Series Preview: Mets vs. Astros

Houston Astros baseball old logoMy apologies for taking so long to get this posted. Between the 17-7 bashing last night and one too many glasses of wine … well, the motivation is a hard time coming.

So the Mets wander into Houston for a four-game set, still in need of a sure-handed receiver, a quaterback who can convert third-and-longs, and a reliable field goal kicker.

Oh wait … wrong sport … these recent scores have me a bit confused …

It’s baseball we’re talking, and the Mets face the Astros — a team that is having a hard time staying above water in the putrid NL Central. The Astros’ starting pitching, bullpen, hitting, and fielding have all been inconsistent and disappointing this year, and the roster has been hit hard by injuries to key players. All of which means absolutely nothing to the New York Mets.

If you recall, Colorado had lost nine of its last ten, was putting retreads such as Josh Fogg on the mound, and had a closer who had blown his last four saves. In other words, it was a team laying on the ground with barely breath left, just waiting for the All-Star break to remove them from their misery. So naturally, these next-to-dead Rockies made the mighty Mets look like a little league team, and didn’t have to move mountains to do it.

So we move on to Minute Maid Park, not knowing which Mets team might show up. Here are the specifics:

Pitching Matchups:

Game One: John Maine vs. Jason Jennings
This could be the most interesting matchup of the series. Maine has been excellent this year, but Jennings just as good since returning from an elbow injury. Considering that the Mets have trouble with sinkerballers such as Jennings, Maine will need to bring his A-game to the mound at Minute Maid.

Most of the Mets have limited experience versus Jennings; those with the most at-bats against him are Shawn Green (44 ABs / .272) and Paul LoDuca (25 ABs / .400) — the rest of the active players have less than 10.

Of course, the most devastating weapon Jennings has is not his sinker, but his bat. If the ‘stros are smart, they’ll bat him third.

Game Two: Mike Pelfrey vs. Wandy Rodriguez

If you look at the boxscore in Mike Pelfrey’s last start, he had an encouraging outing. Anyone who watched past the second inning, though, knows differently. It may be another game where we are sitting at the edge of our seats, fingers crossed, willing young Mike’s pitches to find the strike zone. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many 3-2 counts from a pitcher since … oh, nevermind … yesterday.

If you’re a regular reader of MetsToday, then you know all about the Wandy Rodriguez Effect. It will be interesting to see how the actual Wandy Rodriguez will do two years after establishing the phenomena. For those that don’t remember, Wandy is a little lefty who throws junk, and barely gets his fastball in the high-80s. Hmm … how have the Mets fared against this style of pitcher? Yeah, it ain’t looking good.

Maybe Pelfrey will finally pitch the no-hitter everyone’s been waiting for, and make it a moot point.

Game Three: Tom Glavine vs. Woody Williams

Our old geezer against their old geezer.

Though Tommy was not terrific in inning three of his last start, he was remarkably effective in the other five. Let’s pretend it was all about the thin air and altitude and give us some hope in Houston.

However, the Mets will have to hit, and there is a significant element of concern. MetsGeek’s outstanding preview of the pitchers in this series says this about Williams:

he has mediocre control, an inability to strike anyone out, a propensity for giving up the homerun, and no endurance. In short, he might be the worst pitcher in the National League.

If that’s not enough to get you nervous about this game, then I don’t know what will. We’ve all seen how the Mets handle the worst pitchers in the NL — Adam Eaton, Josh Fogg, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Davies, Jose Mesa, Hong-Chih Kuo — so there’s no reason to believe they’ll be able to bat with any effectiveness against a guy this bad. I almost wish the Astros still had Pettitte or Clemens on the team to pitch this game.

Game Four: ? vs. Roy Oswalt

Which is the bigger question:

1. Who will start for the Mets?
2. Will it matter?

Oswalt, despite the subpar (for him) numbers, is still one of the best three starting pitchers in the NL, and capable of throwing a four-hit shutout at any moment. The Mets will likely delude themselves into thinking they need to be aggressive against him, not recalling how that approach worked with Johan Santana.

Of course, there is the possibility that Oswalt has an off-day, the wild-swinging bunch from Flushing rips off hit after hit. However, there is still the matter of the Mets stopping the Astros from scoring — and no one knows whose responsibility that will be. Dave Williams, coming off a few so-so string of rehab starts in AAA? Phillip Humber, who looked like a deer in headlights in spring training? Aaron Sele?

Mets Bats

David Wright was the Mets offense yesterday, but no one else not named Gotay has done anything special lately. Carlos Delgado looks to be slowly eeking out of his season-long slump, as he’s 9 for his last 27 with two homers and a couple doubles. Carlos Beltran was hot in Philly, but was cooled by the mountain air (orwas it a Silver Bullet?). Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca have been tailing off over the last week or so, probably dog tired from playing every single day. Luckily, Paul will get some well-deserved days off thanks to a two-game suspension and the All-Star break, but Reyes will not. Damion Easley is 5 for his last 16, so we’ll probably see his sad face in the lineup more often than necessary. Shawn Green has been awful of late — he really needs to get hot if the Mets are to do anything with the next four games.

Astros Bats

Write down the name Hunter Pence now. Unless you’re a fantasy baseball owner, you probably haven’t heard of him yet. You’ll know him well by the end of this series. He’s a rookie centerfielder hitting nearly .350 with 11 dingers and a .600 slugging percentage. The Astros also have Carlos Lee this year, and he’s doing his usual damage — hitting near .300 with 16 homers. The Killer B’s — Biggio and Berkman — are having off-years but both have heated up recently )great timing). Berkman is batting .321 over his last 7 games and Biggio is at .480 over the same span. Morgan Ensberg is near the Mendoza Line but you won’t see him starting as long as Mike Lamb continues to pound the ball at a .305 clip. Automatic out Adam Everett is on the DL,
but Mark Loretta is batting .326 in his place. And then there’s Jennings, who’s in a bit of a slump this year but could come out at any time. This is by no means an offense to be taken lightly — even if they’re wearing Astros uniforms.

Bottom Line

Hard to say what might happen in these next four games. If it were April, I’d feel OK with the pitching matchups (except for game four), but it being July and just getting trampled by a team that was a breath away from tanking the season, I’m concerned. We can’t count on the Braves and Phillies to continue losing (or can we?), and there’s a very real possibility the Mets find themselves sharing first place — or being out of it — by the All-Star game. Hopefully the Mets will come to their senses, step it up, and play like “the best team in the National League”.

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.