Series Preview: Mets vs. Tigers
The Mets roll into the Motor City still reeling from a three-game sweep handed to them by the rival Phillies and two losses in three games to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite losing four in a row and six of their last ten, the Mets still sit atop the National League East, with a comfortable three and a half game lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves. They run into a Tigers team that has won their last two games, and are two and a half behind the AL-Central-leading Cleveland Indians. After a storybook 2006, the Tigers have struggled with injuries this season, particularly ones that have decimated their previously strong pitching staff.
Here is how the series looks for the two teams.
Game One: Jorge Sosa (5-1) vs. Chad Durbin (5-1)
Intriguing matchup, in that neither pitcher was expected to make the team out of spring training, yet both have made the most out of their opportunity to steal a spot in their respective rotations. Sosa has been an epiphany for the Mets, pitching into the sixth inning in all but one of his 6 starts after starting the year in AAA. Durbin, who made the 25-man roster by the skin of his teeth, has an identical 5-1 record — but has started five more games. Durbin hasn’t gone as deep into games as Sosa, getting through the sixth only 3 times in 11 tries.
How the Mets fare against Durbin depends on his command of a sinker that reaches the high 80s. If he keeps it low, he should induce a number of ground ball outs. If it rides up in the zone, the Mets may treat him like a batting practice pitcher, as his other weapons are average at best. His 5-1 record is more due to being the beneficiary of strong offensive support than spectacular pitching.
Game 2: Oliver Perez (6-4) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (5-0)
This is the feature game of the weekend, in that the starting hurlers are perhaps the most talented on their respective teams. Perez has actually pitched better than his 6-4 mark, as he pitched seven strong innings in at least two starts that would have been wins if the Mets offense had provided average output. Bonderman has been equally impressive, routinely going deep into games. Despite strong performances, he did not get a decision in his first five starts of the season, and might have had at least 3-4 more wins if given the necessary support.
Bonderman, by the way, is the guy we all hope Mike Pelfrey will evolve into someday: lots of sinking, mid-90s fastballs complemented by a hard slider and an occasional offspeed pitch.
Though both dominating worhorses, Perez and Bonderman have contrasting styles — Perez is a flyball pitcher while Bonderman relies on grounders. Either can rack up 10 strikeouts or more if their stuff is on, and both are capable of pitching a shutout. It could very well be an exciting pitcher’s duel.
Game 3: Tom Glavine (5-3) vs. Andrew Miller (1-0)
Glavine has done very well all year, but too often has pitched just well enough to lose — or walk away with a no-decision. He’s pitched at least six innings in every one of his starts this year, and coming off three straight starts that should have been wins. If the Mets would hit when he’s on the mound, Glavine might well be on his way to an NL All-Star Game start — his 5-3 record could easily be 10-1. One would assume that his slow stuff is ideal for the vast expanses of Comerica Park — look how it helped Kenny Rogers last year — though it is currently 8th in Park Factor favoring hitters and 9th in MLB as far as homeruns being hit.
Miller has pitched in only one Major League game this year, a strong six-inning win against the Cardinals on May 18th. He was the Tigers’ first-round pick (6th overall) in the 2006 draft after a dominating career at UNC that culminated in being named the College Player of the Year by Baseball America. He’s a 6’6″ lefty with a fastball that finds the mid-90s and a nasty slider that eludes swinging bats. He’s pitching in place of Nate Robertson, who is on the DL with a “tired arm”.
Despite a three-in-a-row homerun anamoly in last night’s ballgame, the Mets bats are still asleep. Take that sudden surge of mistake pitches out of the game, and the Mets’ offensive output has been anemic, with no power, no clutch hitting, no situational hitting, and no ability to reach base. In fact, they can’t even get bunts down when called upon. Now they’re going to face three pitchers they’ve never seen before (Bonderman faced an entirely different team in 2004), so the Wandy Rodriguez Phenomena is in effect. Hopefully the returns of Jose Valentin and Shawn Green (on Sunday?) will help kickstart the slumping bats.
The Mets are running into a suddenly hot-hitting Tiger team, with Pudge Rodriguez, Omar Infante, Curtis Granderson, Gary Sheffield, and Placido Polanco all streaking. Oh, and Magglio Ordonez is on a planet of his own, batting .467 over the last seven games and leading all of MLB with a .368 average. With Ordonez a man on fire protecting a finally-performing Sheffield, the middle of their order looks menacing. Not to mention there is Sean Casey later in the lineup to hit his annoying flares and bloop singles all over the place. Look for Casey and Polanco to constantly be on base via the weakest hits you’ve seen since Rod Carew retired.
The Mets aren’t hitting, and are facing at least two pitchers with dominant stuff. While I truly believe Sosa, Ollie, and Glavine can match the Tigers moundsmen pitch-for-pitch, that may not be enough to take this series. Unless the Mets suddenly remember how to manufacture runs, or the once-reliable bullpen returns to form, it could be a long weekend for us fans.
Still, I’ll be an optimist and guess that Jorge gives us another great game tonight, while the Mets beat up on Durbin to win the opener. And I’ll go on a limb and guess that the Mets find a way to win one of the other two games, behind solid starting pitching and a freak three-run homer.