New York Mets' Starling Marte is safe at first on an infield single, next to Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman during the sixth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

A few preludes have to go right first for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets to meet again come October, but if they do, it should make for great theater in the National League Championship Series.

The NL’s two best teams (right now) played three competitive games at Citi Field this week, with the Mets coming away with a pair of close victories. While the Dodgers far and away have the best record in the majors, the Mets showed they could hang with the best — at least during the regular season.

Aside from the proximity of the scores in the games, let's check out seven other things we learned from the big Dodgers-Mets series in New York as we check on the MLB pennant races again.

1. Timmy Trumpet can play!

Before a live studio audience of nearly 42,000 fans, the Mets brought out Australian trumpeter Timothy Jude Smith, aka Timmy Trumpet, who plays the key solo element in Edwin Diaz's entrance song, "Narco." Timmy's live introduction, plus Diaz's dominant 1-2-3 ninth inning, made for a perfect climax Wednesday night in a 2-1 victory for the Mets. Seriously, how much pressure was Timmy putting on himself to hit all the notes? And how much pressure was Diaz putting on himself to lock down the save, when they brought a guy all the way from Australia to play his song? And everyone came through. It was just an unbelievably cool ending to a playoff-like game. Hopefully, it encourages MLB to add more theater to future games.

2. Clayton Kershaw is back, but also front and center

In his first outing in nearly a month because of a recurring back injury, Kershaw retired the final 13 batters he faced after a rough first inning — which essentially functioned as a rehab assignment. In the first, he issued three walks, including his first one with the bases-loaded since 2015. After that, it was all zeroes for 4 1/3 innings.

3. The Mets will need deeper starting pitching to beat the Dodgers in October

They don't have a deeper lineup, but New York might have a deeper rotation. The Dodgers' collective ERA is lower, and the same goes for their starting pitchers. However, injury concerns might give the Mets the advantage among SPs come the postseason.

On Wednesday, Mookie Betts hit a solo home run to produce the only score against Jacob deGrom, who has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 29 of his past 33 starts. And the only reason the Dodgers were able to score more than once against Chris Bassitt on Thursday was because outfielder Starling Marte threw to the wrong base on Chris Taylor's first-inning single. The Dodgers avoided seeing Max Scherzer at Citi Field, but they'll have to reckon with him at some point. If the Mets use him right in the lead-up, it figures to go poorly for L.A.

Kershaw's news was good, but the reports are less encouraging about right-hander Tony Gonsolin, whose forearm remains sore. Kershaw being closer to 100% becomes even more paramount with Walker Buehler sidelined for the year and Gonsolin currently caught in no-man's land.

4. Mookie Betts is swinging the bat as well as ever

Only occasionally with the Dodgers has Betts been the transformative player he was in Boston, but Mookie is at his best right now. Betts hit .330/.383/.697 with nine home runs and 11 doubles in August, one of his best months since joining the Dodgers.

5. Francisco Lindor is at the top of his game

Lindor went 5-for-10 in the series, including two hits with a double and a big stolen base Thursday. He also played strong defense at shortstop.

6. The Mets still could be a bat short in a playoff series

Darin Ruf continues to hit weakly as a right-handed DH, with the catcher spot and third base (mostly Eduardo Escobar) also not producing much offense. Dan Vogelbach has been great as a lefty DH, and fans have been calling for power-hitting Mark Vientos to be promoted from Triple A to play third, DH or both. But the Mets are not showing a willingness to do it. They might think again.

7. Dodgers lineup might be short too

Max Muncy came in batting .282/.370/.600 in August before the Mets series, but he went 0-for-10 in the three games in New York and is batting .184/.319/.363 in 109 games overall.

Series to watch


Aug 17, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) steps on second base to force out New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) then throws to first base to complete a double play on a ground ball by Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Sept. 2-4)

Back on July 8, the Yankees blew out the Red Sox at Fenway Park and the Rays fell in 10 innings to the Reds, a combination of results that widened New York's lead in the American League East to 15 1/2 games. Barely half of the MLB season had been played and the Yankees had a 61-23 record. Would this become the winningest Yankees squad of all time? Nope! Since then, the Yanks have gone 18-28 and 9 1/2 games have been cut from their lead. With less than five weeks to go in the regular season and New York ahead by six, we might just have a race for the top in the division.

The Yankees and Rays face each other six times in the next 10 days, with three at Tropicana Field this weekend and three more back at Yankee Stadium next week. The Yankees won't have their best starting pitchers available at the Trop, but New York is still in a preferable spot. Since 1996 (the first full season that included wild cards), 80% of division leaders on Sept. 1 (120 of 150 teams) hung on to win their divisions. And, historically, a team is unlikely to blow a six-game lead, although the Angels famously wasted a 7 1/2-game lead to the Mariners in 1995 and the Red Sox (even more famously) folded after leading the Yankees by 6 1/2 games in 1978. Darn that Bucky Dent.

Starting on Friday, New York sends right-handers Domingo Germán, Clarke Schmidt and Frankie Montas to the mound. The Rays will counter with Cory Kluber and Jeffrey Springs, but they won't have All-Star lefty Shane McClanahan available for either series because of a shoulder injury. Germán has been solid, Schmidt is transitioning to a starter's workload and Montas has a 7.01 ERA in five starts with the Yankees. Montas, though, can ease concerns of his poor Yankees beginning by continuing to pitch well against the Rays; with the Athletics, he had an 0.68 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings over two starts against Tampa Bay.

The biggest question for the Yankees might be: Will Aaron Judge get any help?

Milwaukee Brewers at Arizona Diamondbacks

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Sept. 1-4)

This is a dangerous four-game set for Milwaukee, which enters Friday's action 6 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and 2 1/2 back in the NL wild card after Thursday's 5-0 loss in Arizona. The D-backs, who swept the White Sox and took a series against the Philadelphia Phillies, are now 22-16 in the second half. A series at Coors Field follows for the Brewers.

Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox

Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Sept. 2-4)

The Cleveland Guardians probably aren't able to run away with the AL Central, but the White Sox (while showing almost no indication of being able to mount a surge) also are running out of time to stay in the hunt. Chicago needs these games more desperately than Minnesota. Is that motivation enough?

Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles

Monday (doubleheader), Tuesday, Wednesday (Sept. 5-7)

A four-game set at Camden Yards, in September, with postseason implications for both teams. Who saw this coming? Not the Orioles, who added very little from the outside in the offseason and even sold off two big players at the trade deadline because it's always about next year with them, even when this year is staring them right in the beak.

San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers

Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Sept. 9-11)

San Diego is 2-8 this season against Los Angeles and doesn't have a chance to overtake the NL West leaders, but the Padres also don't have much margin for error in the NL wild-card race. Getting the Dodgers right after the Mets and just before the fading San Francisco Giants is about the biggest break the Padres could hope for.

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