Sunday, February 5 2023

By Deesha Thosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer

There is no better illustration of what the Dodgers and Mets can bring to the stage than these separate thrilling events that took place Friday on the East Coast.

Mookie Betts is a major reason the Dodgers can clinch the NL West as soon as mid-September. He showed exactly how much he means to Los Angeles with the one-man show he put on Friday in Miami. His 4-for-6 performance against the Marlins, including two home runs and a go-ahead, RBI double in the 10th inning, was magical.

As Betts trotted around the bases in the ninth inning, celebrating a game-tying solo home run and his 29th dinger of the season, there was some more magic taking place for another playoff contender. About 1,301 miles northeast of Miami, Citi Field was rocking at the same time — at the very same minute — that Betts cranked his ninth-inning shot.

Why was Flushing in a frenzy? Mark Canha had just ripped a two-run double into the left-field corner and tied the Mets’ game against the Rockies in the eighth inning. Just as Betts’ 10th-inning RBI was the difference for the Dodgers, the Mets wound up walking it off in the 10th inning on Pete Alonso’s 25th game-winning RBI of the season.

We can expect nothing less than that type of electricity when the Dodgers and Mets meet for the second time this year in a three-game series beginning Tuesday at Citi Field.

The Dodgers have Betts (.547 slugging), Freddie Freeman (.919 OPS) and Trea Turner (137 wRC+) at the top, anchoring Major League Baseball‘s best offense. And the Mets have Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer back in the rotation. DeGrom is expected to take the hill against the Dodgers for his first start vs. L.A. since Sept. 14, 2019.

Meanwhile, Scherzer’s Sunday afternoon outing against the Rockies will ensure that he begrudgingly bypasses pitching against his former team.

New York’s co-aces were on the shelf the last time the Mets and Dodgers squared off in an early June, four-game series at Chavez Ravine. Scherzer spent seven weeks on the injured list due to an oblique strain, which interfered with his West Coast reunion. DeGrom didn’t make his season debut until Aug. 2 after nursing a stress reaction on his right scapula for the better part of the year. 

The two teams split that first series, with the Dodgers taking the first two games and the Mets seemingly coming back from the dead to take the final two. Hardly anyone could wait to see these juggernauts battle each other again, and this week at Citi Field will decide which team wins the season’s showdown. (At least until they meet again in the postseason, potentially.)

MLB Power Rankings: Astros and Dodgers stay on top

Ben Verlander’s latest MLB Power Rankings feature Mookie Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers still on top, with the Houston Astros close behind.

The Dodgers (87-37) have the aforementioned best offense in the big leagues, the most wins in baseball and the best starting pitching staff in the majors (2.67 ERA) — and that’s despite a second-career Tommy John surgery recently ending Walker Buehler‘s season.

Without Buehler, the combination of Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and Tyler Anderson has kept the rotation afloat. Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney are dominant when healthy. Now Dustin May, including his five scoreless innings against the Marlins in his season debut last week, has returned strong from injury.

That’s exactly why the Dodgers excel: They bring a steadiness to the field no matter the shortcomings on the roster. And while the Dodgers are within sniffing distance of their ninth NL West title in the past 10 years, the Mets (81-46) have looked more and more like a team that could neutralize Los Angeles.

There is, of course, the matter of deGrom, whose untouchable sliders and triple-digit fastballs highlight why he is considered by many the best pitcher of his generation. He returned from a yearlong absence on the mound and picked up right where he left off. His 2.15 ERA and 46 strikeouts against 103 batters faced across five starts this season should tell the Dodgers everything they need to know. 

The only relief Los Angeles might look forward to is deGrom’s still-intact innings limit. The Mets’ ace has not completed more than 6.2 innings in any of his five outings.

But if the Mets want to prove they are the better team — not just in this week’s matchup but also in a potential repeat of the 2015 National League Championship Series — they must match that production from the Dodgers’ offense, too. The teams are certainly close, with the Mets flashing the third-best wRC+ (113) in the NL.

The Mets don’t hit as many home runs as the Dodgers, but they grind out at-bats and break opposing starters’ will in relentless fashion. The Dodgers saw firsthand how these never-say-die Mets operate when the Amazin’s won that June series finale in the 10th inning. It capped a wild, back-and-forth, four-game battle that left everyone watching wanting more.

Now, nearly three months after that dynamic series, the two teams sport the same weakness: their bullpens.

Looking for an actual deficiency on the Dodgers feels like nitpicking, but the team’s biggest problem right now is at closer. Craig Kimbrel and his 4.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 47 relief appearances have been a disappointment. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recently indicated that Kimbrel will have to earn the opportunity to close games in the postseason. Perhaps that will light a fire for Kimbrel and lead to some adjustments and improvements. 

For the Mets, it’s the opposite. Closer Edwin Diaz, with his signature warm-up song “Narco” energizing the crowd and putting an exclamation point on his dominance, is having a career season. Unlike his first year in Queens, Diaz is striking batters out more than 50% of the time, and his confidence in his slider is leading to lights-out results.

But everyone else in the Mets’ bullpen? Those arms are unpredictable at best. On any given night against competitive lineups, it’s anyone’s guess whether manager Buck Showalter will see vintage Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo or meltdowns. 

The bridge from a strong starting pitching performance to Diaz is still an unreliable situation for the club, and the Dodgers are not the kind of team against which the Mets want their flaws exposed.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three-and-a-half seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.


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