It's a shame that the Mets don't play the Dodgers anymore after this weekend, because this postseason rematch has the potential to be a lot of fun. Not only has the solid play of Chase Utley ensured that there will be plenty of chances for fans to cheer against their least favorite player, but the incredible Clayton Kershaw will be returning to the Citi Field mound for the first time since his splendid performance in Game 4 of the NLDS. Add to that the recent news that highly-touted prospect Julio Urias will make his first ever big league start on Friday night, and there's plenty of reasons to be excited for the next three games.
On the subject of Utley, the veteran second baseman isn't out of the woods yet. Earlier this month, the Rangers incited a brawl between themselves and Toronto when they waited until the sixth and final game versus the Blue Jays to finally hit Jose Bautista with a pitch. Like Utley, Bautista was a player who offended his opponents in a postseason series last October. He probably thought the beef between him and Texas was squashed when their series in Toronto went off without a hitch, but things got ugly during that last game in Arlington. Hopefully the Mets aren't foolish enough to start something with the Dodgers when so many of the players (and perhaps Ruben Tejada himself) are over last year's incident.
One player who hopefully won't be throwing punches during this series is Neil Walker, who started to heat up again in Washington with five hits, including his 11th home run of the season during the three-game set. The big fly came against left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, which is a good sign since Walker doesn't hit as well from the right side and the Dodgers will throw two lefties at New York this weekend. A Mets batter who can take advantage of the southpaws is David Wright, who has home runs in his last two games and appears to be benefiting from the new plan to rest him during night games before day games instead of during day games after night games. That leads us to believe that Wright is not a vampire or something.
On the Los Angeles front, Trayce Thompson has started to pick up more consistent playing time since his walk-off home run against the Mets on May 10. Six days later, he hit two home runs in a single game against the Angels and now has seven for the season thanks to a long ball he hit in San Diego. Thompson has also walked seven times this month compared to his three walks in all of April. That's led to a .345 on-base percentage that looks great alongside his blossoming power.
Even with the emergence of Thompson and the continued development of young sluggers Corey Seager and Joc Pederson, the Dodgers still have a team OPS that is below league average. Part of the reason for that is the struggles of two guys who have been productive for the team in the not-so-distant past. First, Yasiel Puig has seen his patience and power deteriorate over the past two seasons so that he's now only walking in four percent of plate appearances and slugging .380, albeit with five home runs. Plus, new skipper Dave Roberts doesn't seem to like him much better than Don Mattingly did.
Justin Turner is also struggling in 2016 despite solid walk and contact rates. A .264 BABIP has caused his average to crash to .238 and he's slugging just .351 with three home runs. If Turner's BABIP gets a bump towards his .316 career average, he's going to still be plenty useful, although he might not approaching a .500 slugging percentage like he did in 2014 and 2015.
Important stats at Triple-A Oklahoma City: 41.0 IP, 44 K, 8 BB, 0 HR, 1.10 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 0.78 WHIP
Alex Wood was supposed to start on Friday night, but instead we'll get to witness the major league debut of one of baseball's most exciting prospects in Urias. Wood was pushed back due to a minor triceps injury, so the 19-year-old Urias isn't expected to stay with the Dodgers past this appearance. On the other hand, the masses might not deal too well with a demotion if the scintillating southpaw goes out and dominates the Mets in his first big league game. In case you were wondering, it's pretty rare for a pitcher to start in the majors before his 20th birthday. The last guy to do so was Felix Hernandez in 2005.
Mets opponent: Compared to Urias, Jacob deGrom was an old man by the time he made his major league debut two years ago at age 25. Back then, it would be a pleasant surprise to learn that he would become a regular rotation member for New York, but now that he is, we want more. deGrom is pitching fine when compared to his ceiling as a prospect, but not so much compared to last year's dominant All-Star campaign. He's not the guy everyone in the city is asking questions about right now, but his numbers are down across the board and last weekend's mediocre performance versus Milwaukee didn't instill much confidence going forward.
Important stats: 52.0 IP, 48 K, 15 BB, 5 HR, 3.29 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 1.08 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), slider (82 mph), curveball (73 mph)
Maeda got his first major league season off to a fantastic start when he allowed just one total run in his first four outings, but he's regressed in a big way lately, with four runs allowed in each of his last three starts. The first of those was against the Mets, who hit two home runs off of Maeda in a 4-3 loss to Los Angeles on May 11. The Japanese right-hander hasn't given up a long ball since then, but he did continue to allow runs to the Angels and Padres. Maybe he's less of a co-ace and more of a No. 2 starter for the Dodgers, but he's still very valuable to a club that has struggled with its rotation depth this year.
Mets opponent: It's probably considered a first-world problem that Noah Syndergaard - who has 21 strikeouts, zero walks, and one run allowed in his last two starts - doesn't get to throw opposite Kershaw on Saturday night, but that doesn't mean we can't complain about it. On the other hand, maybe it's better for the Mets that Thor takes on a mortal opponent instead of one of the only people in the world who's better at pitching.
Important stats: 79.0 IP, 95 K, 5 BB, 3 HR, 1.48 ERA, 1.41 FIP, 0.66 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (88 mph), curveball (73 mph)
The GOAT acronym gets thrown around a lot these days, but Kershaw is someone who might truly be worthy. He's only 28 years old, already has three Cy Young Awards (and an MVP) under his belt, and is in the middle of what could be the greatest campaign by a pitcher in baseball history. We're about a third of the way through the baseball year and everything Kershaw does is off the charts. I mean, you don't even see elite relief pitchers these days walking around with that kind of WHIP. Since obliterating the Mets with 13 strikeouts in a complete-game shutout on May 12, Kershaw allowed one run in eight innings versus the Angels and then laid another nine scoreless frames on the Reds. Unfortunately that last game broke his streak of six straight starts with double-digit strikeouts. Kershaw only fanned seven that day.
Mets opponent: Bartolo Colon hitting a home run off of the best pitcher in the world might be enough to make up for the Matt Harvey drama we're being subject to on a weekly basis, but that isn't likely to happen. The good news is that Colon was excellent in his rematch with Washington on Monday while leading the Mets to a victory over their rivals. He's going to have to be even better to keep up with the ace of aces, but we know Colon is always full of surprises.
The surprise leader for the Dodgers in relief innings pitched is former Philadelphia and Oakland starter Joe Blanton. Now in his second stint with Los Angeles since being traded there by the rebuilding Phillies in 2012, the veteran right-hander boasts a 0.80 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. The Mets will probably see a lot of him this weekend along with top lefty Adam Liberatore and his 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings. Closer Kenley Jansen continues to be an elite bullpen arm despite blowing a save in San Diego a week ago. The two runs he gave up on a Melvin Upton Jr. walk-off home run are double the amount he had given up before then.
It's not often nowadays that a team's most commonly used relief pitcher is also its best relief pitcher. You can blame the saves stat for that discrepancy. However, Jeurys Familia and his 16 saves are leading the Mets with 23 pitching appearances. He hasn't been striking out a ton of batters this year, especially when compared with other Mets relievers like Addison Reed and Jim Henderson, but Familia has been beyond solid thanks to his incredible 65-percent ground ball rate and fewer than two walks per nine innings. Even when the ball is hit in the air, Familia has yet to give up a home run this season.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
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