Mets (90-72, National League East Champion) vs. Dodgers (92-70, National League West Champion)
The NLDS between the Mets and Dodgers begins Friday evening with a first pitch time of 6:30 PT from Dodger Stadium. The Mets finished the season with the AL East crown, finishing seven games ahead of the second place Washington Nationals but two games behind the Dodgers, giving the home field advantage for the series to the Dodgers. The Dodgers finished the year eight games ahead of the Giants for the NL West title and ahead of the Mets for home field advantage.
Game 1: NYM: Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54) VS. LAD: Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13)
Game 2: NYM: Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) VS. LAD: Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66)
Game 3: LAD: Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69) VS. NYM: TBD
Game 4: LAD: TBD VS. NYM: TBD
What to Watch For
1. Can the Mets overcome Kershaw/Greinke?
The biggest question mark for the Mets going into their series with the Dodgers is whether they can muster up enough offense to overcome the most dominating pitching duo in the league. In a series where runs will likely be quite scarce, the Mets are going to have to overcome the duo of Kershaw and Greinke if they hope to advance into the NLCS. If the Mets fall down two games to zero after facing both Kershaw and Greinke, their season may be over.
2. How will the Mets young arms fare in their first postseason appearances?
With dominant pitching on both sides of this series, it will be important for the Mets young arms to be able to match Kershaw and Greinke. All four projected Mets starters will be making their first postseason appearances and may feel some added pressure against the likes of Kershaw and Greinke. Due to the dominance of both pitching staffs, home field advantage for the Dodgers might play a big role in the series. With games one and two at Dodger Stadium, and with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke pitching in those games, the Mets will need to win at least one tough road game if they hope to stay in the series and give the Dodgers a fight.
3. Which team will score enough runs?
While the pitching staffs are preparing to dominant the NLDS, the most important storyline to watch will be which team can score enough runs to win some games. For the Mets the focus will be on Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright and whether they can produce enough to keep the Mets in the series. For the Dodgers they will rely on their hottest hitter, young Corey Seager who will be making his first postseason appearance this season. With pitching seemingly evenly matched, this series will likely come down to the two offenses.
Cubs (97-65, Second Wild Card) vs. Cardinals (100-62, National League Central Champion)
The second NLDS between the Cubs and Cardinals begins Friday evening with a first pitch time of 3:30 PT from St. Louis. The Cubs finished the season with the second wild card, just a game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite one of the best second halves in all of baseball. The Cardinals on the other hand finished the season with the NL Central crown, finishing two games ahead of the second place Pirates, and three games ahead of the Cubs in the best division in baseball. The Cardinals also have home field advantage through the NLCS.
Game 1: CHI: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34) VS. STL: John Lackey (13-10, 2.77)
Game 2: CHI: Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95) VS. STL: Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43)
Game 3: STL: Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38) VS. CHI: Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77)
Game 4: STL: Lance Lynn (12-11, 3.03) VS. CHI: Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74)
What to Watch For
1. Can the Cardinals overcome their injury woes?
It seems like the Cardinals have persevered to 100 wins this season, despite numerous injuries throughout the season. Both Matt Holliday and Matt Adams missed a majority of the regular season, while Adam Wainwright finally returned from his almost season long injury over the last week of the season. Matt Adams has been left off the postseason roster despite being healthy again, while Adam Wainwright will only be available in a relief capacity. On the other hand it looks like Matt Holliday will be healthy enough to be on the roster, although it remains to be seen how playing time is split between himself, Randall Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. The biggest injury concerns for the Cardinals however come with Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez. Martinez will be out for the postseason, which really weakens a Cardinals starting staff that is already without Wainwright, and Molina will play in the divisional series with a splint on his injured finger. The Cubs are coming into this series hot, and the Cardinals injuries may be too much to overcome.
2. Do the Cubs have enough to overcome their rivals?
While the Cardinals have been racked with injuries throughout the season, they still managed to win 100 games on the year and finished three games ahead of the third place Chicago Cubs. The Cubs rode Jake Arrieta to victory on Wednesday night, setting up a NLDS date between themselves and the Cardinals. While the Cubs had enough to overcome the Pirates, the Cardinals are a whole different animal to deal with. Despite the many injuries to the Cardinals, they still have the edge over the Cubs at this point. The Cubs will need good offensive performances from their stars, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber in particular, and will need Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta to run the series.
3. Who will be the difference maker for both teams?
While the big names for both teams are well known at this point, this series may come down to the supporting cast and which player will step up and make a difference. For the Cardinals, look no further than both Stephen Piscotty and Randall Grichuk, both rookies making their first postseason appearances this season. It remains to be seen how playing time will be split for this two with Matt Holliday seemingly healthy again, but both guys will certainly make the most out of any opportunities they are given in the series. For the Cubs, the series may hinge on what they get out of the long forgotten Starlin Castro. He has seemingly won the second base job and will likely play a majority of the series at that position. If he can have a big series it will be a big boost for the Cubs NLCS chances.
Both series will be close match ups and both have the possibility of going five games. In terms of predictions, I can see the Cubs beating their division rival in five games while the Los Angeles Dodgers will hold off the Mets in five games as well, setting up a Cubs-Dodgers NLCS with the three best pitchers in baseball all in one series.