LOS ANGELES - It began with the arms. The rebuilding of the Mets, their ascent from the ashes, their remarkable turnaround after eight straight seasons of failing to make the playoffs, all of it has hinged on the talent that they've hoarded on the mound.
Now, as the Mets prepare to take on two of the best pitchers in baseball, they will find out if they possess the firepower to combat the Dodgers.
It starts Friday night when reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom opposes three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in an NLDS that likely will be dominated by pitching.
For the Mets to make good on their first trip to the postseason in nine years, they must overcome a pair of aces at the height of their powers, Kershaw in Game 1 and Zack Greinke in Game 2 on Saturday night. By early November, the Dodgers' dynamic duo could have a combined five Cy Young Awards.
Both have overshadowed the Mets' own fireballing foursome of deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. But the NLDS could shift that perception.
"This is how you become household names, is you have success in the postseason," Mets captain David Wright said. "You look at what they've done all year and you prove that you're that type of guy, that's how you become a household name. They certainly have the stuff, they certainly have the makeup, all the tools to do it."
In the days leading up to Game 1 of the NLDS, the Mets have been bombarded by questions about contending with Kershaw and Greinke. And for good reason.
The 25 players projected to be on the Mets' playoff roster have a grand total of two extra-base hits against Kershaw, who posted a 2.13 ERA with a league-best 301 strikeouts in 2322/3 innings.
Kershaw, 27, is only one year older than Harvey, 26, but the lefty's big-league experience (242 regular-season starts) dwarfs that of all four potential Mets starters combined (147). But manager Terry Collins said the disparity in experience shouldn't be confused with ability.
The Dodgers' rotation ranked second in the NL in ERA (3.24), but the Mets finished close behind in fourth (3.44).
"We have good pitching, too," Collins said. "It's just that these guys have stuff to back it up, years to back it up, with what they've done."
Of course, the Mets' young arms could go a long way toward establishing their credentials by taming the Dodgers, who led the National League in home runs with 187, 10 more than the third-place Mets. The first in line is deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA), a choice that would allow him to pitch in Game 4 on short rest if needed.
"In our pitching staff, any of the guys can take on Game 1," deGrom said. "And when they told me I had Game 1, I was really honored. I want to be able to go two games in this series. I was honored with that."
DeGrom already got a taste of the national spotlight at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati. The righthander delivered perhaps the most dominant performance of the Midsummer Classic, needing only 10 pitches to strike out the side in his lone inning.
"For a good chunk of the season, he was right in there with the Cy Young talk," Wright said, "so I think it's only fitting that he take the mound for us. I think we have a ridiculous amount of confidence in Jacob deGrom."
In a way, deGrom has been the standard-bearer for the Mets' pitching staff all season long. He started on Opening Day and found himself lined up to pitch in the most critical series of the season.
Now he finds himself at the center of the spotlight again, with a chance to personify why the Mets have staked their future on their group of explosive young arms.
"They just need the stage," Wright said. "And I think that they have that stage now, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if these guys become household names shortly."