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NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS—ROUND 1

LA Dodgers

In Grady Little’s first year at the helm of the Dodgers, he has led them to a playoff berth by taking the Wild Card. The Dodgers have had quite a few hot streaks and if they’re going to have another one, now is the time.

The team formerly from Brooklyn enters the playoffs with two strong starters-- Derek Lowe (16-8, 3.63 ERA) and Brad Penny (16-9, 4.33 ERA). Both have been instrumental in the team’s success this season. Greg Maddux (15-14, 4.20 ERA) is the consummate professional and should perform well. Hong-Chih Kuo (1-5, 4.22), with only 5 major league starts, is the fourth man in the rotation with starter Chad Billingsley (7-4, 3.80) going to the bullpen. This looks like one of those odd Grady Little moves that can go either way. Kuo is a fine talent and competitor.

With a 4.24 ERA and opposing teams hitting .270 against the Dodger staff, this is the weakest group on paper. Takashi Saito (24 SV 26 SVO, 6-2, 2.07 ERA) has been solid as a closer.

The offense will not blow you out of the park, but they will chip away at you. Not big on the long ball, they can hit doubles and triples. Their team batting average of .276 is the best of any club in the playoffs, while their 152 homeruns is the lowest. With 783 runs scored and a .433 slugging percentage, the Dodgers match up nicely the Mets.

The line up is impressive because there are so many guys hitting .300 (or close to it) and five players who can power the ball out of the yard. Right fielder J.D. Drew (.283 AV, 20 HR, 100 RBI) is the RBI man, while the reconstituted Nomar Garciaparra (.303 AV, 20 HR, 93 RBI)—now at first base-- has proven to be a clutch performer. Add the consistent hitting of left fielder Andre Ethier (.308 AV, 11 HR, 55 RBI), shortstop Rafael Furcal (.300 AV, 15 HR, 63 RBI) and second baseman Jeff Kent (.292 AV, 14 HR, 68 RBI) and you’ve got a skilled, dependable group of batters.

Center fielder Kenny Lofton (.301 AV, 3 HR, 41)—who still has a game or two left-- has 32 steals, second baseman Julio Lugo (.278 AV, 12 HR, 37 RBI) 24 and Rafael Furcal 37. All three can help this club manufacture runs.

This teams 114 regular season errors is a scary stat, but their 173 double plays are impressive. Russell Martin (.282 AV, 10 HR, 65 RBI) is the main catcher. Teams have stolen 110 bases on the team this year, which is an average amount.

Strong hitting and solid base running are two hallmarks of this Dodger team. Overall the pitching is good, but the lack of a viable fourth starter can be detrimental in the playoffs.

New York Mets

These Mets, managed by Willie Randolph, aren’t a miracle team, but they are a darn good one. They like the long ball more than any other team in the NLCS, have a strong rotation and a base stealer who can drive opposing pitchers to distraction.

The team’s 4.16 ERA and ability to hold opposing clubs to a .252 batting average are both second best among all Senior Circuit playoff teams. Orlando Hernandez (11-11, 4.66 ERA) finished the season strong and will be essential with Pedro Martinez out for the playoffs. He’s the number one starter. Tom Glavin (15-7, 3.82 ERA) has had a fine year and Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97 ERA) is a sound number three man. John Maine (6-5, 3.60 ERA) will be the fourth starter, which is much less desirable than having Martinez in the lineup and Maine in the bullpen.

Billy Wagner (40 SV, 45 SVO, 3- 2, 2.24 ERA) has been effective as the closer. He’s part of a very deep bullpen.

This is a long ball team—200 homeruns—and the top run scoring club in the NLCS—828. The Mets’ team batting average-- .264—ties them with the Padres for last in this category among National League contenders.

Center fielder Carlos Beltran (.275 AV, 41 HR, 116 RBI) and first baseman Carlos Delgado (.265 AV, 38 HR, 114 RBI) are both viable homerun threats. But they lack the consistency of some of the more elite power men in the league. Third baseman David Wright (.311 AV, 26 HR, 116 RBI) is an all-around hitter and catcher Paul Lo Duca (.318AV, 5 HR, 49 RBI) is an excellent number two batter, assuring pitchers will have to face the scary power duo of number three Beltran and four Delgado.

Shortstop Jose B. Reyes (.300 AV, 19 HR, 81 RBI) leads off for this team. His 64 stolen bases and .300 batting average should be a major concern for any opposing pitcher and catcher.

The Mets have the fewest double plays (130) among all playoff contenders in the league and are average in the field with 104 errors. They’ve given up 111 stolen bases.

The Mets have been the most consistent team in baseball, from April through October. That’s a good quality to take into the pressure packed playoffs. With Reyes hitting and running, Lo Duca right behind him and then two power men, followed immediately by the best hitter on the team—Wright—this is a tough line up to keep down.

Summary

Despite losing Martinez, the Mets still possess a strong rotation. Still, Dodger pitching should not be underestimated and the scrappy LA line-up can come back at any time. But the Mets have it all—players who hit for average, pure power men and speed. For the Dodgers it comes down to Lowe, Penny and Maddux. Lowe has the reputation as a head case, but he tends to thrive in the pressure of the playoffs. Penny and Maddux match-up well with Glavin and Trachsel. The fourth starters for each team are toss-ups. The Lowe-Hernandez battle will set the tone for the rest of the series. If it comes down to managers—Randolph versus Little, the Mets win.

Maddux Sports Series Prediction.

Even without Pedro the Mets should still be too much for the Dodgers. New York in 4 games.

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