Nothing reflected the differing realities of the Dodgers and the New York Mets this week than two late-game bullpen decisions during their series at Citi Field.
On Tuesday, the Dodgers were clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth when they summoned Jake Reed for the save — a way-down-the-pecking-order right-hander who had been called up from the minor leagues that day.
On Thursday, the Mets called upon All-Star closer Edwin Díaz, who came trotting out of the bullpen in the eighth inning — even with the team nursing a three-run lead.
Indeed, the Dodgers are feeling little pressure right now, with a National League West title locked up and their grasp on the league’s top playoff spot all but secure as they return home for a three-game series against the San Diego Padres beginning Friday night.
The Mets are in a different spot, trying to hold off the Atlanta Braves in their division and hang on to the league's other first-round postseason bye.
That’s why, although the Mets won two of three games (and four of seven overall between the teams this season), no alarms were going off in the Dodgers clubhouse afterward.
“If we do face them in the playoffs, no one is going to care what happened in the regular season,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I don’t think you should read anything into it.”
Added manager Dave Roberts: “I don't think it means anything.”
That doesn’t mean the series didn’t reveal anything, though, serving up a reminder that the Mets are a real obstacle — maybe the Dodgers’ biggest — on the road to the World Series.
At the end of the team’s East Coast trip, here are four takeaways on where the Dodgers stand.
The Mets can pitch — even against the Dodgers
The Dodgers scored three runs in the third inning of their first game in New York.
After that, they were held to just five over the final 24 frames.
It’s what a pitching staff such as the Mets’ is capable of doing, especially when getting contributions from its staff ace (Jacob deGrom pitched seven strong innings Wednesday), another top-end starter (Chris Bassitt went six innings Thursday) and its top relievers (Díaz and Adam Ottavino combined for four innings of one-run ball in the final two games).
“It’s going to be like that if we do face them in the playoffs,” Freeman said. “Usually in the playoffs, you’re not scoring eight to 10 runs. You’ve got to win the one-run games.”
It was a pertinent point.
While the Dodgers have made a habit of steamrolling opponents in the regular season, even the best offenses can run into tough matchups in October.
It’s what makes the playoffs unpredictable, and often keeps the best teams from winning.
The Dodgers’ hope is to learn from their matchups this week, file away the information for a potential rematch and find ways to create more consistent offense if these clubs do meet again.
But the idea that the Dodgers can overpower opponents at will certainly took a hit.
“I think we're two evenly matched ball clubs," Roberts said. "I think overall, they played better defense and played well enough to win the series."
Booed again in N.Y., Joey Gallo adjusting with Dodgers
Joey Gallo knew he had few fans in the Bronx. But even he was surprised by the reception he got from the orange-and-blue clad crowds in Queens.
Before each of his at-bats, the former Yankees outfielder, who struggled mightily during parts of two seasons with the Mets' crosstown rival, was noticeably booed during his first trip back to New York since last month’s trade to the Dodgers.
“I mean, I didn’t even play for the Mets, so I don’t know why the ... they’re booing me,” Gallo said. “I don’t know. Yeah, New York. They boo a lot of people, though.”
Roberts also took note.
"I thought that these Mets fans should be cheering him, because he didn't play well for the Yankees,” Roberts said. “So I'm kind of a little confused by the boos."
Really, it only made the 28-year-old slugger more thankful for his new home with the Dodgers — and more eager to snap out of a recent slump that has followed his hot start with the team.
After hitting three home runs, collecting nine RBIs and posting a 1.010 OPS in his first 14 Dodger plate appearances, Gallo has slipped into an 0-for-16 slump. The stretch has included eight strikeouts to only two walks. And it has looked reminiscent of his play with the Yankees, even as he’s worked on making changes to his swing.
“I think I feel pretty good,” Gallo said. “This last week, I haven’t had good results and whatnot, but have been putting up good at-bats and swinging at strikes. Hits will come. But I’ve been feeling pretty good since I’ve been here.”
Gallo didn’t play Thursday, even against a right-handed pitcher, with Roberts saying Gallo and fellow slumping left-handed hitter Cody Bellinger “need a day.”
How did Roberts think Gallo handled the return to New York?
"Really well,” the manager said. “Just talking to him, seeing him. I think there was a little bit of some type of emotion coming back into the city. The results haven't been there .... But I think as far as just kind of seeing his demeanor, he's fine."
Is Miguel Vargas a playoff option?
A new face was in the Dodgers clubhouse Thursday as highly touted prospect Miguel Vargas joined as a September call-up.
The 22-year-old rookie appeared in just two games during his first big league stint last month, but figures to get a longer look now that rosters have expanded to 28 players.
Roberts said Vargas, who hit .304 with 17 home runs and 82 RBIs in triple A, will get opportunities at third base, in left field and as a designated hitter.
“It's another nice piece to have,” Roberts said. “He showed well while he was here briefly, and this is a good experience, a good opportunity for him and us to see how he shows again in September."
The bigger question: Is there a pathway for him to make contributions in October on the club’s playoff roster?
"Sure, absolutely,” Roberts said. “That still comes with not having pressure, just going out and playing. But yeah, it's a performance-based business and if he plays well, and things break the right way, absolutely. He should be in the conversation."
It won’t be easy. The Dodgers have had a set group of 13 hitters since the trade deadline. They have depth on the right side of the plate, as well, with Trayce Thompson and Hanser Alberto.
But if the Dodgers decide to carry an extra hitter in a shorter playoff series, or need to change course based on injuries or poor performance down the stretch, Vargas could have an opening.
He’ll have to play well this month, though.
"I don't want to say it's an audition,” Roberts said. “I just encourage Miguel to ... be himself and take good at-bats, play good defense. Everything else is going to work out the way it will.”
Evan Phillips’ (near) perfect month
Set-up reliever Evan Phillips will never pitch a perfect game in his current role. But during a stellar performance in August, the right-hander had a near-perfect month.
In 12 appearances, Phillips not only was unscored upon, but also retired 35 of the 37 hitters he faced. Over his last 10 outings, he recorded 27 outs in a row — the equivalent of nine consecutive clean innings.
As a result, his already immaculate ERA has dropped to a minuscule 1.22. On Thursday, Roberts called him the team’s most improved pitcher this season. And as October nears, he’s cemented himself as one of their most important arms, too.
“It’s one of those stretches where, I step up on the mound and just everything is clicking the way it needs to for me to succeed,” Phillips said. “It hasn’t been super overpowering, I would say, but my pitches have just been located where they need to be. The shape of everything with the sinker and the cutter and the slider, everything has been full circle of the point we’ve been trying to get to all season.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.