Quick Preview: Mets vs. Rays

tampabayraysThe Mets host the Tampa Bay Rays for a weekend series in Flushing. For those wondering, no, the DH will NOT be used.

Midnight has struck since the 2008 World Series, and the Rays’ ride to the postseason turned into a pumpkin. Several of the team’s hitters are slumping, their young pitchers have taken a step back, and they find themselves in fourth place in the AL East, six games behind the leaders. Still, though, they have a winning record (35-33), and a roster chock full of talent. This will be no walk in the park for the Mets.

Game 1: Fernando Nieve (1-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (5-6, 6.65 ERA)

Nieve is coming off a brilliant start in the Bronx vs. the Yankees, so the best we can hope is a repeat performance. Nieve does have the same advantage of unknown quantity against the Rays hitters that he held against the Yanks. If he throws strikes, he has a good chance to win — particularly in the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field.

Sonnanstine had a surprising year in 2008 but thus far has fallen back to Earth and pitching the way the scouts expect him to. He’s not overpowering by any stretch of the imagination, but he allows very few free passes, throws tons of strikes, and has a quirky delivery that keeps batters off-balance. His bugaboo is the long ball, which will likely be neutralized at Citi Field against the powerless Mets. This contest could be a low-scoring affair.

Game Two: Johan Santana (8-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. James Shields (5-5, 3.52 ERA)

Wow, is Johan’s ERA really over three? It wasn’t long ago that it was barely above 1.00. Hopefully, Santana and Dan Warthen worked out the mechanical issue that was cutting his velocity and command. We’ll find out for sure on Saturday. Shields is a front-of-the-rotation starter who could be described as a righthanded Santana, as he relies heavily on a nasty changeup and a low-90s fastball. This should be a classic matchup of highly skilled competitors.

Game 3: Mike Pelfrey (5-2, 4.56 ERA)vs. Jeff Niemann (6-4, 4.21 ERA)

Niemann has been touted for greatness since being drafted in the first round out of Rice in 2004 (where he was teammates with Philip Humber), but a major shoulder injury derailed his career. At 6’9″, 280 lbs., he is a monster, and has the stuff to go with the body. However, he barely made the 25-man roster out of spring training, and is still figuring out how to retire big-league hitters. Pelfrey is coming off a fairly good start that David Wright felt could be a little better. I think this game will be a rubber match, and feel it will be fairly even based on the starters. I’d like Big Pelf and Niemann to stand on the mound together and have an umpire toss a baseball up between them, to see which one would win the tipoff.

Final Thoughts

Interesting note: in 10 games and through 24 batters, LOOGY Randy Choate has allowed one hit.

The pitching matchups are fairly even, and the bullpens are similarly skilled. So, these games could come down to the offense that makes the best use of their tools in application to expansive Citi Field. On the one hand, the Rays rely heavily on the long ball — Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria all have double-digit homerun totals — but they also have some athletically gifted speedsters such as Carl Crawford (37 steals) and B.J. Upton (25 SB), and the .376-hitting Jason Bartlett has just returned from the DL.

It could be a long weekend.

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.