The Los Angeles Dodgers have pushed their way to the brink of the NLCS. One more win and they get to play for the pennant. They just have to get past the Mets and their young fireballer, Jacob deGrom.
Don Mattingly certainly has his work cut out for him in penciling in the lineup for the most critical game of 2015. The Dodgers are lucky to have the Cy Young contending Zack Greinke going to the mound, but also the cursed blessing of having too many outfielders, and only one – Andre Ethier – has established a clear case that he should be starting in Game 5.
Everybody else carries too many question marks, but somebody’s gotta play, so here are my choices.
Left Field: Andre Ethier.
Both his bat and his glove are solid and absolutely belong. When and if anybody needs to be replaced in the outfield (or batted for), Ethier can slide over and cover another outfield position.
Center Field: Enrique Hernandez.
Offense: With deGrom on the mound for the Mets, hits will probably be rare, and runs rarer still. Kike’s bat (and spark plug presence) wins out over Joc Pederson, as Joc’s offensive numbers just don’t merit him starting a game of this magnitude. Sure Pederson has learned to take his walks, and they say a walk is as good as hit, but a double with RISP beats a walk every day of the week.
Defense: Joc’s the best defensive center fielder on the team by far, but with Greinke on the mound, I’ll take the chance the long fly balls that require Pederson’s speed will be kept to a minimum. If Kike can help the Dodgers get some early runs on the board, Pederson is a solid go-to for defense when the Dodgers’ vulnerable bullpen becomes a factor later in the game.
Right Field: Yasiel Puig
Offense: Puig has shown nothing offensively in the NLDS to this point, but neither has Carl Crawford. Puig is trying to get his timing at the plate established, so there is a chance that deGrom will throw it right past him. However, his swing is showing that old Puig “Whoosh!” of power. If he can catch one of deGrom’s fastballs, or a mistake pitch, we’ll see a monster Puig blast flying into the Los Angeles night sky.
We already saw deGrom regularly blow it past Crawford in Game 1. I don’t want to sit through another set of rally-killing at-bats from Crawford again. He’s one for 11 in the series, and even when he has made contact, it has been weak.
Defense: I’m not completely convinced Puig’s hamstring is at 100%, but I’ll bet that cannon of an arm is ready. Crawford doesn’t seem to be able to catch anything that’s not hit directly to him, so I’ll take Puig’s 75% hamstring defense over Crawford.
As I said before, I’m putting my faith in Greinke. His stuff is nasty enough, and combined with the early start time and Dodger Stadium shadows playing tricks on the Mets batters, Greinke should be able to keep his outfielders bored and chasing butterflies for the first few innings, at least.