After a series win in soggy Philadelphia over the NL East division leaders, there’s a lot to feel good about in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as they make the short trip across New Jersey to Queens for a weekend series with the Mets. Unfortunately, one of those things is not the division standings – despite taking 2 of 3 from a good Phillies club, the Dodgers fell from 4 to 5 games back in their own division as the Giants haven’t lost a game since last Friday in Milwaukee.
Overall, the Giants are 74-41 (10-2 over their last 12 games) and waltzing through one of the easiest weeks of the season on their schedule, with still 3 games at home against the lowly Rockies this weekend.
A 5 game deficit in August is far from a death sentence, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Dodgers can roar back to claim their 9th straight division title this season. For now, their task is simple – control what they can control, day in and day out. The Giants’ schedule will round into tougher form again with time – after this weekend, they’ll play 19 consecutive games against teams with winning records (including a crucial Labor Day weekend series with the Dodgers, their final head to head matchups of the season). The Dodgers, meanwhile, follow this weekend in New York with 13 of their next 16 at home, where they’re 36-20 on the season.
As discouraging as it is to win a crucial road series and lose ground in the standings, it’s important that the Dodgers continue to avoid outright disaster. Had they dropped the ball completely in Philadelphia, they could have been staring at a 7-game deficit – for now, controlling what they can control means looking at the glass half full.
Looking ahead, the Dodgers are catching the Mets at the right time it would seem. Although the Mets have been home all week, they’re fresh off a doubleheader on Thursday with Washington that saw them use 7 pitchers, including Marcus Stroman and their most effective bullpen arms in Edwin Diaz, Aaron Loup, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, and Seth Lugo. For Familia, Diaz, and May, it was their second day of work in a row.
The Mets did manage to sweep the stripped down Washington Nationals over four games, an important turnaround for a club that had just given the division away in Philadelphia last weekend. At 59-55 overall, the Mets are a ballclub that’s underperformed its talent most of the season and will have Citi Field at max volume this weekend with the Dodgers coming to town. The series with the Dodgers starts a brutal stretch for New York, who will play 13 games against the Dodgers and Giants over the next 14 days.
Friday, August 13
4:10 pm PT
Julio Urias (13-3, 3.41 ERA) vs Tylor Megill (1-2, 3.20 ERA)
The Dodgers will send Julio Urias to the mound Friday evening in New York as he looks to add to his MLB-leading 10 road wins this season. The left-hander has been lights out for the Dodgers over the past month and a half, going 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA over his last 7 starts, with all 4 wins coming on the road.
The Mets will counter with rookie Tylor Megill, who will be making his 10th career start. Megill, the organization’s #23 overall prospect, has provided a ton of value to a Mets team suddenly in need of starting pitching help after losing Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to injury for extended periods of time. After getting his feet wet with two starts in June, Megill settled in as one of the most effective starters in baseball during July, going 1-0 with a ridiculous 1.04 ERA.
While opponents’ chase rates and whiff rates aren’t particularly high against Megill, he makes his hay as a strike thrower who forces soft contact – his xBA (expected batting average against), xERA (expected ERA), and xwOBA all rank in the top 11% of MLB pitchers this season, per Baseball Savant. He brings to the table an above-average fastball, made better by his 6’7” height, and throws it 55% of the time alongside a changeup and two still-developing breaking balls.
The Dodgers will need to zero in on his fastball and spit on the rest, something they’ve had a fair amount of success doing against right-handed pitching this season.
After Megill’s sterling July, hitters have started to figure him out in his two August starts. He’s allowed 9 runs (8 earned) over his last 9.2 innings pitched, including 3 home runs. Without a very reliable stable of offspeed pitches, Megill can find himself in trouble if he’s not able to locate his fastball with pinpoint accuracy. Given the Dodgers’ dominance of most right-handed pitching this season, let’s hope they can once again provide Julio Urias with the run support he’s gotten used to this season.
