Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves III
Is this a “make or break” series? Probably not, unless the Braves get swept, which ain’t gonna happen (sorry folks) with the likes of John Smoltz and Tim Hudson taking the hill at Shea in the next three days. Any other result of the series has little impact on the standings — relatively speaking.
For example, if the Mets get swept, that puts the Braves 1 1/2 games behind the Mets. Yeah, a heckuva lot closer than four and a half, but still in second. If the Braves take two out of three, that puts them 3 1/2 back — only one game better than where they are currently. If the Mets take two of three, they lose one game, sending them 5 1/2 behind — a comfortable cushion from the Mets’ point of view, but not an insurmountable distance with a month and a half of baseball left. Now if they get swept, sending them 7 1/2 back — well, that’s a lot of ground to cover, particularly since these two teams will go head-to-head only six more times after this week.
All that said, I’d merely like to see the Mets avoid a sweep at home. Yes, it sounds negative, or defeatist, but with the way Hudson has been pitching lately, and the way Smoltz always seems to find a way to beat the Mets, I don’t want to get too greedy with my expectations. Looking at the soft schedule the Mets have after this week through the end of the year, it’s hard to put too much importance on this series. They have 25 games left against the Nationals, Marlins, Reds, and Pirates — the teams they are supposed to beat. The Mets should win between 15 and 18 of those 25, and if they do that, they shouldn’t have to worry too much about the Braves (or the Phillies), because they only have 20 games against the “better” teams.
Anyway, here’s the quick rundown on the series.
Game One: Oliver Perez vs Buddy Carlyle
Ollie is coming off two straight poor starts — though he won one of them. In his bad games, the issue is often a matter of focus, and in keeping his emotions in check. So far this year, he’s 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA against the Braves, and the Mets need him to throw a fourth gem against them tonight. With Atlanta’s two studs pitching games two and three, it is of ultimate importance that Ollie pitches well and the Mets beat Buddy Carlyle.
Carlyle, though fairly unknown, is a decent pitcher. In a dozen starts, he’s 6-3 with a 4.20 ERA, walking only 16 batters in 70 innings. He pitches to contact, but has only allowed 10 homeruns — or one every 7 innings, which, from a fifth starter really isn’t all that bad. In his most recent start he only threw five innings due to a hyperextended elbow, which apparently won’t keep him out of this game. The Mets have never faced him before, so he has that going for him. He doesn’t throw hard, or have a nasty breaking ball — he merely throws strikes, changes speeds, and keeps his team in the game.
Game Two: Orlando Hernandez vs. John Smoltz
El Duque has pitched some marvelous games this year, and at least a few times has risen to the challenge of facing the opposing team’s ace. Let’s hope he does the same in this game.
Smoltz is, well, John Smoltz: the guy who seems to thoroughly enjoy beating the Mets. He’s having another fine season, sporting an ERA just a shade above three, but looked mortal in his last start — allowing 9 hits and 7 runs (5 earned) in 6 2/3 innings. The Mets battered him back in April, but he shut them out for seven innings in his second start against them. Hopefully the Mets “new” approach of patience will force him to throw more pitches than usual.
Game Three: John Maine vs. Tim Hudson
Maine gets moved up a day due to the off-day on Monday and the fact he threw only 61 pitches in his Saturday start in Wrigley. Obviously, the Mets could use a bounce-back start from him, as opposing pitcher Hudson could be a tough customer.
In three of his last five starts, Hudson threw seven shutout innings. In one of the other two starts, he completed 7 and gave up only one run. In the other start, he pitched into two-thirds of the ninth and gave up three runs. Suffice to say, he is having the pitcher’s equivalent to a hot streak — he’s been lights out. Further, in his one start against the Mets this year, he threw eight shutout innings. So you can understand why I’ll be happy if the Mets get out of this series with one win.
Even though the Braves obtained Octavio Dotel, the Mets still have the advantage at the end of the game — meaning the 8th and 9th. The Bob Wickman, Rafael Soriano, Dotel mixture cannot compete with the duo of Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. However, if the games are decided in the sixth and seventh innings, neither team has a distinct advantage — both have received inconsistent support from their least-valuable arms. If anything, it could be bad for the Mets if Willie Randolph is forced to use Heilman earlier than the eighth.
The bats are waking up, just in time for some of the best starting pitching they’ll see all year. Lastings Milledge has made Carlos Beltran’s absence a non-issue, and it looks like Moises Alou is at the beginning of a hot streak. Carlos Delgado and David Wright are also on a roll, and Jose Reyes is back to his old self. The Mets will need all hands on deck in this series, and of utmost importance is to 1. be patient, and 2. build on the idea of manufacturing runs, as they did in the Cubs series.
Yes, the Braves now have Mark Teixeira. More importantly, they still have Met-killer and Shea-lover Chipper Jones. Andruw Jones is hitting only about .210, but has also slugged 20 homers, so he’s still dangerous. Kelly Johnson seems to have learned something from Chipper when it comes to Met killing, and a recent hot streak has pushed his average above .300. Jeff Francoeur has also been red-hot, and also now above .300. Edgar Renteria is on the DL, thankfully, but singles-hitting Yunel Escobar has been spraying base hits in his place. Brian McCann has slipped quite a bit, though, and is down under .270 after a hot first half. Now that they don’t have automatic outs such as Scott Thorman and Craig Wilson manning first base, the Braves have a tough lineup from top to bottom.
As mentioned earlier, let’s be happy with one win, and let’s get it tonight against Buddy Carlyle. It will be very tough to take two out of three, but not impossible. The key is keeping the Braves from scoring more than 3-4 runs, and doing everything right on offense — i.e., stealing bases, getting bunts down, executing hit and runs, making productive outs, etc. The Braves are not a team against whom you can afford to be sloppy, miss signs, get thrown out taking extra bases, etc. The Braves play good, fundamental baseball, and to beat them, the Mets have to play a similarly sound game.