Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves Finito
If you told me at the beginning of the season that this final series with the Braves would be arriving a week after the Mets swept the Braves in Atlanta, and up 8 1/2 games over our perennial nemesis, I might not have believed you.
Had you told me this would be the situation after the Braves acquired Mark Teixeira and Octavio Dotel without affecting their starting lineup, I’d think you were playing me the fool.
But here we are, in mid-September, and the Mets are indeed a mile ahead of Atlanta. The Braves’ bullpen is a disaster, they still haven’t found a fifth starter, and Larry Jones is crying about the strike zone. Boo hoo.
It would be nice to see the Mets continue rolling through the Braves, and have momentum for the phinal Phillies series that starts at the end of the week. But it won’t be easy.
The Braves are sending their two aces to the mound — Tim Hudson and John Smoltz — in the games sandwiching a start by Buddy Carlyle, who beat the Mets a month ago. Meantime, the Mets have Ollie Perez and John Maine starting the first and final games against the aces — and both youngsters have been somewhere between adequate and awful in the second half. Let’s take a look at how the series shapes up, game by game.
Game 1: Oliver Perez vs. Tim Hudson
The Mets have won four of Ollie’s last five starts, but that’s been in spite of Perez rather than because of him. He did mix in a beauty — seven innings of shutout ball against the Dodgers on August 24th — but otherwise he has had tremendous struggles, particularly after the first inning of the game. The two most noticeable differences in Ollie’s second half (compared to the first) are 1.) his refusal — or inability — to keep his mechanics and arm angle consistent and 2.) an inability to keep his composure and focus when bad things happen. The first issue can be fixed by Rick Peterson and perhaps a swift kick in the kiester. The second is something he’s struggled with on and off throughout his career, and is tied to his confidence level. When Perez is rolling, he’s nearly unhittable. However, if a broken-bat hit follows an error, he feels the world falling down on him.
Which Ollie will show up on Monday? Who knows, but with Hudson on the hill for the Braves, it would be nice if the “good” Perez would appear.
Hudson, who can look like Sandy Koufax for stretches, is the pitching version of a streaky player. Currently, he’s on a cold streak, having given up 14 earned runs in his last three starts — two of which lasted only five innings. The Mets roped him for four runs on six hits and two homers on the last day of August, and he was pilfered by the Phillies for five runs on 11 hits in five innings five days ago. I’d like to see Marlon Anderson get a start in rightfield against him, as he’s hitting .385 against him — and of the other two outfielders, Moises Alou is batting .429 against Hudson and Carlos Beltran has rapped him at a .354 clip.
Game 2: Orlando Hernandez vs. Buddy Carlyle
Normally we’d look at this game and say this is the “gimme” — the one the Mets should win hands-down. But we thought that the last time Carlyle faced the Mets, since he had a .500 record and Braves killer Ollie Perez on the mound against him. As it turned out, Caryle allowed only three runs, the Braves bullpen held the Mets hitless, and Perez had a 6-run meltdown.
More importantly than a win in this game is the health of El Duque, who left his last game in Philadelphia after three terrible innings with a sore right foot and skipped a start. He had a cortisone shot on September 1st and may or may not be able to start on Tuesday. Is it so important for him to make the start? Might they consider resting him another day and moving Maine up (it’s Maine’s day to pitch anyway)? Maybe they’ll skip him altogether, and give him another shot against the Phils — or maybe that’s exactly what they don’t want, after the drubbing he received at CBP. Time will tell.
Game 3: John Maine vs. John Smoltz
The smell of this matchup is bordering on rancid. Smoltz — forever a thorn in the Mets’ side — has pitched well against the Mets this year, sporting a 2-1 record and 3.66 ERA in five starts. However, the Mets have hit him to the tune of .316, as his slider seems to flatten in the face of the orange and blue. Still, he’s John Smoltz, and he’s therefore going to be tough for 6-7 innings.
Against him is John Maine, whose ERA since August 1 is an even 7.00 — and he’s facing the third-best offense in the NL (the two above them are the Phils and Rockies, who benefit from hitters’ parks). Not to mention his 5.11 ERA against the Bravos this season. His last start was his worst of the season, as he couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. Maybe the extra day of rest will help him somehow. Maybe this is the start where he begins to reverse the trend, and begin pitching well again — a nice finish and good roll going into the postseason. Or perhaps this is another bad game, and we’ll have to wonder if he’ll ever find his way back.
A sweep is not necessary, and neither is winning the series. In fact, in these last two series against the Braves and Phillies, all I’m hoping for is one win in each. The Phillies play the Rockies for a four-game set beginning today, and I doubt very highly they’ll sweep them. That said, if the Mets can take one of these next three, then one against the Phillies over the weekend, neither team will gain appreciable ground with two weeks left in the season — and the Mets play 13 of their last 14 games against the Marlins and Nationals. Suffice to say, I might start to feel a little confident if the Mets are up by at least 5 with 14 to play — though I’ll still be guarding against a colossal collapse.
Almost as important as seeing wins, we need to see the following:
- Jose Reyes to start hitting
- Orlando Hernandez healthy
- Oliver Perez to pitch with consistent mechanics again
- John Maine pitch like we know he can
If we can see all of the above, and squeak out at least one win, the series — in my eyes — is a success.