Mets – Giants Quick Preview

The Mets begin a four-game series in San Francisco tonight at 10:15 PM EST. Here’s the rundown …
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Game One: John Maine (3-2, 4.54 ERA) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (1-3, 4.78 ERA)This is the matchup of borderline enigmas. Both Maine and Sanchez have shown the ability to make batters swing and miss, and seem to have the stuff of a #2 starter. But, both have also had trouble staying consistent enough to realize that potential. Sanchez’s main issue is walks — he’s given 22 free passes in 26 innings thus far.

Game Two: Livan Hernandez (3-1, 5.08 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (3-1, 3.25 ERA)
These pitchers have identical won-loss records, but their paths to success are strikingly different. As good as Lincecum was last year, you wouldn’t have known it from his performance against the Mets — he gave up nine hits, two of them homers, in his six-inning start against them last year. Edgar Renteria, Bengie Molina, Aaron Rowand, and Rich Aurilia have all handled Livan well in their careers against him, but Hernandez has been able to keep Randy Winn at .244 lifetime.

Game Three: Johan Santana (4-2, 0.78 ERA) vs. Randy Johnson (3-3, 5.89 ERA)
A marquee matchup of Cy Young vs. Cy Old. Santana is pitching about as well as he ever has in his career, while Johnson is reminding people of Steve Carlton’s last years in the bigs. Though Johnson is striking out more than a batter an inning (39 Ks in 36 IP), he’s also allowing a hit per inning — and 10 are homeruns. But if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that having the best pitcher in the universe on the mound means little when you’re the New York Mets. Of note: Bengie Molina is 11-for-25 with 2 HRs in his career against Johan; Johnson is two wins shy of 300.

Game Four: Mike Pelfrey (4-0, 4.89 ERA ) vs. Matt Cain (3-1, 3.00 ERA)

From the standpoint of a baseball fan, I’ve been liking the matchups Pelfrey has been drawing — they appear to be potential pitching duels. As a Mets fan, I’d rather he be pitted against, say, Osiris Matos. Cain has shown flashes of brilliance in his first few years in the bigs, sporting a thundering fastball with the ability to dominate hitters. But at 24 years old and with three full MLB seasons under his belt, Cain is at a point where Pelfrey was last year — time to turn a corner and begin realizing his potential. He’s been impressive thus far, pitching at least six innings in each of his starts and posting a nice ERA. The statheads are worried that his strikeout rate has dropped and he’s throwing less fastballs, but so far the changes have resulted in positive performance. Pelfrey continues to look better and stronger with each start, and getting enough quick groundball outs to keep his pitch counts low. Note: David Wright and Jose Reyes are a combined 15-for-29 against Cain.

Closing Thoughts

With identical 18-15 records, the Mets and Giants meet in what could be a litmus test for both teams. San Francisco has shown strong pitching but paltry offense, while the Mets have been more or less the opposite. Despite the Mets’ inconsistency in the starting rotation (after Santana) and recent bullpen woes, they stand second in the NL in ERA at 3.95. The Giants’ 4.13 is not far off and good enough for fifth in the league, and I think it’s fair to say that, across the board, the arms for each club are comparable. Offensively, it’s no contest — the Giants are one of the worst-hitting teams in MLB, while the Mets are second in the NL in batting average and third in OPS. However, all that hitting has scored 165 runs — which is only seventh-best in the NL.

Bottom line: if it’s agreed that the teams are equal from the mound, then, on paper, the Mets should be able to at least split this series in San Francisco. What will actually happen … well, that’s what the games are for.

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.