How to Beat Smoltz
Yes, it’s early in the season, and the Mets will face the Braves a dozen more times before the season is over. However, the Mets do not want to lose a series at home to their arch rival from Atlanta.
Unfortunately, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. After losing on Friday to Tim Hudson, the Mets needed to win back-to-back afternoon games against Chuck James and John Smoltz. Oliver Perez came up big and the bats turned James into ground Chuck. However, they’ll have their hands full against the always tough Smoltz.
To beat Smoltz, Tom Glavine must pitch a gem of a game. He cannot allow more than two runs, because it’s doubtful Smoltz will allow more than three. In fact, the Mets will be lucky to score three times against him. Smoltz isn’t perfect, but he’s often pretty darn close.
The Mets have a good strategy of wearing pitchers out — taking pitches, getting into deep counts, and forcing the opposing bullpen arms into games earlier rather than later. However, that approach is difficult against Smoltz because he throws so many strikes. Like Hudson, Smoltz gets ahead of hitters, and stays ahead — batters don’t fare well being behind on the count against him. He throws a lot of nasty forkballs and running fastballs on the edges of the plate, causing defensive swings. On occasion, he’ll make a mistake — he is human, after all — but rarely does he make one with runners on base.
The key, then, is to take advantage of the opportunities given, and to manufacture runs — early in the game, preferably in the first inning. As always, the Mets’ hopes begin with Jose Reyes. Reyes must find a way to get on base and begin wreaking havoc. Mr. Perfect has a quick delivery to home, so Paul LoDuca may need to drop a good bunt to advance Jose. Carlos Beltran must remain red-hot and continue driving in runs and getting on base. Carlos Delgado is hopefully out of his slump, but I’d really like to see him drop another bunt down third base if the Braves continue that ridiculous shift — because the Mets should take any “gimme” available with Smoltz on the mound. Further, I’d like to see Reyes steal home with Delgado batting and the shift on — as Jose will be able to take a 30-foot lead. Of course, neither of these incidents are likely to occur, as Delgado has a .378 career average against Smoltz.
Speaking of, the Mets have a few secret weapons in the lineup. Did you know, for example, that Reyes, Delgado, LoDuca, David Wright, Jose Valentin, Damion Easley, and Ramon Castro all have a career batting average of over .300 against Smoltz? And how about this: Shawn Green, in 21 at-bats against Smoltz, has 10 hits for a .476 clip? So Smoltz does have a few vulnerabilities.
He does, however, own Moises Alou, who has hit only .190 in 42 career at-bats. That might mean a start for Endy Chavez — though Chavez is only 1-12 lifetime against him.
Smoltz was his vintage self against the Mets in their last meeting, and was tough against the Phillies as well. However, he struggled a bit against a weak Washington Nationals lineup in his last start on April 17th (interestingly, his only loss of the season came five days before that, also against the Nationals). From what we saw of the Nats, they were a young, dumb, aggressive lineup. With that in mind, maybe the way to get to Smoltz is the same way the Mets trounced Dontrelle Willis: sit on first-pitch fastballs, swing aggressively, and keep on swinging. Smoltz won’t walk many, and you won’t wear him out, so maybe the best idea is to take your hacks and hope something good happens.
Easier said than done … but not outside the realm of possibility. Let’s hope Glavine does his part, the lumber stays hot, and the Mets pull out a victory