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Who Ya Got? Are the Dodgers or Mets the NL's Best Team?

Zachary D. RymerAugust 30, 2022

The Dodgers have a better record than the Mets, but are the two teams nonetheless evenly matched? (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

There will be no Davids on the diamond as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets meet for a three-game set at Citi Field over the next three days. Just Goliaths.

Question is: Which is the bigger, badder Goliath?

The easy answer can be adequately summed up as, "It's the Dodgers, stupid." They've been next to unbeatable as they've won 44 of 54 since June 29. Their 89-38 record has them on pace to win 114 games, while their plus-286 run differential gives them a shot to become only the 10th modern team to finish at or above the plus-300 threshold.

Yet the Mets have already shown they can go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers, splitting a four-game series in Los Angeles in early June. They've also done a better job than most of hanging with the Boys in Blue. As the Dodgers have gone 33-8 since July 13, the Mets have gone 28-13.

Though the Mets remain eight games off the Dodgers' pace for the National League's top record—and with it, home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs—the two clubs have essentially equal odds of making a deep run through the postseason. FanGraphs puts the Dodgers' and Mets' World Series chances at 29.4 and 27.3.

In other words, a proper comparison of the Dodgers and Mets can't simply begin and end with their records.


Comparing the Offenses

Harry How/Getty Images

If we had access to a time machine, we wouldn't have to go back that far to find the right environment for a spirited debate about the Dodgers and Mets offenses. As recently as June 26, the teams were separated by all of one run scored.

Things have changed since then, however, as the Dodgers have opened a 79-run advantage over their counterparts from Queens.

Graph via Google Sheets

The Dodgers bats have been especially hot since the All-Star break, collectively rating as 34 percent better than average by wRC+. They've also scored 224 runs (or 6.1 per game) and slammed 52 home runs over their 37 games.

Mookie Betts is responsible for 11 of the latter, and Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner aren't alone in joining him in hotness. Of 11 other players with at least 45 plate appearances, only Chris Taylor (69) and Cody Bellinger (94) don't have a wRC+ over 100.

MLB @MLB

.<a href="https://twitter.com/mookiebetts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@mookiebetts</a> stays hot! That's HR No. 30 on the year for the former MVP. <a href="https://t.co/llzPUfrl2p">pic.twitter.com/llzPUfrl2p</a>

In all fairness, Mets hitters are averaging 4.7 runs per game this season and have likewise gone off for a 122 wRC+ in the second half. Jeff McNeil is hitting .366 since the break, while Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso have a 146 wRC+ and 12 home runs between them.

All the same, good in a vacuum and good in comparison to the Dodgers are two very different things in the context of this discussion.

It's also not as if the Dodgers offense has any exhaust port-like weaknesses right now. Its power may stand out the most from the second-half run, but its .303 average with runners in scoring position (3rd in MLB) and .210 average in two-strike counts (1st in MLB) are not to be overlooked.

Advantage: Dodgers


Comparing the Defenses

Harry How/Getty Images

What's the best way to quantify a team's defense? Answers will vary, but the most straightforward is assessing how efficient said team is at turning balls in play into outs.

To that end, it's not much of a contest:

  • Dodgers: .728 (1st in MLB)
  • Mets: .693 (19th in MLB)

The Mets fare better in other metrics, including outs above average. They're at plus-nine to the Dodgers' zero, and there's no overstating just how good Lindor and McNeil have been as a double play combination lately. They've combined for 10 OAA in August alone.

The Dodgers, though, have the best defensive player on either side.

That's Betts, who's gunning for his sixth Gold Glove Award by way of five outs above average and 13 defensive runs saved. The team as a whole is a major standout for the latter, as its 74 DRS put it 18 ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for tops in the NL.

Los Angeles Dodgers @Dodgers

They call him Mookie but we call him Superman. <a href="https://t.co/RT8CMkXFrw">pic.twitter.com/RT8CMkXFrw</a>

One thing the Dodgers do is shift better than most. By FanGraphs' estimation, opposing teams hit just .262 against them when they have a shift on, the lowest such mark in the NL.

Advantage: Dodgers


Comparing the Starting Rotations

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As a unit, Dodgers starters have been nothing short of scintillating. Their 2.67 ERA is the best in baseball by 40 points over the Houston Astros, and they're the only team with four starters with ERAs under 3.00.

Though Dustin May is not among that foursome, the stuff he's shown in two starts since his return from Tommy John surgery has been filthy:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Dustin May's Incredible Stuff from Last Night. <a href="https://t.co/1th6qk2by8">pic.twitter.com/1th6qk2by8</a>

Yet even despite May's triumphant return, "healthy" isn't the first word anyone's going to associate with the Dodgers rotation.

