it's especially good when your changeup has the kind of crazy movement that Greinke has been able to develop. Add in the nasty slider that he had so much success with early in his career, and it's a little surprising that Greinke hasn't struck out more batters this year.

In two starts against the Mets this year, Greinke allowed two runs with seven strikeouts and three walks in 14 innings. Check out Brian Salvatore's story for a recap of all seven Mets vs. Dodgers games in 2015.

The versatile Los Angeles lineup

When we (or at least I) think of the Dodgers offense, I think of a star-studded lineup that doesn't require a lot of moving parts. However, that hasn't been the case this season, especially when you throw in the ups and downs of Joc Pederson's rookie experience. After an electric start to the season that featured 20 first-half home runs, Pederson only hit six round-trippers after the All-Star break and has been relegated to the bottom of Don Mattingly's batting order.


Projected NLDS Game 1 lineups

NEW YORK METS LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Curtis Granderson - RF Carl Crawford - LF
David Wright - 3B Howie Kendrick - 2B
Daniel Murphy - 2B Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
Yoenis Cespedes - CF Justin Turner - 3B
Lucas Duda - 1B Andre Ethier - RF
Michael Cuddyer - LF Corey Seager - SS
Travis d'Arnaud - C Yasmani Grandal - C
Ruben Tejada - SS Joc Pederson - CF

The Mets have lined up right-handed starting pitchers for the first three games of this series, which means we'll see a lot of Pederson as well as the veteran outfielder Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, whom you might recognize from Mets trade rumors of the past five years.

As Chris discusses in his extensive breakdown of the Los Angeles offense, Ethier has always struggled against left-handed pitching in his career. Crawford has less drastic yet similar splits, and Pederson has a ridiculous 37-percent strikeout rate versus southpaws.

This all means that if Steven Matz is healthy enough to pitch in Game 4, or if the Mets bring in a left-handed relief pitcher such as Jon Niese, the Dodgers will counter with a whole new outfield featuring Yasiel Puig, Enrique Hernandez, and Justin Ruggiano.

Just a couple of weeks ago, it didn't look like Puig would be healthy enough to play in the NLDS, but since then he's made significant progress in a recovery from a hamstring injury that held him out for all of September. Another similar injury forced the 24-year-old to miss most of May, and at this point you have to wonder if the ailments are what have held Puig back from exploding into stardom. After hitting .296/.382/.480 as a 23-year-old in 2014, the Cuban immigrant seemed poised to for greatness, but instead he has regressed to .255/.322/.436 in just 79 games. However, if he truly is healthy, a man with the talent of Puig can do a lot of damage in a short series like this one. He should at least be used as a weapon late in games if he doesn't start them altogether.

Puig isn't the only recognizable name on the Los Angeles bench. Jimmy Rollins is there as well, and while he has been replaced in the starting lineup by highly touted rookie Corey Seager, we all know the former Phillies star has a history of punishing the Mets.

Meanwhile, Seager has played in just 27 major league games, but he's already made a name for himself with a 175 wRC+ to go with outstanding walk (12 percent) and strikeout (17 percent) rates. Even though Puig and Pederson have seen their play tail off lately, the Dodgers are still set with Seager in the young, exciting future star category.

The good news for the Mets is that Chase Utley is likely to be left off of Los Angeles's postseason roster. Don't worry, though, Justin Turner will be around to remind us that sometimes being patient with a player just doesn't matter.

Finally, Steve Schrieber has a guide for bandwagon Mets fans, and Eric Stephen has the series preview from a Los Angeles perspective over at True Blue LA. It's a lot prettier than this one.

Prediction: Mets split the first two games with the Dodgers.