Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves V

The Mets have lost five straight games, and in getting swept in Philly, have now turned a very comfortable first-place lead into a very tight, three-team race. Nice job, boys …

No time to cry over spilt milk, as the Mets move on to Atlanta for another spanking. Here’s how the weekend plays out:

Game 1: Tim Hudson (15-6, 3.23) vs. John Maine (13-8, 3.68)

The Mets are coming off perhaps their most gut-wrenching, spirit-depleting loss since the 2006 NLCS game seven — and their only effective relief pitcher, Billy Wagner, will be unavailable. To make matters worse, the Braves are sending Hudson to the mound, who besides being a Cy Young candidate has beaten the Mets twice this year, riding a 1.93 ERA. However, his season ERA has jumped .30 points in his last four starts. That means one of two things — either he’s starting wear down, and the Mets are facing him at a good time, or he’s due to pitch a lights-out game. Let’s hope for the former.

With the bullpen a complete disaster, and Wagner unavailable, Maine has to go out and pitch a nine-inning shutout. It’s a tall order, and likely an impossible task — after all, Maine hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning in a start since July 24th. Worse, he’s struggled with his pitch count in every one of his last six starts — usually nearing 100 before the fifth inning finishes. I’m not sure he’s capable of suddenly becoming Tom Seaver.

Game 2: Chuck James (9-9, 4.22) vs. Mike Pelfrey (0-7, 5.92) or Philip Humber (0-0, —)
If we have our doubts about game one, game two doesn’t offer much optimism. While it’s true that James has had his problems against the Mets this year, the idea of Pelfrey starting makes the matchup a wash. Pelf is already 0-7 this year, and struggled in AAA. In other words, it looks to be another contest decided by the middle relief — not good. If there’s a ray of hope, it is in the slight possibility that Philip Humber gets the start — but only because Humber is an unknown vs. Pelfrey being a known. Yes, I know Humber has pitched well recently in AAA, but a pitcher’s first MLB start is an absolute crapshoot — he may pitch lights-out, his nerves may jitter him out of the second inning, or he may pitch somewhere in between.

Game 3: John Smoltz (12-6, 3.06) vs. Tom Glavine (11-6, 4.15)

Give it up for Bobby Cox, who threw Smoltzie on three days’ rest earlier in the week so he’d be able to go against the Mets on Labor Day — with full rest, no less. By Monday, the Mets should have a recharged Wagner available for the ninth, and hopefully will have a few extra arms from the farm with the roster expanded. Poor Tommy — the victim of seriously hard luck lately — draws his buddy and future HOFer Smoltz again. The first two times these pals paired up, Tommy lost — heartbreaking losses, no less. If we draw on what’s happened in the last week, the prognosis for this third time isn’t so charming.

Bottom Line

Is it time to panic? No, of course not … after all, the Mets are still in first place, by two games. But, even a realist has to wonder how in the world the Mets are going to pull out ONE win — much less two — in Atlanta this weekend. The Braves are throwing their top three pitchers, two of whom have pitched very well against the Mets this year. Further, it appears that the Mets will have to rely heavily on an already decimated and ineffective bullpen. After seeing the Mets have their butts handed to them in four emotionally draining contests in Philly, the most optimistic view is that the Mets can somehow pull out one win, and still be in first place during their flight to Cincinnati.

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.