Correction, Oct. 5, 2015, at 1:42 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story erroneously identified the Dodgers' ownership as Guggenheim Partners LLC. The correct name is Guggenheim Baseball Management.
With a payroll that exceeded $310 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the postseason for the third consecutive season. But questions surround the National League West champions ahead of their five-game series with the New York Mets.
Since taking over the team in 2012 after the controversy-plagued ownership of Frank McCourt, Guggenheim Baseball Management has pumped a great deal of resources into the organization with the intention of winning a World Series. But injuries and some questionable transactions have raised questions as to whether Los Angeles can overtake National League postseason challengers, all of whom may finish the 2015 season with a better record.
At the moment, the Dodgers are one game ahead of the Mets. The team with the best record will have home-field advantage for the divisional series that begins on Friday.
Here are some questions that are hovering over the Dodgers with the postseason looming:
Do Greinke and Kershaw need home field advantage?
Against the Mets, the answer seems to be "no." At Citi Field, Cy Young favorite Zack Greinke has a 0.75 earned-run average in 12 innings over the past three years, and he looked sharp when he gave up just two runs over seven innings on July 26. Greinke has been better at home (1.48 ERA) than on the road (1.88 ERA) this season, but the difference doesn't seem significant. Clayton Kershaw, who has been sensational in the second half of 2015, was perfect entering the seventh inning before allowing three hits to finish with a shutout against the Mets in July. While Kershaw has a 2.60 ERA on the road this season, he has allowed just three earned runs in his last four road outings.
Against either the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates or St. Louis Cardinals, the answer might be quite different. All three teams have an excellent record on the road, while the Dodgers have a 37-44 record on the road.
Can the Dodgers win with the back end of the rotation?
Greinke and Kershaw can't start every game, and that's a serious problem for Mattingly. The Dodgers front office decided to sign Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson in the offseason, and traded for Mat Latos and Alex Wood. McCarthy stuggled in September and was lost for the season due to injury, while Mat Latos was cut. That leaves Anderson and Wood as probable starters should Greinke and Kershaw not pitch on short rest.
Anderson has been the biggest surprise for the Dodgers. After pitching a total of 206 innings over four seasons, Anderson has managed to stay healthy and make 31 starts this season with a respectable 3.69 ERA. But he has pitched past six innings just once in his last six starts, and to uneven results. While Anderson looked sharp against a makeshift San Francisco Giants lineup on Thursday with just two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings, he allowed a total of 11 earned runs in his previous two starts against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The 27-year-old southpaw didn't pitch against the Mets this season.
Wood has been erratic since joining the Dodgers from the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline. In 12 starts, Wood has had two starts in which he didn't allow a run after going seven innings or more, but was also hammered by the likes of the Diamondbacks and Rockies. For the most part, Wood, who doesn't throw hard, seems like he's good for about six innings and three earned runs a game. Against the Mets, he has pitched 13 innings over two starts, and allowed seven earned runs.
After a hamstring injury, is Puig healthy and should he be on the roster?
This is a very perplexing issue. Don Mattingly recently stated that Yasiel Puig is "going at 100 percent and feels fine." Only two games remain on the regular-season schedule, so it might seem wise to have Puig on the bench against the Mets. The talented right fielder has not had an at-bat since Aug. 27, and has just 277 at-bats on the season. Mattingly will have to decide between Puig over Scott Van Slyke or Justin Ruggiano for the roster spot.
While Puig is a dangerous hitter with a fantastic arm, he is also a liability on the base paths and chases bad pitches. He also has performed poorly against the Mets. In 58 at-bats against Mets pitchers, Puig has just a .643 on-base plus-slugging percentage and a .190 batting average. Against right-handed pitching, Mattingly can use an outfield of Carl Crawford in left field, Joc Pederson in center field and Andre Ethier in right field. The Mets only left-handed starter is 24-year-old Steven Matz, as struggling Jonathan Niese has mainly been used in relief the past two weeks.
Will the Dodgers get production out of catcher?
They haven't received much from their the top starter in quite some time, which may be cause for concern. Yasmani Grandal looked like a great addition during stretches of the season, but he has been dealing with a sore shoulder and his production has plummeted. Since Aug. 17, the 26-year-old has had a total of three hits compared to 22 strikeouts.
Mattingly will probably give the bulk of the at-bats to A.J. Ellis, who has done a respectable job in recent weeks. In September, Ellis hit .236 with three home runs. He was excellent in last year's postseason, with seven hits in 13 at-bats, including a home run, against the Cardinals.
Is the bullpen good enough to hold down games?
Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt only have two reliable pitchers in the pen: closer Kenley Jansen and lefty J.P. Howell. Perhaps the Dodgers can find a way to use the other relief pitchers only under desperate circumstances, but that seems unrealistic. Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher will likely be called upon at some point in the postseason to hold a game.
After an awful start to the season, Hatcher might be the best option. The hard-throwing right hander has improved dramatically in recent weeks. He has allowed only one earned run in his last 17 appearances. In Hatcher's last 16 innings, he has conceded 11 hits.
Who will be on the 25-man roster against the Mets?
It will likely round out with four starting pitchers: Kershaw, Greinke, Anderson and Wood. In relief, the Dodgers will have Jansen, Howell, Hatcher, Baez, and Garcia. The pitching gets a bit confusing from there. Luis Avilan is a lefty, so he should make the roster, but Mike Bolsinger may deserve to make the roster as a long reliever over Juan Nicasio. As for the bats, the Dodgers will have Justin Turner, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with Corey Seager, Chase Utley and utilty man Kike Hernandez. The outfield should be Crawford, Pederson, Ethier, to go along with Puig and Van Slyke. Ellis and Grandal should be the catchers, with Austin Barnes as the odd man out.
Can the Dodgers make the World Series?
Once again, the Cardinals appear to be the biggest obstacle. According to betting odds provided by bovada.lv, the Cardinals have a +200 chance of reaching the Winter Classic. But the Dodgers are right behind at +275. The Mets are third at +325, followed by the Pirates (+500) and the Cubs (+600).
St. Louis has had the upper hand over L.A. in the past two seasons, eliminating the Dodgers in six games in the NL Championship Series in 2013, and then bouncing the Dodgers in the NL Divisional Series in four games last season. It doesn't help that the Cardinals have the best record in baseball (100-60), deepest starting rotation in baseball, and also the best overall team ERA (2.92).
The Cardinals have also won the season series against the Dodgers, 5-2. The Dodger bats have scored a total of just 12 runs in seven games against St. Louis.
In Short: The Dodgers may have enough to get past the Mets, mainly due to Greinke and Kershaw. Should the Dodgers execute against New York and either the Cubs or Pirates upset the Cardinals, the Dodgers can probably ride Greinke and Kershaw, as well as reliable bat of Gonzalez, to the World Series. But it will be a tougher challenge should they face St. Louis in the NLCS. The Dodgers don't seem to have enough pitching depth or the consistent bats to outlast the steady Cardinals.