Quick Preview: Mets vs. Pirates

We did a fairly thorough preview and “inside look” on the Pirates about three weeks ago, and not much has changed with the two teams since. So, we’ll do a fairly quick rundown on the series.

Game One: Orlando Hernandez vs. Ian Snell

While we spent most of the first half trying to decide whether John Maine or Oliver Perez was the Mets’ stopper, El Duque has quietly become the Mets one bonafide ace. Yes, he’s only 7-4, but he missed significant time; had he been healthy, he might have at least 10 wins right now. More importantly, El Duque continues to rise to the occasion, coming up with great performances — often against the opposition’s ace pitcher. All that said, he’ll likely fall flat on his face tonight in Pittsburgh.

Strikeout artist Ian Snell pitches for the Pirates. He has intriguing talent, but is wearing out his welcome in Pittsburgh with his mouth and fascination with the K. If he can show improved attitude and intelligence, the Mets might be interested in dealing for him over the winter (I could see a Snell and Ronny Paulino package) … but that’s for another time. Today, he has to face the Mets. He’s 0-5 since the All-Star break with a 7.31 ERA. If he can get his curve over the plate, he’ll give his team a good chance to win. If the deuce remains ineffective — as it’s been for over a month — the Mets will think the game is extended batting practice.

Game Two: Matt Morris vs. John Maine

I don’t like the smell of this game. First of all, Maine has a 6.46 ERA since July 5th. Secondly, Morris’ struggles have often been independent of his performance against the Mets. He stymied the Mets with a steady diet of curveballs, deuces, and uncle charlies in his one start against them (as a member of San Francisco). Expect to see more of the same, and hope some of them hang.

Game Three: Brian Lawrence vs. Tony Armas Jr.

Lawrence has actually been respectable in his two starts as a Met. Since he has yet to break 82 MPH, and throws a junky breaking pitch, I’m going to guess he learned some hoodoo while in n’awlins. On the other hand, Tony Armas can’t break 82 either, and doesn’t have the benefit of black magic. By all accounts, he should get blasted beyond recognition. But recent non-developments by the inconsistent Mets offense preclude me from making any brash predictions. I’m hoping that Lawrence can hold the Bucs to one run or less, and Jose Reyes can steal home twice.

Mets Bats

One day they score six runs in a game started by Tim Hudson, the next they can’t muster more than three in one started by Daniel Barone. One evening Moises Alou grounds into eleven double plays in only five at-bats, the next night he’s a homerun hero. Throughout the year, the Mets’ offense has been on a rollercoaster; it’s either feast or famine. Generally, if Jose Reyes gets on base, and/or balls carry out of the park, the Mets win. If Jose is no help, and homeruns don’t come, the Mets lose. So no sense going over who’s hot and who’s not anymore — it all comes down to what kind of game Reyes has, or whether the opposing pitcher is feeling homer happy.

Pirates Bats

Last time we did this, I mentioned how Jason Bay was having a terrible season. I think he went out and hit five homeruns during the series. So this time, let’s say, “look out for Jason Bay. he’s hotter than a two-dollar pistol” (strangely enough, Bay has done next to nothing since that series at Shea and one following in St. Louis). After Bay, things get tough for the Bucs. Ryan Doumit is likely out with a sprained wrist, and Xavier Nady has missed a few games with a tender hamstring. If both of those sluggers are out, the Pirates will rely heavily on Bay and Adam LaRoche, who is swinging a pretty good stick lately. Nate McClouth is also hot, hitting .360 in his last 7 games.

Bullpens

The Mets have three Fahrenheit 451-style firemen in Guillermo Mota, Pedro Feliciano, and Scott Schoeneweis. (If you didn’t read the book, you should.) Aaron Heilman has been hot lately, but still makes fans nervous. Willie Randolph will continue to throw Jorge Sosa out there until his arm falls off. Question is, why won’t Randolph consider using Aaron Sele more than once every two weeks? If his role is strictly mopup, then it’s time to replace him with someone with a bit more versatility. The Show can easily fit into the janitor role.

The Pirates ‘pen is not too bad, though not sure what they’re going to do with the third contest. Tony Armas is their guy to bring in for long relief when a guy like Tony Armas is starting the game. Maybe they’ll walk him out to the outfield fence in the middle of the third inning, and have him jog back in like he’s coming in to relieve. Salamon Torres was having a fine enough year to elicit interest at the trading deadline, but has since regressed to his mean — the Pirates should be kicking themselves for not unloading him while his value (Wily Mo Pena?) was peaking. Similarly, Shawn Chacon has imploded — another guy they’d been smart to dump. However, Matt Capps is coming into his own as a topflight closer, and Damaso Marte continues to be the best lefty reliever not in a pennant race (too bad the Mets couldn’t pry him away at the deadline).

Bottom Line

The Mets have played themselves into a pennant race. Unfortunately, that’s what you prefer to say about a team that’s been looking up at the leaders all season, rather than down on the followers. This is the soft spot in the schedule, and with a three-game series in Washington up next, the Mets must go at minimum 4-2, preferably 5-1, before going into the last difficult stretch of the season. Next week begins sets against the Padres, Dodgers, Phillies, and Braves. Is there any argument that they must take advantage of the cellar dwellers, if they wish to keep a hold on first place?

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.