One man. One pitch. That is what stands in the way of the New York Mets potentially taking a 1-0 National League Division Series lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.

The man is Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, maybe the best pitcher in Major League Baseball when he is on, will take his 16-7 regular-season record to the hill versus the Mets. The 27-year-old struck out 301 batters in 2015, and he has a 0.88 WHIP (h/t ESPN). Kershaw‘s impressive resume speaks for itself.

The southpaw’s incredible curveball is the pitch. It is a pitch that has baffled opposing batters for years, and it is one that could haunt the Mets all night long on Friday.

The Mets being subpar versus a particular pitch is, on its own, not a massive concern. Kershaw is many things as a pitcher. Average or ordinary doesn’t make the list. Along with bringing his dynamic arm to the mound for Game 1, Kershaw will also be looking to shake off his postseason demons as he attempts to guide the Dodgers to a series lead.

Anybody who has followed the Dodgers and/or Kershaw over the years is probably familiar with his playoff stats. Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register presented those numbers on October 8:

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has a 1-5 record and 5.12 ERA in 11 career playoff appearances (including three relief appearances in 2008 and 2009). His past four postseason starts have ended in ugly defeats – two in elimination games for the Dodgers. Kershaw has a 7.15 ERA in those games.

Kershaw, per Plunkett, is aware of his past. It will be on his mind when he faces the Mets:

“I don’t need to be fueled by too much,” Kershaw said when asked the inevitable questions about past failures providing greater motivation to succeed this postseason. “I definitely remember. But it’s a new team, new season and hopefully for me a new outcome.”

One way a lineup can combat a pitcher who has a devastating curveball is to hope for first-pitch fastballs, and then come out swinging early and often. Kershaw is not a conventional pitcher, and he may not, as explained by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, give the Mets any openings early in at-bats:

Two keys: Can you lay off his back-foot slider and is he landing his 12-to-6 curve? If he has that curve working, Kershaw will get ahead with it and can finish off a hitter going backdoor. If not, then that is a pitch you can eliminate as a hitter, especially the one that starts low and ends in the dirt.

Mets manager Terry Collins could go with up to four left-handed hitters against Kershaw on Friday. Both Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda are, according to Jonah Keri of Grantland, expected to be in the lineup for the Mets versus Kershaw. Those two have, per Sherman, gone a combined 2-for-20 when facing the ace. Granderson went .183 against southpaws this season, per Keri.

The sad stats, as explained by Keri, continue. Daniel Murphy hit .254 against lefties. Left-handers held Michael Conforto to a .214 average. Kershaw could realistically eliminate half of the New York lineup without allowing those men on base once on Friday. 

Looking for any hope for the Mets? Look toward the New York captain. Ignore any stats and numbers when considering how well or how poorly David Wright will play against the Dodgers. Instead, think back to the emotional boost that he provided the New York clubhouse upon his return in August.

This is the same Wright who bleeds orange and blue. The same Wright who was with the Mets during the heartbreaks of 2006 and 2007. The same Wright who hung around when the Mets were the forgotten baseball team of New York for several seasons.

Wright could set the tone for Game 1 and for the series against the Dodgers when he strolls to the plate in the first inning. Imagine, just imagine, what could unfold if a patient Wright gets his pitch and crushes it for a home run. How much energy would that give to the Mets? How would Kershaw react to history possibly repeating itself? 

Other than Wright, the task of taking Kershaw down will fall upon Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes, a true NL Most Valuable Player candidate after joining the Mets before the trade deadline, is more than just a solid bat. He is a man who can clear the bases with one swing of his bat, and he has proved in the past that he thrives in the postseason.

Cespedes, per Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today, batted .350 in 10 playoff appearances for the Oakland Athletics in 2012 and 2013. It is also worth noting that Cespedes is chasing a big payday that will come this offseason. Every good playoff series Cespedes has only increases the worth of his future contract.

Whether or not the Mets are able to get to Kershaw could, in the end, fall on Kershaw. SweetSpot blogger/ESPN writer David Schoenfield:

As Molly Knight wrote at Sports on Earth in her look back at Kershaw‘s postseason history, “Pitcher wins and losses don’t mean much, except when you’re the best pitcher of your generation and you lose elimination games, two years in a row, to the same godforsaken team in excruciating fashion, and have to spend 12 months dealing with hecklers and keyboard warriors calling you a choker when you are perhaps one of the most mentally tough athletes on the planet …”

So, yes, Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. Now he has to prove he’s the best postseason pitcher on the planet. Fair or not, that’s his legacy heading into these playoffs. Molly believes Kershaw is ready. I think he’s going to have that signature game … or three.

Kershaw will eventually have a dominant postseason outing for the ages. He is too good to not give at least one to the Dodgers. This Mets lineup is made to be blown away by Kershaw. Kershaw will be facing a New York team in prime time and in front of a national television audience. Bet against him at your own risk. 

Fans of the Mets should not enter a panic room if Kershaw is untouchable on Friday. A series is a marathon, not a sprint. Leaving Los Angeles with a split will still be possible if Kershaw throws nine innings of shutout baseball. Yes, the Mets have to face Cy Young Award candidate Zack Greinke in Game 2.

New York will have to worry about that on Saturday.

Read more MLB news on