The matchup the Mets didn't want has come to pass. The Dodgers bring the NL's other great offense to town, with a lefty who no-hit the Mets for five innings the last time they saw him in the rotation. The Dodgers, on the other hand, probably were hoping to face St. Louis instead of New York. These are the two best teams in the National League, and it's a bit of a shame that they can't face each other in a seven-game series instead of a fiver.
When the Dodgers are up
• Look for a lot of off-speed stuff from Mets pitchers in this series. Of the Mets' four starters, only John Maine has even an average fastball, so Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and Steve Trachsel will all work with their secondary pitches. The Dodgers also have several very good fastball hitters in their lineup, including Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and platoon player Marlon Anderson.
• Russell Martin, probably the fourth-best hitter in the Dodgers' lineup, may not see many pitches to hit batting eighth, but that's where he's been all year. Manager Grady Little could give his offense a little lift by sliding Martin up in the order.
• The Dodgers may also want to shuffle their order when Glavine, who has been death on lefties this year, is starting for the Mets. Sliding Martin up to the two hole and pushing Kenny Lofton down would be one possibility. Matt Kemp would have been a nice platoon partner for Lofton here, but he's not on the postseason roster.
When the Mets are up
• The offensive side of the Mets' roster leans heavily to the left, yet the Dodgers are carrying only one reliever who's effective against left-handed hitters in specialist Joe Beimel. Mark Hendrickson is in the bullpen as well, but he gave up a .370 OBP to left-handed hitters and is best suited for long relief. So expect the Mets' left-handed hitters to go to town when Hong-Chih Kuo's not pitching.
• The Mets need to do their damage up top, because below David Wright in the five hole, the lineup is substantially weaker, especially when the Dodgers start Kuo, their lone lefty. If Cliff Floyd can't go and the Mets take Lastings Milledge and let him play right or left field, they'd be better balanced on offense and would get a major boost on defense.
• The Mets are going to run. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are fast, effective base stealers, and the Dodgers' starters don't control the running game, even though Martin has a good throwing arm behind the plate.
Keys for the Dodgers
• Kuo is the pivotal guy for L.A. The Dodgers aren't likely to win three games started by right-handers Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Greg Maddux, given how powerful the Mets' left-handed hitters are. A win in Kuo's start is critical.
• Penny might be just as pivotal; he left his last start after an inning due to back pain, and will end up getting over a week's rest before he's scheduled to start again. But even if he pitches, will he pitch well? He pitches off his fastball, but he's been catching way too much of the plate recently and elevating the ball too much, and he hasn't had time to work these problems out on the field. His probable replacement, Hendrickson, has been hurt and mediocre since he was acquired from Tampa Bay.
• Get Paul Lo Duca out. Lo Duca usually hits second, and he's the one weak point in the top five spots in the Mets' lineup, so he's a pitcher's best chance to reduce the damage of Carlos Delgado, Beltran and Wright.
• Get into the Mets' bullpen. The loss of Duaner Sanchez really stung the Mets, and they haven't replaced those innings, although Aaron Heilman has resumed his good setup work of a year ago. If the Dodgers can get a Mets starter out early, the Mets don't have anyone who can keep them in a game for three or four innings while their offense goes to work.
Keys for the Mets
• Starting pitching. With Pedro Martinez out, the Mets are forced to go with Trachsel in the playoff rotation, although manager Willie Randolph had already decided to use Trachsel instead of Maine before Martinez was scratched. The Mets don't have a shutdown starter in their rotation, but their offense should be good enough to win any game where their starter holds the Dodgers to three to four runs.
• Hit the righties. If Kuo is on, he's going to hold the Mets to a run or two at most while he's in the game, so the Mets need to bash the Dodgers' right-handed arms, both in their starts and when Little goes to his bullpen after Kuo is out.
• Stay out of the back of the bullpen. If the Mets can either win big or hand tight leads directly to Heilman or Guillermo Mota, and then to Billy Wagner, they'll be in a much better position to win the series. Darren Oliver, Heath Bell and Roberto Hernandez are just what the Dodgers' hitters want to see, because L.A. has a good mix of hitters who work the count and hitters who crush flat fastballs.
These two teams are even on paper, but the fact that the Dodgers only bring two pitchers who really shut down lefties and the questions about Penny tilt things slightly in the Mets' favor. Mets in five.
Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.