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Dodgers face an NLDS challenge whether facing the Mets or Padres

The Mets and Padres are two potential formidable foes

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Mets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers had the best record in baseball, and those 111 wins entitle them to a first-round bye, the weekend off. While the team prepares itself both mentally and physically for the NLDS, all the way across the country the Padres will take on the Mets in the wild card round.

After the trade deadline, it became pretty clear that this would be the matchup for the opportunity to take on the top seed in the National League, or at least something like it. The Mets and Braves pretty much had the second and fourth seeds locked up, it was just a case who was going to win the division. With a sweep in the season’s final weekend, Atlanta seized its fifth straight NL East title, pushing the Mets to the wild card round.

Meanwhile, the Padres after adding Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, Josh Hader, and most notably Juan Soto, became the clear-cut favorite for the fifth seed. While through slumps of Soto, Bell, and Hader, San Diego did its best to play down to the levels of the Phillies and Brewers, making it a three-team race for two playoff spots, neither was competent enough to take advantage of the opening.

Padre-Mets is the wild card series with the biggest gap in wins between the two teams. New York won a staggering 101 games, an impressive number in a vacuum, much less for a non-division winner. The Padres are 89-73.

Whether it’s facing the 101-win team or the divisional foe coming off a tremendous road series win, the Dodgers’ opponent will be a team Los Angeles can’t afford to take lightly. Let’s look at each team’s weaknesses and strengths ahead of a potential matchup with the Dodgers.

New York Mets

The Mets are, as you would expect from any 100-win team, a pretty complete unit without many obvious flaws, and if not for the superb performance of the Atlanta Braves would’ve been division winners as well,

Starling Marte and Darin Ruf battled injuries down the stretch but are active for New York for the wild card series. Their availability gives the Mets a pretty deep lineup.

Brandon Nimmo just posted his fourth season in a five-year stretch with an OPS+ of at least 130, and remains one of the more underrated players in baseball heading into free agency this off-season. The left-hander is a fantastic leadoff hitter, and loses little to no value against southpaws on the mound,

However, the Mets lineup as a whole hasn’t produced the same numbers against left-handed pitching as they have against righties, though New York is still above average against lefties.

  • vs RHP: .756 OPS, 119 wRC+
  • vs. LHP: .717 OPS, 109 wRC+

The Dodgers rotation will be very southpaw-heavy in the postseason with Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, and Tyler Anderson getting the ball in each of the first three games, which warrants a look at any potential opponent’s season splits.

Pete Alonso had a typical Pete Alonso year, slugging 40 bombs and driving in a whopping 131 runs. He and Lindor, who posted a 6.8 fWAR after a somewhat underwhelming 2021, led the way, but two hitters does not a lineup make, as the Angels know pretty well.

The Mets lineup saw virtually all of their complementary pieces posting very good seasons. Jeff McNeil narrowly beat out Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title (hitting .326), and off-season acquisitions Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar bolstered above-average hitting lines. As much as Darin Ruf underwhelmed, Daniel Vogelbach overwhelmed as deadline pickups. Vogelbach has a .830 OPS in 55 games with New York.

The strength of the Mets rotation pretty much goes without saying with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer basically carrying an advantage against any one-two punch that can be thrown out there, even the Dodgers’ Urías and Kershaw.

However, their back end is also pretty solid with Chris Bassitt as one of the better number three arms in all of baseball and proven to be a great acquisition. Taijuan Walker basically posted a slightly lesser version of Chris Bassitt with fewer innings.

For as much as Edwin Diaz has proven to be unhittable with his 118 strikeouts in the regular season, beyond him and Adam Otavinno, this bullpen doesn’t have quite the depth you’d want, although that’s true to some extent to basically every ‘pen.

Seth Lugo, Drew Smith, and Trevor Williams have all been somewhat steady as the trio behind Otavinno and Diaz, but none has been really dominant.

Overall, this Mets squad was third in runs scored, and third in ERA. There isn’t a glaring weakness you can point to, and there is a reason why they’re considerable favorites against the Padres, but their production hit against left-handed pitching may prove pivotal in a potential series with the Dodgers.

As far as starting pitching is concerned, they line up pretty well to at worst be a push in comparison with LA. The Dodgers' closing situation is certainly a ways away from the Mets, but Dave Roberts may actually have more weapons at his disposal one through nine out of the bullpen.

San Diego Padres

If not the Mets, a familiar foe in the division rival Padres will come the Dodgers way in the next round. Don’t let that 89 wins number fool you, this is a formidable team that has underperformed, but could go on a run at any time.

A two-headed monster also headlines this lineup with NL MVP candidate Manny Machado, and the formidable Soto, who despite the struggles that involved the biggest slump of his career since joining the Padres, still had an 130 OPS+ in his time in San Diego.

Bell has done virtually nothing since he came onboard, and Drury has regressed a bit as well. Overall, this lineup’s top bats can compete with both the Mets and Dodgers, but it lacks the depth of either one.

A deep postseason run most likely involves one of Soto or Machado, at least, if not both, getting hot enough to carry the lineup.

Unlike the Mets, the Padres have basically even splits against righties and lefties, even if at an inferior level of production. San Diego has a .698 OPS and 101 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers, and a .705 OPS and 103 wRC+ against southpaws.

As far as starting pitching is concerned, it’s virtually the same story. Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell can go toe to toe and even possibly outpitch almost anyone in a given game, but overall, the Padres’ pitching is simply a step or two behind the Mets and Dodgers.

A three-game series is a significant step from one wild card game, but it remains a pretty unpredictable scenario, even in a series where there is a clear advantage.

Over in the bullpen, the Padres have a decent number of reliable names, after a rather shaky start to his career away from Milwaukee, Hader seems to be back on track. Nick Martinez has flourished in his new role out of the ‘pen, with a 2.67 ERA in over 50 innings as a reliever.

With the Mets there’d be no argument, that’s simply a statement, but the Padres can stack up pretty decently with virtually any other wild card team on either league, even if a ball club like the Blue Jays or Cardinals is in fact superior at the moment.

Playing a divisional rival is always a tricky thing in the postseason, and for a team with the ambition of the Dodgers, you can’t become too picky about opponents. Whether it is the Padres or the Mets, one can make the argument that the Dodgers will face the biggest challenge out of any team that earned a bye in the Division Series.