Saturday, August 14
4:10 pm PT
Walker Buehler (12-2, 2.13 ERA) vs Taijuan Walker (7-7, 3.89 ERA)
For whatever reason, Draftkings sportsbook still lists Walker Buehler as the second most likely winner of the NL Cy Young award in 2021. The race for the award opened up to the field of National League pitchers in earnest when Jacob deGrom went down due to injury, and for now, Zack Wheeler is listed as a +175 favorite to win the honor.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me – Buehler ranks ahead of Wheeler in ERA (2.13 vs 2.42), WHIP (0.93 vs 0.99), Batting Average Against (.191 to .212), and boasts a 12-2 record in decisions while Wheeler is 10-6. Some advanced metrics give Wheeler a small edge over Buehler, but they’re split with others that prefer Buehler’s work this season – given Buehler’s edge in more traditional statistics and the Dodgers’ relative likelihood to make the postseason when compared with Philadelphia’s (99.4% to 49.6% via FanGraphs), I’d suggest betting Buehler to win the Cy Young at +350 to anyone with access to doing so.
Looking ahead to Saturday night, it is worth noting that Walker Buehler has struggled with the Mets in limited career action against them (0-0 with a 6.30 ERA, his highest against any MLB team he’s faced). He has only pitched at Citi Field once, allowing 2 runs over 5 innings back on September 15, 2019. The Mets haven’t seen the Dodgers or Walker Buehler in 2 years, so it’s difficult to know what exactly would translate from then to now – given Buehler’s 2021 track record, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bury those demons in a hurry tomorrow night.
The Mets will send Taijuan Walker to the mound, a pitcher the Dodgers grew very familiar with over his time in Arizona from 2017-2020. It’s been a tale of two seasons for Walker, an acquisition the Mets were very hopeful about entering this season after a solid 2020 campaign split between Arizona and Toronto. His April, May, and June were better than advertised – as of June 25, the righty was 6-3 with a 2.38 ERA and a big part of the Mets’ 5-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East.
In his last 6 starts since July 9, things have turned south in a hurry for Taijuan Walker. He’s lost 4 consecutive decisions since, posting a putrid 8.65 ERA while allowing 10 home runs in only 26 innings of work. Given the Dodgers’ track record against right-handed pitching and familiarity with Taijuan’s arsenal, Saturday ought to be a ripe opportunity to give Walker Buehler some much appreciated run support.
Sunday, August 15
4:08 pm PT
Max Scherzer (9-4, 2.67 ERA) vs Carlos Carrasco (0-0, 6.75 ERA)
Max Scherzer was continuing his career-long domination of the Phillies on Tuesday night when the skies opened up to pouring rain, ending his night as the game entered an almost two hour delay. His first 10.1 innings of work for Los Angeles have been as advertised and more, posting a 1.74 ERA with 16 strikeouts and only 1 walk. As one might imagine, he’s faced the New York Mets plenty of times over the years as well – 23 career starts, to be exact. He’s dominated the Mets for his career similarly to the way he has Philadelphia, posting a 2.70 ERA while going 12-5 (and an even more impressive 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA at Citi Field). He’ll be well rested and charged up on Sunday Night Baseball for what will likely be one of two consecutive starts against the Mets.
Carlos Carrasco is expected to pitch for New York, still shaking rust after an extended injury stint that held him out until July 30. He’s made three starts this season and struggled, yet to complete 5 innings in any one outing. His most recent start earlier this week against Washington was particularly worrisome, only completing 1 inning while allowing 4 earned runs on 4 hits and a walk. He’s not a pitcher the Dodgers are terribly familiar with, having spent most of his career pitching to the American League in Cleveland.
The crowds at Citi Field this weekend ought to be loud and boisterous as the Mets welcome the big-ticket Dodgers with a lot to play for. I’m hoping the Dodgers feed off the energy – Walker Buehler and Max Scherzer in particular have reputations for doing so, and will each get their chances. With Clayton Kershaw on the IL for an extended period, the Dodgers will be sending their best available to the mound this weekend alongside a (mostly) healthy lineup – so anything short of a series win would have to be viewed as a disappointment.