Series Preview: Mets vs. Diamondbacks

Mets offense like a 69 Chevy NovaIn the last two series, the Mets played teams they are supposed to beat handily. Instead, they struggled mightily, losing two of three to the Marlins and nearly losing two of three from the Nationals. The offense is sputtering like a ’68 Chevy Nova with vapor lock, the bullpen is clearly not the dominating force it was a year ago, and there is a hole in the #2 spot in the rotation.

Clearly, 2007 is a different season from 2006.

However, it was a grueling West Coast trip in late May of last year that defined the New York Mets as stalwarts in the National League, so perhaps this first jaunt westward can ignite the sparkplugs and get their engine running.

The Diamondbacks’ Situation

The D’Backs are 16-10 so far this year, in second place in the competitive NL West and one and half games behind the Dodgers. They lost their last two games to Los Angeles, most recently a walkoff heartbreaker on Wednesday night, courtesy of a pinch-hit single by Olmedo Saenz. One thing to note is that Arizona has been near the top of the standings despite being without starting pitchers Randy Johnson and Micah Owings for most of April.

Their offense has been struggling, but the team has received outstanding starting pitching performances from Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis — all of whom have sparkling ERAs and routinely pitching into the seventh inning. The bullpen has been anchored by closer Jose Valverde, who is showing no signs of the volatility that caused him to lose his job to Jorge Julio last year. He is 10-for-11 in save chances, with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings. However, he has walked six and allowed 11 hits, so there haven’t been too many 1-2-3 innings.

The Pitching Matchups

Game one: Tom Glavine vs. Micah Owings

Tom Glavine will try for the third time to get career win #294, after pitching well enough to earn it in his last two starts.

Owings is making his first start since going on the DL in mid-April due to a hamstring injury. Since he is a rookie that the Mets have never seen before, it’s possible that the Wandy Rodriguez Effect could come into play, though Owings is luckily a righthander. Hopefully for the Mets, he’ll be rusty due to the layoff. Additionally, there is a chance that the D’Backs won’t push him because of the injury, and so the Mets may get into the Arizona bullpen earlier rather than later.

Game two: John Maine vs. Randy Johnson

John Maine is coming off three brilliant starts and goes to the mound sporting a 1.35 ERA. How much longer will he keep this up? Only time will tell.

Randy Johnson, on the other hand, has had two difficult starts — his first two since offseason back surgery. Reports are that his velocity is OK, but is not quite 100% yet. He may not have the stamina to get beyond the fifth or sixth inning.

Game three: ??? vs. Brandon Webb
Reportedly, Chan Ho Park is penciled in to start against Webb, and he is still on the 25-man roster. That said, we can pretty much assume this game has been handed to Arizona.

Game four: Mike Pelfrey vs. Livan Hernandez

Livan Hernandez has been his usual self — mixing up speeds, going deep into games, and giving his team a chance to win. However, he has been walking more batters than normal — 25 already in 38 innings. Though it’s next to impossible to wear out this workhorse, the Mets might be smart to be patient at the plate and earn free passes.

After a difficult first inning in his last start, Pelfrey fought back to finally show some of the skills that earned his promotion to the Major League roster after a strong spring training. Hopefully, he can build on that experience and progress against the D’Backs. If nothing else, Pelfrey would be wise to watch his rival, Livan Hernandez — who can teach him a few things about backing off on the fastball and keeping batters off-balance. Actually, Pelfrey could learn a lot from watching Webb the night before his start as well. One would think that the sinkerballing Webb would be an ideal example for Pelfrey to follow.

Visit MetsGeek for a more detailed report on the Arizona pitchers.

D’Backs Bats

Orlando Hudson has reached base in all 29 games this year, and is batting .351. However, he is the one bright spot thus far, as the D’Backs have been hit with nagging injuries and offensive slumps similar to the Mets’. Other than Hudson, the only other Diamondbacks batting over .250 are Eric Byrnes (.286) and Chad Tracy (.292), who missed the last two games due to a strained ribcage and is day to day.

First baseman Conor Jackson hit .217 for the month of April, and is currently nursing a stitched-up thumb and a sore hamstring.

Shortstop Stephen Drew, who has also been dealing with a sore hamstring as well as a sore groin, struck out eight times and went 1-for-13 in the series against the Dodgers. He is now hitting .240 with a team-high 19 strikeouts.

Mets Bats

Where are they? On paper, this is the most powerful offense in the National League, and some say strong enough to compete in the AL. Off paper — on the field — the key hits aren’t coming, particularly from the middle of the order. David Wright seems to have broken out of his slump, and Carlos Delgado is showing signs of breaking out of his (though, Willie Randolph will not describe Delgado’s .196 batting average as a “slump” — just what the heck IS it then, Willie?).

Jose Reyes has been outstanding, getting on base at a .431 clip, but not scoring as often as he should. Carlos Beltran has been really hot at times, and is batting .349. Moises Alou started off hot, but now that April is over his batting average has slipped. Shawn Green has a 10-game hitting streak and is hitting around .440 over that span. All these numbers mean nothing, though, as the Mets continue to mount rallies when a.) there are two outs; or b.) the pitcher is coming to the plate. To beat the D’backs’ strong starting pitchers, they will have to start driving in runners on third base with less than two out, get things started early in innings, and improve their overall situational hitting techniques.

Otherwise, it could be a long four games for New York Mets fans.

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.