Series Preview: Mets vs. Padres
The Mets travel to the West for a one-week swing on the Left Coast before returning home on July 24. They open today against the San Diego Padres before moving on to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in what could be their most difficult week of the month.
Though they’re currently one game behind the Dodgers in the standings, the Padres are regarded by many to be the best team in the National League. That’s right, Mets fans — pull your head out of the sand. The Padres, on paper, have superior pitching, comparable defense, and an offense that is awful but good enough to win behind the first two components. And as we know, great pitching usually beats good hitting (unless you are the 1974 Mets).
Game One: Jorge Sosa vs. David Wells
We have no idea how Sosa will respond after tweaking his hamstring two weeks ago. If he’s completely healthy, the vast expanse of Petco Park should help his cause.
David Wells is having a down year, and he showed his frustrations to the world in an animated tirade against an umpire a week ago. He walks more people than he used to, but that won’t affect the Mets’ walkless offense. He may, however, have some trouble getting the ball all the way to the catcher if he throws too many of those 82-MPH fastballs at the letters. His curveball is still pretty sharp, though, and his changeup remains one of the better ones in the NL. Unless Rickey Henderson has had an instant impact, it’s likely the Mets batters will swing early on his pitches — and either knock him out by the fourth, or make him look like its 1995 again.
Game Two: Orlando Hernandez vs. Jake Peavy
El Duque will be greatly helped by the size of Petco and the punchless Padre lineup. However, he might have to pitch a shutout to win this game.
That’s because Jake Peavy will be on the hill in the top half of innings, and he’s in the middle of what may turn out to be the best season of his career. If the Mets can’t score more than one run off Matt Belisle, you think they’re gonna reach Peavy? Let’s just hope he doesn’t spin a no-hitter and whatever we can muster after that, will be a pleasant surprise. (My prediction: El Duque collects the Mets only two hits.)
Game Three: John Maine vs. Greg Maddux
Maine got roughed up in his last start but will rebound against the Padres. He’ll have to — he’s the stopper and there’s a good chance he’ll be following a loss.
Maddux has always been a thorn in the Mets’ side, and continues to annoy all of us with his sh*t-eating grin. Like his former teammate Tom Glavine, much of his success depends on how much of the plate the umpire gives him. But, again, that won’t mean much against the free-swinging Mets. There is one bit of optimism: the Mets pounded him last year to the tune of a 7.36 ERA. However, that 2006 lineup pounded a lot of pitchers — this 2007 version is disgraceful imposter.
Other than the recent spark provided by Lastings Milledge, the Mets lineup isn’t exactly exciting anyone yet in the first half. Yes, they just took three out of four from the Reds, but Cincinnati is a dying team in last place and the Mets won by the skin of their teeth in two of the games — both against pedestrian pitchers. In fact, in their three wins, they scored a total of only 10 runs — facing two starters with more than ten losses, and all with ERAs around five.
Milledge is hitting well enough — and the rest of the lineup poorly enough — that he may move up a few spots in the order. However he’s doing well in the #8 spot, so who knows — maybe it’s a good thing to have some firepower at the bottom.
Shawn Green is starting to get some good swings on the ball, and Carlos Delgado seems to be out of his season-long slump. Jose Reyes is doing his thing at the top of the order, but there is a gaping void in the number three spot. It’s time for Carlos Beltran to start hitting already.
Ah, the chink in San Diego’s armor. The Padres are last in MLB in hitting (tied with the Chicago White Sox), with a batting average (.243) resembling those aforementioned ’74 Mets. Veteran outfielder Brian Giles is a shell of his former self (huh, his stats have plummeted ever since steroid testing began), his brother Marcus is batting .240, the NL has caught up to Adrian Gonzalez (.262), and Jose Cruz Jr. was their starting leftfielder until very recently. How strong can an offense be when Mike Cameron is second on the team in batting average?
Still, San Diego does have its offensive threats. Young shortstop Khalil Greene is only batting .240, but when he’s hot he hits homeruns in bunches (BTW, he hit one on Saturday). Newly acquired Milton Bradley is hitting .313 this year, and as usual has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Rookie Kevin Kouzmanoff was hitting .108 as of the first week of May but since has hit .308 (48-for-156) with 12 doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs — he’s also sent two over the fence in this young second half. Though Brian Giles’ production and power is down, he’s still a professional hitter who will get key hits, and Gonzalez could be coming out of his slump.
The more you look at the Padres, the more they really do resemble a mid-1970s Mets team, though with a much deeper bullpen. If the Mets couldn’t find their strokes against the bush leaguers the Reds threw at them, it’s hard to believe they’ll start hitting against the best pitching in all of MLB (the Padres lead the rest of the Majors in ERA by over half a run). What makes things more difficult is that Petco Park is one of the hardest places to hit a homerun, and the Mets have relied on the long ball all year for their scoring. Someone will need to wake up Carlos Beltran, and the team will need to suddenly remember how to manufacture runs if they’re going to take a game or two in this series.