Walker Buehler underwent his second Tommy John surgery last Tuesday, and the Dodgers are also missing fellow aces Clayton Kershaw (back) and, as of Monday, NL ERA leader Tony Gonsolin. The latter has a strained forearm that's reportedly going to cost him only two starts, though that seems optimistic.

The Mets, meanwhile, got a huge piece back Aug. 2 when Jacob deGrom made his season debut after a prolonged recovery from shoulder issues. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has looked like his usual self as he's fired triple-digit fastballs and mid-90s sliders:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Jacob deGrom, Filthy 93mph Slider and 100mph Fastball combo. 😷<br><br>[I would've called a TKO &amp; ended the AB after that Slider]<br><br>9Ks thru 5. <a href="https://t.co/wwY01DRunb">pic.twitter.com/wwY01DRunb</a>

With Scherzer and Chris Bassitt also dominating of late, the Mets' three best starters have combined for a 2.14 ERA since deGrom's return. There doesn't figure to be much of a drop-off after them going forward, as Taijuan Walker has allowed no more than three runs in 12 of his last 13 outings and Carlos Carrasco is due back from a strained oblique in early September.

Though Kershaw should also be back in early September, FanGraphs' projections for the remainder of the season aren't as bullish on the Dodgers rotation as they are on the Mets'. The latter is slated for 3.6 WAR, compared to 2.9 WAR for the former.

Advantage: Mets


Comparing the Bullpens

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

To some extent, relief pitching is another area in which the Dodgers only seem to be getting stronger. Their bullpen has a 3.08 ERA for the season and a 2.64 ERA in the second half.

But even though Mets relievers are at 3.63 and 4.11, the rest-of-season WAR projections for these two units are the same:

  • Dodgers: 0.9 WAR
  • Mets: 0.9 WAR

This projection arguably doesn't track with the present and near-future of the Dodgers bullpen. The fivesome of Evan Phillips, David Price, Alex Vesia, Caleb Ferguson and Chris Martin has combined for a 1.37 ERA in the second half. They also last week got flame-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol off the injured list, with Blake Treinen and Tommy Kahnle to follow.

There is, however, the Craig Kimbrel question.

Though Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has kept chucking save opportunities at Kimbrel, the veteran right-hander has too frequently made things interesting with a 4.14 ERA. He had a golden chance to make a statement Monday against the Miami Marlins, but he couldn't get through the 10th after pitching a perfect ninth.

The Mets have no such worries with their closer. Edwin Díaz has allowed only eight earned runs through 51.1 innings and struck out 99 of the 198 batters he's faced. His fastball and slider have simply never been nastier:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Edwin Díaz 🔥🎺 <a href="https://t.co/Fto7FPM1Tn">pic.twitter.com/Fto7FPM1Tn</a>

The bridge to Díaz looked shaky for a while but not so much now that Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo have started shoving. In the second half, the three right-handers have combined for a 1.18 ERA with 62 strikeouts over 45.2 innings.

More so than the other three categories, this one feels like an apples to oranges comparison. But while we will hear arguments in favor of the quantity the Dodgers have in their pen, the quality of the Mets pen strikes us as more appealing.

Advantage: Mets


The Final Verdict (with a Hedge)

Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

So then, who's the bigger, badder Goliath?

Right now, it's the Dodgers. Obviously, it's the Dodgers.

As much as we prefer the Mets rotation and bullpen, the gaps there aren't as large as the ones in favor of the Dodgers offense and defense. It's as if there are good reasons that they remain on track for one of the greatest seasons in the history of Major League Baseball.

The Dodgers would also figure to have a substantial advantage over the Mets if this week's series proves to be a National League Championship Series preview. Unless they cede the top spot in the NL to the Mets down the stretch, they'd maintain home-field advantage at Dodger Stadium, where they've been beaten only 16 times in 61 games all season.

But now for a last-minute hedge: We're not about to write off the Mets' chances of being the last NL team standing, and neither should anyone else.

Even relative to the Dodgers, Cardinals and Atlanta, one thing that makes the Mets stand out from a small crowd of elite teams is how battle-tested they are. They have 37 victories against winning teams, whereas no other NL club has more than 30.

These Mets can also take it from the 2019 Washington Nationals that all a team really needs to keep opponents at bay in the playoffs is a handful of untouchable pitchers. deGrom and Scherzer can be for the Mets what Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were for the Nats, who didn't even have a Díaz in their bullpen.

In any case, baseball deserves better than for this week's series to be the last time the Dodgers and Mets meet in 2022. Somewhere between four and seven more games sounds about right to decide which is the better team.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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