The Los Angeles Dodgers have baseball’s best one-two punch in a starting rotation, but the New York Mets are looking to deliver a crucial blow to take a commanding lead in this NL division series.
After Jacob deGrom outpitched Clayton Kershaw in a sterling performance, Noah Syndergaard may need to do the same opposite Zack Greinke on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
Los Angeles’ starters finished the regular season with a 3.24 ERA to rank second in the majors and a lot of the credit goes to having Kershaw and Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA) at the front of the rotation.
Their importance to the Dodgers is obvious as they’re contemplating bringing back Kershaw – the reigning NL Cy Young winner and MVP – on three days’ rest for a potential Game 4 in New York.
The ace, however, lost his fifth straight postseason start Friday when the Mets beat the Dodgers 3-1 in Game 1. DeGrom tossed seven scoreless innings and matched Tom Seaver’s postseason franchise record of 13 strikeouts from 1973.
"To have him go out there against Clayton and win the game is a huge lift for us," said manager Terry Collins. "This is a good start for a team that hadn’t been in the postseason for a long time. We needed a confidence boost and Jake gave it to us."
Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) is gaining confidence of his own after finishing an impressive rookie season by allowing three runs with 21 strikeouts in 14 2-3 innings over his last two starts.
The right-hander, though, is 2-5 with a 4.23 ERA in 12 starts on the road compared to 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 12 at home. However, he showed some improvement in his last two road starts, going 1-0 while allowing three runs and fanning 19 in 14 2-3 innings.
"To me it’s just all about getting comfortable out there on the mound, on the road," Syndergaard said. "I feel like on the last couple starts I had on the road I had a lot of success, lot of comforts.
"The big thing for me was being able to execute my pitches and become more of a pitcher, not a thrower. And I feel like that’s going to play a huge role."
Syndergaard battled through 107 pitches in six innings opposite Kershaw at Los Angeles on July 3, yielding one run and two hits with six strikeouts while not getting in a decision in a 2-1 win.
Greinke takes the ball after completing the season with the majors’ lowest qualifying ERA since Greg Maddux’s 1.63 with Atlanta in 1995. It’s the second-lowest in Dodgers’ history behind Rube Marquard’s 1.58 in 1916.
Greinke’s dominance included allowing two runs and eight hits in 14 innings while going 1-0 in two starts against the Mets. That victory came at home July 4 when the right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings opposite Matt Harvey.
Greinke is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA over four postseason starts with the Dodgers after going 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in three with Milwaukee in 2011.
He thinks the struggles early in his career laid the foundation for his recent success.
"That’s one thing I think experience kind of helps being in the playoffs," Greinke said. "Because I do sort of treat it sort of similar to just a regular game, or I try to as much as possible, where the first time in the playoffs is a little bit different. I feel it’s helped out just trying to keep it as similar as just any other game."
Greinke will try to slow down Daniel Murphy, who had a solo home run Friday after hitting .358 with three homers and 10 RBIs over the final 14 regular-season games. The second baseman, though, is 1 for 5 off Greinke this year while David Wright is 3 for 9 in their all-time matchup.
The third baseman had a two-run single in Game 1 and owns a .363 average in 69 career meetings with the Dodgers, including the postseason.