Series Preview: Mets vs. Reds
In September 2006, the Cincinnati Reds were making a legitimate run for the NL Central title, and finished the season in third place, just three and a half games behind the NL-champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Fast forward to the All-Star Break 2007, and the once-rising Reds are sitting in the cellar of the NL Central, 13 games out of first place. What was once a promising season has evolved into a lost one, and Cincinnati is on the brink of a fire sale at the trading deadline. One would guess that the struggling Mets are facing the Reds at the right time, and in the right place.
As always, the most complete scouting reports on the Cincinnati Reds pitchers can be found at MetsGeek.
Game One: Orlando Hernandez vs. Bronson Arroyo
El Duque was hit hard and had poor command in his last start in Colorado, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the thin air. After all, the lack of humidity at that altitude more or less eliminates the sharpness of the curveball — his bread and butter. A return to Shea and weeks’ worth of rest should do Duque right.
Arroyo was a sensation upon his return to the NL last year, but has not come close to the success the second time around the league. He’s been hit hard, and there are questions that he was overworked last year (he logged 240 innings). However, he’s strung together three straight strong starts, and is coming into Shea on a high note. He gave the Mets fits last year, and will try to ride that confidence toward a successful outing.
Game Two: John Maine vs. Matt Belisle
Maine finished the first half on a high note, pitching perhaps his strongest and most inspired outing. Some of it may have been driven by his being snubbed for the All-Star squad, and we can only hope he’s still mad going in to the second-half. An angry John Maine is one tough customer.
Matt Belisle is relatively unknown to the Mets, which immediately sends up a red flag (pardon the pun) and invokes the Wandy Rodriguez Effect. A converted reliever, he’s a fastball-curveball guy who has trouble against lefthanded batters. Lately, he’s had a lot of trouble with walks and homeruns, and hopefully that trend will continue against the Mets.
Game Three: Tom Glavine vs. Aaron Harang
Tommy’s coming off a strong outing against Houston, but will be facing a more powerful Cincinnati lineup in this start. He’s had bouts with his command this year, as well as the long ball, and that’s not a good combination against the likes of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and rookie phenom Josh Hamilton. Glavine will have to take advantage of the free-swinging nature of this club and the expanse of Shea’s outfield to pitch deep into the game.
Unless Arroyo rediscovers his magic against the Mets, we’ll guess that Aaron Harang will be the toughest pitcher the Mets face this weekend. At 6’7″ and 275 pounds, he’s an imposing presence on the mound, and mixes a heavy fastball with a nasty slider, average changeup, and slow curve. He’s 9-2 this year, and somehow didn’t get one Cy Young vote last year despite tying for the NL lead in wins.
Game Four: Oliver Perez vs. Kyle Lohse
Perez is coming off the 15-day DL for what was termed back stiffness. However he made a successful rehab start on July 10th and is expected to be at full strength. Despite his svelte ERA, stingy WHIP, and excellent strikeout rate, Ollie is more or less a .500 pitcher — mainly because his mechanics and stuff are still either “on” or “off” from game to game. It’s time he took the bull by the horns and stepped up his rate of consistency — no better time than his first start of the second half.
Lohse has been an enigma since posting a 14-11 record in 2003 with the Twins, at times looking like an ace while other times a AAAA pitcher. His best pitch is a sharp-breaking overhand curve, and he can get his fastball into the low 90s. When he’s on, he can be outstanding — simply take a look at his last two starts before the break (two runs allowed in 16 innings). In addition, he can be a workhorse, so if he’s rolling don’t expect him to leave the game — he has two complete games this year including a shutout. In essence, he is the lefthanded version of Oliver Perez, circa 2006. His kryponite, though, is lefthanded batters, so the lefty-heavy lineup of the Mets could cause him some problems — particularly if his curve is not sharp.
The lineup appeared to be coming out of its month-long slump right before the break, so we’ll see what carries over. We certainly hope that Carlos Delgado can continue to build on his fine finish to the first half.
Though there hasn’t been any official word on who the Mets’ batting coach will be now that Rick Down has been let go, we’re going to assume that both Howard Johnson and Rickey Henderson will have a strong influence on the bats. We can only hope that the Mets hitters listen to (and can decipher) the pearls of wisdom flowing from Rickey, perhaps the greatest on-base guy in the history of the game. The Mets’ biggest issues at the plate this year are directly related to overaggressiveness, an inability to decipher the strike zone, and the discipline to wait for one’s pitch. In contrast, those were all of Rickey’s strengths as a player. Though it’s doubtful we’ll see any sweeping changes in the Mets’ offense right away, maybe we’ll see some of the building blocks of Rickey’s philosophy start to appear before this series is over.
As a team, Cincinnati has struck out 640 times (over 100 of those are Dunn’s), trailing only Florida and San Diego for most in the NL. They are a free-swinging bunch to say the least, and Dunn is hardly the only longball threat. There’s this guy named Griffey who’s gone a yard more than a few times in his career, and Josh Hamilton has opened eyes with his Mickey Mantle impression thus far. Not to be forgotten are Brandon Phillips’ 17 homers, the 14 clouted by catcher David Ross, or the 13 by shortstop Alex Gonzalez. That makes six guys in the starting lineup with homerun totals in the double-digits, with Scott Hatteberg just a few away from joining the group, and the enigmatic Edwin Encarnacion always a threat to go deep.
However, the tater totals are a function of the cozy confines of Great American Ball Park — they’ve hit 80 homers in Cincinnati, and only 48 on the road. That said, we can hope that the deep alleys of Shea will keep some of those flyballs from finding the seats.
How this four-game series plays out could be indicative of where the Mets find themselves come October. After all, this Cincinnati squad is downtrodden, its hopes for the postseason completely dashed. In other words, it’s a team that the Mets should, and need to, beat — that is, if they’re interested in remaining at the top of the NL East. A split is a minimum requirement, but three out of four is the goal.