Archive: October 2nd, 2006

Meet Your Foe: the Dodgers

The New York Mets’ first-round foe is the Los Angeles Dodgers, which may be baseball’s version of Lieutenant Columbo — a group of rough-around-edges, unsuspecting ballplayers in trenchcoats who don’t look so fearsome to you until your three-game series with them is over and they’ve won two.

The Dodgers have little flash — no dominant ace pitcher, no big slugger, and a bullpen closer that no one right of the Pacific has ever heard of. Their Game One starter is Derek Lowe, a guy we know to be pretty good, but no one to fear. There’s a good chance their cleanup hitter will be Jeff Kent, who is well past his prime and had less than 70 RBI this year. In fact, their top homerun hitters were Nomar Garciaparra and JD Drew, who both hit 20. Despite Drew’s home run prowess and team-leading 100 RBI, there’s a chance he won’t be a starter in the OF in every game, as manager Grady Little has lately been depending on no-name rookies Jason Repko, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier.

Little has a fourth rookie, James Loney, who went 4-5 with 9 RBI in a crucial game at the end of the season — but will probably have him riding the pine while Garciaparra plays first base.

Speaking of, in Garciaparra, Julio Lugo, and Wilson Betemit, the Dodgers have three natural shortstops not playing shortstop because that’s where Rafael Furcal plays.

For all their quirks, the Los Angeles Dodgers (of Los Angeles) have played very competitive baseball from game one through 162, and despite their lack of a Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols, may very well have a better offensive team than anyone in the NL — including our beloved Mets.

Consider this: the Dodgers finished the year with 820 runs scored to the Mets’ 832. That’s not a huge difference — in fact, its negligible. Bottom line is, both teams average five runs per game. The Dodgers’ OPS is .781 to the Mets .780 — you can’t get much closer than that. Of more concern, offensively speaking, is the fact that the Dodgers walk slightly more often (3.7 per game to the Mets’ 3.3), and strike out significantly less frequently (5.9 to 6.7). If by chance this five-game series becomes an arms race, it would appear the Dodgers have a slight edge in their ability to create runs.

And as they say, it is pitching that wins in the playoffs. The Mets have a slightly better ERA — 4.14 to 4.23 — and struck out close to 100 more batters than the Dodgers, while walking 25 more. So far, it looks like a dead heat. Except for one glaring statistic: home runs allowed. The Mets have allowed 180 home runs this year, while the Dodgers limited opponents to 152 — less than one per game and the best rate in the Major Leagues.

Comparing the statistical lines, the teams do look very similar in nearly every category, except in the case of home runs. The Mets hit many, the Dodgers hit few. However, the Dodgers allow few, the Mets allow many. The Dodgers also have scored nearly as many runs without hitting the long ball, and in fact led the NL in batting average. So if the Mets somehow are able to keep LA from hitting homers, it likely will not affect their offensive production — they’ve been scoring that way all year. Conversely, if the Dodgers’ legion of groundball specialists can deny the Mets’ batted balls from taking flight, our Metropolitans may struggle to score runs. As you might imagine, the Dodgers also tend to turn a lot of double plays; in fact they were third in the Majors in that category, turning 174. By contrast, the Mets were 27th, with 134. These last stats feed further suspicion that the Mets may have their hands full with the Dodgers.

What does it all mean? Well, if you believe that regular-season statistics are an indicator of how a team will perform in the postseason, then this series between the Mets and Dodgers can easily go either way. In fact, it appears that unless the Mets are able to hit home runs against a staff that allowed the least amount in MLB, the Dodgers may have the edge. Even if the Mets are able to build rallies by getting on base, the numbers suggest that runners will be erased by double plays. So if the Mets offense is, in effect, grounded (pardon the pun), the only way they’ll get through this short series is via outstanding pitching — the kind that allows two, one, or no runs. Unfortunately, the tandem of El Duque, Tom Glavine, and Steve Trachsel doesn’t look up to the task. If this were five years ago, maybe, but in 2006, it’s asking quite a bit from two has-beens and one never-was.

For once, I hope Lt. Columbo is unable to crack the case.

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Game 162: Win

Mets 6 Nationals 2

Nice to finish the year on a high note.

The most important issues to address in the final game of the season were as follows: get all the relievers some work; get Cliff Floyd some at-bats; finish with a momentum- and confidence-building win.

Check, check, check.

Uncle Cliffy was inserted as the leadoff man for probably the first and last time in his life, for the sole purpose of maximizing at-bats. Despite his problems with his heel and ankle, our lovable Glass Joe managed to tough it out and looked pretty good at the plate. While he didn’t look fantastic, and we know a strained eyelid can keep him on the bench, he did look healthy enough to make some kind of contribution to the playoffs. With the way Endy Chavez has played this year (and of late), Floyd’s status isn’t much of a concern. It will be great to have Cliff in the starting lineup, but won’t be so bad to have Endy’s defense in the game and Cliff’s big bat waiting to pinch hit.

All the vital bullpen arms sans Billy Wagner got their last-minute tune-ups in, with Aaron Heilman the only one to give up a run. It was actually somewhat of a relief for Heilman to allow a run; it seemed like he was due to allow one, and better now than against the Dodgers.

Notes

Shawn Green, Jose Valentin, and David Wright all swung the bat well, with Valentin going 3-3. Since Valentin and Green had been struggling a bit in the last week or so, they picked a great time to get back into the groove.

Somewhat lost in the game was the performance of Oliver Perez, which was very good. He pitched four strong innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk, with four strikeouts. Perez was especially dominating the first two innings, throwing with precision and efficiency. He struck out two and threw just 21 pitches in those first two, and looked to be on a roll. His third inning was also strong, though not quite as efficient, and the fourth wasn’t awful, despite giving up a run. With Pedro out and a heap of pressure on Steve Trachsel, adding Perez to the roster might not be such a bad idea. While I don’t know that I’d trust him to start a game and count on him going seven innings, he could fill a meaningful role as a 2- or 3-inning reliever. In fact, if things get desperate, I would not be afraid to use him exactly as he was used in this game — as a four-inning starter. Both Perez and John Maine have shown to be strong pitchers the first time through a lineup, so why not combine the two for a fourth starter, if necessary? Yes, it’s unorthodox and unheard-of, but so was the idea of “setup relief” not so long ago. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and are often the mother of invention. With only two legitimate playoff starters — and both El Duque and Tom Glavine could be considered shaky as well — it might be worth trying something crazy to get through a playoff game. Personally, I’d have more faith in giving the first six innings of a game to a Perez-Maine combo than to Steve Trachsel.

We’ll see how it all shakes out very shortly … let the REAL season begin !

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