Maddux, Lowe and Who's This Guy Kuo?
Hi, I'm Dave Studeman of The Hardball Times, and I've been a Mets' fan since Don Bosch first patrolled center field for Casey Stengel. Given the disastrous news that's come the Mets' way lately, I'd like to call this article Glavine, Maine, and Pray for Rain.
Hi, I'm Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts. (I think you know me.) Following Dave's lead - never a bad thing to do - I've been a Dodgers' (see I even used an apostrophe here, just like Dave) fan since - dare I say? - Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles from some borough in New York. Wow, that was a long sentence. Are you still with me? If so, I'd like to call this article Maddux, Lowe, and Who's This Guy Kuo? because I think the latter could be the difference maker in this series.
So we're just a couple of old baseball fans happy that our favorite teams are facing each other in the postseason and collaborating on a preview. Dave will supply the following comments for the Mets, and Rich will do likewise for the Dodgers. But if you want to see both of our predictions, you'll have to check both of our sites.
Paul Lo Duca (.318/.355/.428, 5 HR, 49 RBI) was the Mets' number-two hitter all year, and the strange combination of Reyes and Lo Duca at the top of the order worked well for the Mets. Lo Duca was very durable this year (he was the only catcher to qualify for the batting title) and he avoided his usual second-half slump.
Russell Martin (.282/.355/.436, 10 HR, 65 RBI) started the season in Las Vegas (AAA), yet played in 121 of 133 possible games after he was called up to the Dodgers. He hit much better at home (.319/.391/.514) than on the road (.244/.319/.356). Martin threw out 31% of potential base stealers and made just six errors and had only five passed balls.
Dave says: Dead even.
Rich says: I agree.
Carlos Delgado (.265/.361/.548, 38 HR, 114 RBI) had an off year in batting average, but his home run power remains. Delgado is one of those guys who actually really provides veteran leadership and he's been partially credited with Beltran's resurgence this year. Good lefties can get him out.
Nomar Garciaparra (.303/.367/.505, 20 HR, 93 RBI) began the season on the DL but wound up playing 122 games, the most since 2003. He hit for average and power and struck out only 30 times all year. However, Nomar slumped in the second half (229/.286/.408) although he slugged a couple of walk-off home runs in the final two weeks of the season.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Rich says: Ho-hum, I agree.
Jose Valentin (.271/.330/.490, 18 HR, 62 RBI) was one of the two most pleasant surprises of the Mets' season. When Kaz Matsui was injured (and finally traded to Colorado), it was Valentin who stepped forward to take over the second base job. In addition to his offensive numbers, he was superb in the field. Should handle the postseason pressure well.
Jeff Kent (.292/.385/.477, 14 HR, 68 RBI) played like the Kent of old down the stretch rather than an old Kent. Missed most of July and the first week in August but is once again healthy. He hit well at Dodger Stadium (.333/.432/.565) and ripped LHP (.347/.444/.592).
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: Dave's the man. Did Valentin really hit .170./.326/.265 for the Dodgers last year?
Jose Reyes (.300/.354/.487, 19 HR, 81 RBI) isn't really the Mets' MVP, but that's the only negative thing you can say about the young superstar. According to ESPN The Magazine, no player in the history of the major leagues has ever had a season with as many runs, hits, homers and steals as Reyes has had this year. He is a supercharged force on the basepaths.
Rafael Furcal (.300/.369/.445, 15 HR, 113 R, 37 SB) was the Dodgers MVP this season. He didn't have as much competition as Reyes. The two shortstops have pretty similar stats. Rafael walks more often and Jose steals more bases. But they are more alike than not. The Dodgers lead-off hitter will need to get on base to ignite their offense, which is more dependent on walks, singles and doubles than home runs.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets (but not a big edge).
Rich says: Not so fast, Dave. Too close to call. A dead heat.
David Wright (.311./381/.531, 26 HR, 116 RBI) seems to have lost ground to Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman as the hot young third baseman in the National League East, but don't overlook the kid. Wright can be shaky in the field and streaky at bat, but he's a talent who could have a big impact this postseason. He had some big clutch hits this year, and his righthanded bat will be critical against the plethora of lefties the Mets are likely to see.
