Teams from Los Angeles don’t normally fly under the radar, but it feels like the Dodgers are being overlooked as one of the best teams in baseball. That’s probably because they play in the National League West alongside clubs in Colorado and Arizona that are more fun to root for because of their underdog status and lack of recent postseason success. It’s easy to forget that both franchises have won pennants more recently than the large-market Dodgers, who haven’t made it to the Fall Classic since their 1988 world title despite a current streak of five straight 90-win seasons.
It doesn’t measure up to Chicago or Boston when it comes to baseball championship droughts, but when you consider that the rival Giants have won three titles this decade and that even the lowly Padres have won a pennant more recently, Los Angeles becomes a more appealing team to cheer on. We won’t be doing so this week obviously, but that’s important to remember for October. With a couple of surprising leaders on offense, a deep pitching rotation, and a dominant closer, these Dodgers are a force to be reckoned with.
One of the biggest factors toward Los Angeles leading the senior circuit in run differential is rookie slugger Cody Bellinger. The 21-year-old out of Scottsdale, Arizona wasn’t called up until late April, but he’s made up for lost time by hitting 19 home runs over the past two months with a .634 slugging percentage. Like his east coast counterpart Aaron Judge, Bellinger strikes out around 30 percent of the time but makes up for it by walking a lot and making pitchers pay for mistakes.
Another surprising development for the Dodgers has been former Seattle shortstop prospect Chris Taylor. Now playing wherever Los Angeles needs him, which is currently in left field, Taylor is hitting big league pitching with authority for the first time in his career, and you can bet Mariners fans aren’t too happy about it after watching their team trade him away last June for underwhelming pitching prospect Zach Lee. Taylor had some minor league campaigns in which he slugged around .500, but the power always seemed to be a product of the Pacific Coast League until now, and his eight home runs are as many as he’s ever hit in a single professional season.
I guess that makes Taylor the Seattle version of Justin Turner, who is still as solid a hitter as you’ll see even four years after leaving the Mets for greener pastures. This year, he’s only striking out 12.5 percent of the time while tearing apart opposing pitchers with a 28.9-percent line drive rate that helps fuel a wRC+ of 165.
For the Mets to counter Los Angeles’s offense, they’ll need to rely on the red-hot combo of Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce. With Michael Conforto slugging just .302 this month, it’s been up to the other two outfielders to put runs on the board and on Saturday evening they came through big time with seven hits between them while hitting second and third in the order. After hitting just .210/.296/.430 in May, Bruce is off to a .365/.375/.714 start in June, and he’ll only be teaming with Cespedes more often once the Cuban veteran shakes off his nagging lower-body injuries.
If New York does score runs during this series, it will probably be before the eighth inning since Pedro Baez has been so solid as a setup man and closer Kenley Jansen is having a mind-blowing season. In 29.2 innings this year, he’s allowed just four runs with 50 strikeouts and zero walks. That’s an unfathomable level of pitching right there, and it should get the big right-hander some Cy Young consideration if he can keep it going for the entire campaign.
The good news for the Mets is that Josh Fields, who was nearly as dominant as Jansen during April and May, has hit the skids lately with seven runs allowed in his last five innings pitched. Just in case you’ve been desensitized by too many Fernando Salas appearances, seven runs in five innings isn’t very good. You know who has been good, though? Addison Reed, who has one run allowed in seven-and-two-thirds frames this month. Now the Mets just need to find him some more save opportunities.
Monday, June 19: Zack Wheeler vs. Clayton Kershaw, 10:10 p.m. on SNY
Wheeler: 64.1 IP, 59 K, 29 BB, 8 HR, 4.48 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 1.46 WHIP
Wheeler was becoming New York’s most consistent starter before the wheels completely fell off during his last start against the Cubs. He allowed eight runs in fewer than two innings in that game while throwing a whopping 62 pitches, but he’ll need to saddle right up again if the Mets are going to have a chance to win on Monday night against one of the game’s finest performers.
