Series Preview: Mets vs. Dodgers Redux
Tough week for the Mets, having to face the two best teams in the National League back to back. However, they’re finally showing some “Mettle”, and based on the comments from the players themselves, understand that they need to play their best to beat the Dodgers. That’s good, because the Mets did not play their best for about two and a half months of the season. Willie Randolph has turned off cruise control, and will be putting the pedal to the metal from this point forward.
Game One: Tom Glavine vs. Derek Lowe
Glavine goes for career win #299 in a pitcher’s park that is suited to his style. Strangely, his career ERA in Dodger Stadium is 4.09, with opponents hitting .294 against him. History shouldn’t make a difference, however, as Glavine has been in a groove lately and should continue his vintage pitching in Los Angeles.
Despite his 8-8 record, Derek Lowe is having an excellent year, sporting a 3.05 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He’s been pitching in tough luck this season — for example, he pitched a complete game and gave up only one run and four hits against the Blue Jays but lost 1-0. Though unspectacular, Lowe has been a consistent and effective innings-eater — he’s pitched less than six innings only twice since April 24th. He relies on a hard sinker and getting ahead of hitters, pitching to contact. He won his only regular-season start against the Mets, in 2006, but did walk four batters in six innings. That’s really the only way to get to him — to combine a few walks with ground balls that find holes — as he’s allowed only eight homeruns in 133 innings so far this year. However, he doesn’t walk too many batters, so it will take extreme discipline and small-ball execution to push runs home
Game Two: Oliver Perez vs. Brett Tomko
The Mets are getting a gimme here, and had better take advantage. Perez is coming off a fairly good start against Cincinnati, but looked a little rusty — which was to be expected, in his first game off the DL and first since June 26th. I’d like to see him with more consistent mechanics in this start, which should lead to better command at the bottom half of the strike zone.
Brett Tomko has had a rough year for the Dodgers, going 2-7 with an ERA near six. Normally, I’d be concerned, as the Mets have been making mediocre pitchers look great this year. However, I think they really turned a corner in the San Diego series, and feel good about them teeing off on Tomko. He’s been pitching in relief for most of the season, and only pressed into starting duty because of injuries to Hong Chih-Kuo, Randy Wolf, and Jason Schmidt. He pitched well in his last start, a win against the Giants, but only went 5 innings and threw 77 pitches because he doesn’t yet have the endurance to go further. Tomko is a guy with potentially good stuff — very similar, in fact to Lowe’s: hard sinker, good fastball, average changeup. However, he can easily lose his command, and is lacking in mental toughness. That said, it makes sense to wait him out, because if he loses the strike zone he’ll also lose his competitive edge. The Mets MUST play their newfound game of patience and deep counts, force him to throw strikes, and get him out of the game by the fifth — or sooner.
Game Three: Jorge Sosa vs. Brad Penny
Sosa pitched well enough to win in his outing against the Padres — his first since June 30th. However, he was pasted by the Dodgers on June 13, giving up eight hits and six runs in five and two-thirds innings. Strangely, he gave up 13 ground balls and only 4 flyballs in that game, when he’s usually more of a fly ball pitcher. That game also preceded a similarly poor performance against Minnesota six days later, so perhaps Sosa was simply in a funk at the time. He’ll need to be at his best facing Penny.
Brad Penny has been the most dominating starter in the NL thus far — more dominating than NL All-Star starter Jake Peavy, even — going 11-1 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and allowing only three homeruns in 124 innings. He allowed only one run in seven innings against the Mets in his last start, though he did give up seven hits. Despite his dominance, he still is a head case, and could lose his focus at the drop of a hat. The Mets will need to find a way to get him out of his game, mentally, in order to beat him. He did have a meltdown as recently as July 5th, against the Braves, giving up 4 walks, 9 hits, and 6 runs in 4 innings. Another thing to note: last year, Penny was having a similarly strong season, posting a 2.92 ERA and 10-2 record at the All-Star break. After the break, however, he went 6-7 with a 6.25 ERA. So far, he has a 5.73 ERA in July. Maybe his second-half breakdown is about to begin.
Game Four: Orlando Hernandez vs. Mark Hendrickson
El Duque could not have pitched a better game in his last start — he was absolutely stellar, shutting out the Padres on only two hits and two walks in seven innings. Hopefully, he won’t need to be that good to beat the Dodgers — but we won’t mind if he is.
Mark Hendrickson, like Tomko, has been pressed into the rotation because of injuries to other starters. He’s also having endurance problems, and was walloped by the Phillies in his last start to the tune of 11 hits and 7 runs in 3 innings — and this was in Los Angeles, not in Citizens Bank Park. This is another gimme that the Mets MUST take from the Dodgers.
For a period in June, it took the Mets a week to collect 8 walks — but they reached that figure in one game against the best pitching team in MLB on Tuesday night. Willie Randolph will never admit it, but that feat might never had happened without the recent shakeup involving the departure of Rick Down. Maybe it wasn’t Down’s fault that the Mets were so inept, but they clearly got the message: it’s time to approach at-bats intelligently, with a plan.
However, the Mets still aren’t hitting the way they can. Carlos Beltran is starting to show signs of coming out of his slump, but nowhere near where he was a year ago. Similarly, Carlos Delgado is out of his slump — batting .375 in July — and has hit 8 homeruns in his last 160 at-bats, or once every 20 ABs. That would project to about 30 HRs in 600 ABs — about what you’d expect from him at this stage in his career. Jose Reyes, on the other hand, has cooled considerably, and needs to get back into the groove after going 0-for-9 in the last two games.
Jose Valentin has taken the patient hitting approach to heart, and is getting a number of deep counts. He swinging at some questionable 3-1 pitches, but at least he has the right idea. On the other hand, Shawn Green needs to start hitting — immediately — if he wants to maintain his role as a starting player. Marlon Anderson should be an enormous improvement over the recently departed Julio Franco in a pinch-hitting role, and we can only hope that Willie plays Ramon Castro at least once in this series.
The Dodgers made a significant change to their starting lineup, moving Nomar Garciaparra to third base and inserting James Loney as the regular first baseman. They’ve also added Matt Kemp to the outfield rotation. Kemp is batting .526 in his last seven games and Loney .363, so suffice to say, the change has been for the good. In addition, Juan Pierre suddenly remembered how to hit — he’s at .367 over the same span. Russell Martin is also on fire — batting .458 over the last week — and has 17 stolen bases. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Jeff Kent, and Nomar are all red-hot as well … heck, the entire Dodger lineup is hitting lately. As a result of the injuries to key starting pitchers, they’ve re-made their team from one depending on pitching to one that hits like hell and hopes the bullpen can keep the game close long enough to get Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito in to finish out a victory.
This is a different Dodger team from the one the Mets faced in June, but due to the pitching injuries, may be more vulnerable. Though their hitting has been hot, the Mets’ starters have pitched very well, and good pitching usually beats good hitting. To come out of LA with at least a split, the Mets will have to continue what they started to build in San Diego — good, patient at-bats, focused play, and 100% effort from start to finish. This series will be a good barometer of how the Mets play out the remainder of the season.