Wilson Betemit (.263/.326/.469, 18 HR, 53 RBI) joined the Dodgers at the trading deadline in late July. He fared worse as a Dodger than as a Brave. A switch-hitter, Betemit usually sits vs. LHP. Struck out 102 times in 373 AB.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Big Huge edge to the Mets.
Cliff Floyd (.244/.325/.407, 11 HR, 44 RBI) appears ready to play, but it's hard to say how well he'll play. When healthy, Floyd is a dynamite hitter and an underrated fielder, but he's not in great shape at this time. Also very prone to lefties.
Marlon Anderson (.297/.354/.513, 12 HR, 38 RBI) was acquired at the end of August. He hit .375/.431/.813 (including 7 HR and 12 XBH in 64 AB) during his month with the Dodgers. Went from being a pinch-hitter to starting LF, replacing rookie Andre Ethier down the stretch. Which Anderson will show up in the series - the newfound slugger or the batsman with a career OPS of .710?
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers
Rich says: Not an Anderson believer. Call it even.
Carlos Beltran (.275/.388/.594, 41 HR, 116 RBI) was the Mets' MVP. He not only had a great year at bat, but he was superb in center field and may well be the best baserunner in the majors. Only weakness is that he can't hit at Shea (.224/.368/.487) and also has some trouble against lefties.
Kenny Lofton (.301/.360/.403, 79 R) enters the postseason with a nine-game hitting streak in which he went 12-for-37 with 11 runs scored. His 32 SB were the most since he stole 54 in 1998. Hit into a career-high 16 GIDP. May sit vs. LHP (.214/.275/.274). The Mets would be well advised to run on the poor-throwing Lofton.
Dave says: Edge to the Mets.
Rich says: You can drive a truck through the spread that separates Beltran and Lofton.
Shawn Green (.277/.344/.432, 15 HR, 56 RBI), another former Dodger, was a midseason pickup from the Diamondbacks and has performed about as expected for the Mets. Another Met outfielder vulnerable to lefties.
J.D. Drew (.283/.393/.498, 20 HR, 100 RBI) was as good as any RF in the NL despite the lack of attention this year. Known as a five-tool player, Drew no longer tries to steal bases. However, he runs the bases well and is one of the best-fielding RF in the league. J.D. struggles vs. LHP (.244/.338/.378) and was often rested during the season when the Dodgers faced a tough southpaw.
Dave says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Off the Bench:
Endy Chavez (.306/.348/.431, 4 HR, 42 RBI) has been the other pleasant surprise among Met regulars. Look for him to get significant playing time, particularly if Floyd's injuries slow him down.
Julio Franco (.273/.330/.370) had another age-defying year. The 48-year-old with the two-year contract even played some third base for the Metropolitans. Franco will likely be the Mets' primary pinch hitter.
Andre Ethier (.308/.365/.477, 11 HR, 55 RBI) was a candidate for Rookie of the Year through August, hitting over .300 every month. Then September arrived and his numbers (.143 with 0 HR in 49 AB) fell off the cliff. One camp believes he tired; another camp thinks the league finally caught up to him. He could be a factor either off the bench or perhaps in a starting role in one or more games.
Olmedo Saenz (.296/.363/.564, 11 HR, 48 RBI) lit up lefties to the tune of .397/.457/.741 with 5 HR in 58 AB. He is a dead fastball hitter and is vulnerable to breaking balls and off-speed pitches by RHP. Inexplicably, Saenz didn't play much in August and September. It will be interesting to see how Grady Little uses him in this series.
Dave says: Chavez will be a key contributor. Edge to Mets.
Rich says: Edge to the Dodgers.
Orlando Hernandez (11-11, 4.66, 4.09 with the Mets) would have opened the series for the Mets, but he injured his calf yesterday and his status is questionable. Like his younger brother, Livan, Orlando has starred in the postseason and will be key to the Mets' hopes.
Tom Glavine (15-7, 3.82) will be the Mets' highest-profile starter this postseason, with the injury to Pedro Martinez. Glavine had a remarkable year for a 40-year-old, changing his pitching approach at an age when most pitchers are looking for new employment. He now strikes out more batters than he used to, but he's still a crafty lefthander in his heart.
Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97) wasn't a lock to even start in the postseason until Pedro Martinez's shoulder gave out. Trachsel seems to be playing with fire every time he pitches, and many Met fans will be holding their breath when he's on the mound. Given how slowly Trachsel works, that's not the healthiest thing to do.
John Maine (6-5, 3.60) has been another pleasant surprise for the Mets. Acquired from the Orioles during the offseason, Maine has shown he can succeed on the major league level if he doesn't nibble with his pitches. Trust your stuff, John!
Derek Lowe (16-8, 3.63) established himself as the ace of the Dodgers with a 9-3, 3.33 second half. He wins by throwing strikes (2.27 BB/9) and keeping the ball on the ground (3.99 G/F) and in the ballpark (0.58 HR/9). The tall righthander was 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA while carrying the Red Sox to the World Series championship in the 2004 postseason.
Hong-Chih Kuo (1-5, 4.22) made a name for himself and earned a permanent spot in the rotation when he shut out the Mets for 6 innings at Shea Stadium on 9/8 for his first (and only) big league win. The 25-year-old lefty had a 3.06 ERA with 42 K and only 9 BB in 32.1 innings in September. How he performs in Game 2 could make or break the series for the Dodgers.
Greg Maddux (6-3, 3.30 with LA and 15-14, 4.20 overall) was intentionally held back so he could start Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, where he was 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA this year. The four-time Cy Young Award winner had a 1.09 WHIP during his two-month stay in LA. Don't look for Maddux to face more than 27 batters as he will take himself out of the game before that happens.
Brad Penny (16-9, 4.33) is not the pitcher everyone saw at the All-Star Game. Owing to a bad back, Penny may not start and, in fact, could be held out of the series entirely. His ERA skyrocketed to 6.25 in the second half, culminated by a one-inning, four-hit, three-run outing in his last start of the season.
Dave says: Definite edge to the Dodgers.
Rich says: We're on the same page again.
Billy Wagner (3-2, 2.24, 40 Saves) has been everything the Mets hoped for when they signed him to a megadeal during the offseason. Wagner's arm is electric and he's used to pitching under pressure. He hardly ever worked more than one inning at a time during the season, so it will be interesting to see how Willie Randolph uses him this postseason.
Aaron Heilman (4-5, 3.62, 27 Holds) leads a very deep bullpen of secondary relievers. Heilman got off to a slow start, but he's had a 2.65 ERA since the All-Star break and can pitch several innings. Randolph has an extremely deep bullpen (Bradford, Mota, Feliciano, Hernandez, etc.) and he won't hesitate to pull a starter who's on the ropes.
Takashi Saito (6-2, 2.07, 24 Saves) didn't break camp with the big-league club, yet took over as the closer after Eric Gagne went down and the since-departed Danys Baez proved incapable of holding down that role. He struck out 107 batters while allowing only 48 hits in 78.1 innings. His rise to prominence proved to be one of the keys to the Dodgers' stretch run.
Jonathan Broxton (4-1, 2.59, 12 Holds) joined the Dodgers in May and assumed the set-up role for good in August and September. Broxton will try to overpower hitters, relying on a fastball that will hit 97-99 on the radar guns. He is just coming into his own, as evidenced by a 1.53 ERA and 11.97 K/9 in August and September.
Dave says: It's a wash.
Rich says: Wagner is the difference. Slight edge to Mets.
The Mets had the best record in the NL with 97 wins. The Dodgers qualified for the postseason via the wild card with 88 victories. The Mets beat the Dodgers, 4 games to 3, in head-to-head play. The Mets also have the home-field advantage. So, I must like the Mets, right? Wrong.
If this series were played back in the spring or, better yet, in the middle of July (when the Dodgers were in the midst of losing 13 out of 14 games and Pedro was striking everyone out), I would fully expect that the Mets would not only emerge victorious but perhaps sweep. However, fall is now in full swing, the Dodgers have won 7 in a row and 9 of 10 (I know, the Mets are on a 4-game streak of their own), and New York's starting pitching may be the weakest of any team in the postseason. As such, I'm going with the Dodgers. Yeah, dem Bums in 5.
My MVP? Derek Lowe.
If you'd like to see Dave's prediction, check out this same article at The Hardball Times.