Kershaw: 97.0 IP, 105 K, 16 BB, 13 HR, 2.23 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 0.92 WHIP
Although he’s on pace to give up more than 20 home runs for the first time ever, Kershaw remains one of the best hurlers in the game. Like Wheeler, Los Angeles’s ace was shelled the last time he faced the Cubs, but the southpaw has bounced back since then with three straight typical Kershaw outings. It will take a great effort on both offense and defense for New York to emerge victorious in this matchup.
Tuesday, June 20: Robert Gsellman vs. Brandon McCarthy, 10:10 p.m. on SNY & ESPN
Gsellman: 68.2 IP, 51 K, 23 BB, 9 HR, 5.50 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 1.54 WHIP
Before allowing seven runs in five innings to Washington during his last trip to the hill, Gsellman was putting together a streak of solid play. The silver lining for him is that the injury to Matt Harvey has put to rest any talk of a shift to the bullpen, but Gsellman has still got to pitch well to stick in the long-term rotation. That starts with limiting his walks, because ground balls against this leaky defense do not always result in outs.
McCarthy: 63.0 IP, 51 K, 17 BB, 4 HR, 3.14 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.10 WHIP
After battling injuries for the past two years, McCarthy appears to be rounding back into form as the guy who pitched 200 innings with a 3.55 FIP back in 2014. With fewer than three runs allowed in each of his last five outings, the 33-year-old has been one of the most consistent starters around, although it’s helped that only seven percent of his fly balls leave the yard. McCarthy has always been a guy who relies more on control than blowing opponents away, and its that control that has been a strong suit since he overcame a shoulder injury and came off the disabled list in mid-May.
Wednesday, June 21: Mystery starter vs. Rich Hill, 10:10 p.m. on SNY & ESPN
The Mets haven’t yet announced who will start on Wednesday, as it appears the six-man rotation will get another turn even with Harvey on the shelf. Rafael Montero — who pitched three perfect innings on Thursday night against Washington — is one candidate to step in, although we could also see Tyler Pill in this spot since he also last pitched on Thursday. He threw seven strong innings to earn a win for Las Vegas.
Hill: 35.0 IP, 35 K, 23 BB, 5 HR, 5.14 ERA, 5.31 FIP, 1.57 WHIP
Hill’s injury issues throughout his career make McCarthy’s look rather mild. This guy is simply never around long enough to make a big impact. In fact, the 110.1 innings he threw last year was the most he’s had in the big leagues since 2007. At least in 2016, Hill was very effective when he was on the mound. This year, he’s been hampered by blisters and also walking nearly six batters per nine innings. It’s not a great combination, so hopefully the Mets can take advantage.
Thursday, June 22: Steven Matz vs. Alex Wood, 10:10 p.m. on SNY & MLBN
Matz: 14.0 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 3 HR, 3.21 ERA, 5.28 FIP, 1.00 WHIP
If you take out the three home runs Washington hit against him, then Matz had a second straight successful start last Friday night. Unfortunately, all that yard work did happen, and the opposing hitters putting soft outside stuff over the wall was reminiscent of the Tommy Milone experience. Matz, of course, is a southpaw on a different level, but he’s got to be a little more wary when he pitches to another powerful lineup this time around.
Wood: 61.2 IP, 72 K, 15 BB, 2 HR, 1.90 ERA, 2.15 FIP, 0.92 WHIP
The former Atlanta lefty went four straight starts in May without allowing a run and has quietly been one of the top hurlers in the big leagues this year. Wood is simply pitching better than he ever has before with strikeout and walk rates that surpass anything that he’s done as a professional as well as an intense 67-percent ground ball rate. If he keeps on like this the 26-year-old could be that second dominant starter that the Dodgers have been missing since Zack Greinke bolted to Arizona.
Prediction: Mets win one of four.
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