Going Into Playoffs, Mets Have The Stats On Their Side

Posted: October 04, 1988

LOS ANGELES — On paper, at least, the National League championship series between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers that begins tonight seems a mismatch.

As one NL scout put it: "If you just went by a comparison of talent, the Mets should win four in a row, 10-0, 10-0, 10-0 and 10-0."

In the season series, the disparity was almost that great - the Mets held a 10-1 advantage, outscoring the Dodgers, 49-18.

And the Mets' superiority seems even more striking when you consider that two of the most important Dodgers - pitcher John Tudor and outfielder Kirk Gibson - are injured.

However, playoffs rarely unfold with much logic, and there is no reason to

suspect this one will be any different when the first pitch is thrown in the best-of-seven series tonight in Dodger Stadium (Channel 6, 8:28 p.m.).

Top scouts from both leagues, all of whom requested anonymity, were asked to analyze the matchup. All of the scouts believed the Mets should be odds-on favorites to advance to the World Series, but all said that several variables could affect the series. Here are some of those variables:

MISLEADING REGULAR SEASON. "I still think the Mets will win, but you have to take that 10-1 record with a grain of salt," said an NL scout. "They faced (Orel) Hershiser only once in the 11 games while getting Don Sutton twice and a hurting (Fernando) Valenzuela once."

Add to that the fact that five of the 11 games were one-run decisions, and you can see why the Dodgers are hardly in awe of their opponents. "We're a better team now than we were earlier in the year, when we played a lot of those games," catcher Mike Scioscia said.

THE HERSHISER FACTOR. In his last nine starts dating to Aug. 14, Dodgers righthander Orel Hershiser has allowed four runs and only 44 hits in 82 innings, including a record 59-inning scoreless streak. No pitcher has ever been hotter entering the playoffs.

Hershiser starts tonight's opener, which will begin about 5 p.m. on the West Coast. So he will be pitching in a tough late-afternoon conditions. ''He'll be facing (Dwight) Gooden, so it's a push in a sense," said an NL scout. "But you have to take Hershiser right now over anybody, especially in the glare that time of day."

For the Dodgers to win the series, Hershiser must win his starts. He is set up to pitch three games if needed. "If we beat Orel in the first game," Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez said, "we'll be in great shape. He has to win for them."

Hershiser seems capable of dominating this series. "Don't forget that Mike Scott nearly won the playoffs for Houston in '86 all by himself," said an AL scout. "Hershiser could win three games and the Dodgers would need to only steal one somewhere else."

TUDOR'S HEALTH. The biggest reason the Dodgers got Tudor from St. Louis was to face the Mets in the playoffs. New York can be vulnerable to lefthanders.

"You turn around Howard Johnson to the right side where he isn't half the hitter he is lefthanded," said an AL scout. "You bench (Len) Dykstra and (Wally) Backman, and that takes something away from them. And you have a better chance against Hernandez and (Darryl) Strawberry, two lefthanded hitters who can beat you in the late innings."

However, Tudor has been bothered by a sore elbow that has made his always- average fastball even more average. "I didn't have him much higher than 78 to 80 miles per hour on my gun in any of the three starts I saw him this September," said the same AL scout.

Tudor came out of his start Friday night with muscle spasm in his hip. The Dodgers have moved him back a game, and he now will pitch Game 3 against Ron Darling. That means rookie Tim Belcher will start tomorrow's second game against David Cone, who has been almost unbeatable.

So Tudor could end up getting just one start.

SAX AND GIBSON. The baserunning of Steve Sax and Kirk Gibson (73 steals between them) is the lifeblood of the Dodgers' offense, and manager Tom Lasorda won't hesitate to gamble.

Basestealing is a place where the Mets are vulnerable. Except for Darling, none of their other starters holds runners well. And catcher Gary Carter has struggled to throw out runners for three years.

So the fact that Gibson is hobbling with a hamstring pull is hardly encouraging news for L.A. He will start tonight, but the Dodgers privately are concerned he could hurt himself more severely and be lost for the rest of the series. With Los Angeles' having struggled to score in the season's final month ("They've looked downright pathetic for four weeks," said an NL scout), losing Gibson would be devastating.

Also, the Mets have handled Sax and Gibson very well. Sax batted only .222 vs. the Mets, and he has been slumping of late. "He's really worn down and is looking bad at the plate over the last few weeks," said an NL scout. "The Dodgers don't win if he's not getting on base."

As for Gibson, the Mets overpowered him during the season. He had 10 hits and only 1 RBI in 38 at-bats (.263), but two of the hits were bunt singles. And Mets pitchers struck out Gibson a remarkable 19 times in those 38 at-bats.

THE DODGERS' OFFENSE. "That's what this all comes down to," said an NL scout. "The Dodgers will pitch the Mets all right, but the Mets just have so many more ways with which to score runs. The Dodgers are limited."

The Mets had a 1.51 earned run average against Los Angeles this season. Their starters were 1.58 against the Dodgers. And reliever Randy Myers didn't

allow a run while saving four games vs. Los Angeles.

"They pitch Sax, Gibson and Marshall really well," said a NL scout. ''That leaves John Shelby to do much damage in that Dodgers' lineup. And Shelby has been struggling the last month."

LASORDA LUCK. Don't laugh. Three scouts mentioned the uncanny good fortune of the Dodgers' manager.

"It's unbelievable - it seems like everything he touches turns to gold," said an NL scout. "Look at that team. The shortstop (Alfredo Griffin) is barely hitting.200. He was without (Mike) Marshall for a lot of the year. They got nothing from (Pedro) Guerrero. They never really settled on a third baseman. They lost Valenzuela. And they ended up winning the division easy.

"It just might be Tommy's year."

The managerial matchup is certainly an intriguing one. On the one side you have Lasorda's assortment of Italian blarney, luck and probably the best managing job this year in the majors.

On the other, you have Dave Johnson, who has won 90 or more games five straight years and still hasn't been rehired for next season.

WHO CAN DOMINATE? In answering that question, you come to realize how big a talent advantage the Mets have.

"Heck, Strawberry can dominate, (Kevin) McReynolds can, so can Hernandez or the kid (Greg) Jeffries or Carter, who can get jacked up for a series like this, no matter how bad a year he had," said an NL scout.

"Don't forget how hot Mookie Wilson has been. And Howard Johnson hit 24 home runs. And we're not even talking about their pitchers.

"The only Dodgers who are even capable of dominating are Gibson, Marshall and maybe Shelby. Gibson's hurting, Marshall's liable to disappear, and I just don't like Shelby against that Mets pitching.

"Sure, some guy might come out of the woodwork. But no one in baseball would trade that Dodgers' roster for the Mets', not even Lasorda."

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