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Series Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets

The Mets head home to face their third straight division-leading opponent.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Mets played the Dodgers in Los Angeles before the All-Star break, they wen't expected to win two of three games. Not only did Los Angeles have two of its top pitchers on the mound, but the Mets were coming off a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Cubs. Instead of hanging their heads, though, the Mets prevailed thanks to great pitching by Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz as well as some timely hitting that made the offense look alive for once.

Now a couple of weeks later, New York is once again reeling from a tough loss and its offense hasn't stopped being questioned. Can Terry Collins rally his bunch into another series win over the Dodgers, this time at home?

The narrative has gone too far

I know Terry Collins makes some questionable decisions, but I didn't think one of them would be pinch-hitting for his pitcher with the Mets down a run in the seventh inning to Washington on Tuesday night. Not only did the "gamble" work out when Eric Campbell hit a single through the right side to give New York the lead, but the Mets went on to defeat the Nationals 7-2.

Imagine that. The streak of impossibly bad hitting with runners in scoring position finally came to an end. I know it's part of the beat writers' jobs to search for reasoning behind the manager's moves, but I was still shocked to learn that at least one member of the press questioned Collins's strategy.

If you just take a peak behind the curtain of Campbell's below-.200 batting average, you'll see that he's been very poor on balls in play this year. That's something that Collins used in his mind-blowing decision to use his bench bat instead of a pitcher on Tuesday night. Not only did Campbell finally come through with some batted ball luck, but the hit reversed New York's trend of making outs with runners in scoring position.

So maybe this offense, while still one of the worst in the National League, isn't as bad as we make it out to be. The Mets rank poorly in on-base percentage, but they're even worse in slugging, and that's why this team needs to get runners in scoring position in order to put runs on the board. We can whine and mope about New York needing 18 innings to beat the Cardinals, but putting a bunch of runners on base in extra innings should be considered a good thing when you're trying to plate runs without a lot of power.

The last time the Dodgers faced the Mets, the combination of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw was supposed to be too much for the orange and blue. With a little luck and timing, perhaps our boys can prove everyone wrong again.

Something more than a home run curse

Dodgers rookie outfielder Joc Pederson had been a subject of Mets trade rumors well before he started blowing baseball away with his power this summer. Now an untouchable star-to-be, young Pederson has become a three-true-outcomes slugger with 40-homer potential. That home run total is starting to look a bit out of reach, however, when you consider that Pederson hasn't hit one out of the park in any game this month. His last round-tripper came on June 29 (so please, throw away your Home Run Derby conspiracy theories), and the rookie is struggling for the first time in his major league career.

He's only hitting .156/.229/.203 in July while continuing to rack up the strikeouts with very little power. In the end, this slump could just be a blip on the ole radar, but it also could be something more. Pederson's strikeout rate was always a littler higher than you wanted it to be. He struck out 22 percent of the time in Double-A two years ago, and that became 27 percent at Triple-A. It's now an alarming 29 percent in the majors. That number is easier to ignore when Pederson is walking a ton (15 percent this year) and knocking ball out of the park, but when he continues to strike out with fewer walks and homers, one begins to think that there might be something wrong.

Pederson's strikeout rate could be something that keeps him from transforming into a superstar, but it's also something he may prove to overcome. In the meantime, the other Los Angeles bats have to step up. The good news is that manager Don Mattingly has plenty of other options to turn to even with Yasiel Puig suffering through his own power outage and Jimmy Rollins failing to achieve the kind of production he had with Philadelphia as recent as last year.

Sure, Carl Crawford is healthy again, but he's more of a role player in this crowded Dodgers outfield. The important thing is that the other half of that 2012 Boston mega deal is playing better than he has in years. Adrian Gonzalez has a wRC+ of 151 and looks like he could hit more than 30 home runs for the first time since 2010.

The offense is also bolstered by another steady year from Howie Kendrick (.291/.340.409) as well as a breakout campaign by Yasmani Grandal (.287/.405/.525). Both of those players were acquired in offseason trades by new baseball operations head Andrew Friedman. The early returns on him have to be good when you consider how much time the Dodgers have spent in first place this year, but now Friedman must prove himself worthy with an mid-season deal to acquire a starting pitcher.

The pursuit of Hamels

Thanks to the impressive exploits of Greinke and Kershaw, you don't always think of the Dodgers as a team that needs starting pitching, but they've had to shuffle through a lot of arms to get through the back of their rotation. After the big two up front, Brett Anderson is the only guy who's made a start on every fifth day this season, and he's not a sure thing this weekend due to a foot injury.

If Anderson and his 3.33 ERA (3.56 FIP) can't go on Sunday, it will open up another spot in a rotation that is already set to introduce rookie Zach Lee on Saturday. The No. 12 prospect in Los Angeles's system per doesn't have great strikeout stuff, but he's got tremendous control that he's used to post a 2.36 ERA with Triple-A Oklahoma City this season. The Dodgers would apparently rather take their chances with Lee than give Brandon Beachy another try. The former Atlanta right-hander was optioned back to the minors after allowing four runs in four innings against his old club on Monday.

Leaning on their two aces and Anderson while hoping that Mike Bolsinger and company can go deeper than five innings each outing has worked out so far, but the Dodgers could really use another established pitcher to finish off the Giants and clinch the division. Enter the Cole Hamels rumors. While Los Angeles is flush with sexy prospects and trying to win now, the Phillies are supposedly desperate to unload Hamels and give their future a lift. It seems like a match made in heaven, but just like every deal the Mets should make, it hasn't happened yet.

The problem is that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. isn't really that desperate to move his top pitcher. Hamels still has three years left on his deal after 2015, so he's not leaving for nothing anytime soon. That's why Philadelphia is demanding top prospects in negotiations with the Dodgers, and potential future stars like shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias are guys that Friedman might not want to part with, even if it means acquiring a pitcher with a track record as sterling as Hamels's.

That brings us to a standstill, at least until Philadelphia decides that it might be more fruitful to move Hamels now instead of waiting for this winter, when many free agent hurlers will be available without a price tag that includes oodles of prospects.

Date Time Television Dodgers Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
July 23, 2015 7:10 PM SNY, MLBN Clayton Kershaw Bartolo Colon
July 24, 2015 7:10 PM SNY, MLBN Zack Greinke Jon Niese
July 25, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Zach Lee Matt Harvey
July 26, 2015 1:10 PM PIX 11, TBS Brett Anderson Jacob deGrom

Back to this weekend, the Mets are tasked with surviving the Kershaw/Greinke combo for the second time this month. With a struggling Colon going against Kershaw and Greinke not having allowed a run since June 13, you can't like their chances too much. The good news is that New York has the edge in the latter half of the matchups. Assuming that Harvey bounces back from an ugly start in Washington, a split doesn't seem out of the question.

Prediction: banana split.

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