Series Preview: Mets vs. Nationals

Washington Nationals baseball logoThe Nationals are one game out of last place, and at 66-83 have no hope of finishing .500 for the season. The Mets are sitting atop the NL East, with a 77-57 record against teams not from Philadelphia. The last time the Mets lost a series to the Phils, they went on a rampage, winning five straight and 9 out of 10. It would be nice to see a similar rebound with 14 games left to play.

However, there are some strange goings-on. For example, Brian Lawrence is starting the opener for reasons unknown. Guillermo Mota is still being called into crucial situations, such as to hold onto tie ballgames. Shawn Green is the regular first baseman, batting .324 for the month, and suddenly a stolen base threat. Aaron Sele is still hogging a roster spot. And there’s a little lefty on the team who can’t seem to get his name spelled correctly on his uniform back.

Let’s take it game by game.

Game 1: Brian Lawrence vs. Tim Redding

This is a battle for the ages, the winner of which shall be crowned king of mediocrity. Redding, of course, as the edge, partly because he held the Mets to only one run on five hits in six innings the last time he faced them, and mostly because the New York hitters routinely fail against the worst starting pitchers in the National League. And then there’s Redding’s crazy beard, which reportedly hides nail files and petroleum jelly.

Lawrence again goes to the mound to prove that he is indeed a four-inning pitcher, capable of allowing three baserunners per inning but somehow squeaking out of it by allowing only one run. The reason Lawrence is starting is not because El Duque is injured so much as the Mets are giving Pedro Martinez a full five days off between starts — and apparently the other starters were jealous of this arrangement. Also, Willie Randolph has not been informed that the kid wearing #49 is a pretty bright prospect — one, in fact, that might vie for a starting rotation spot in 2008. Why give Phil Humber a few starts in meaningless September games when you know you can get four and a third nail-biting innings from Brian Lawrence?

Game 2: John Maine vs. Joel Hanrahan

At this point, John Maine is pitching for a spot in the postseason starting rotation, and could go one up on Oliver Perez after witnessing his teammate’s debacle on Sunday. The Nats send Joel Hanrahan to the hill, he of the near-six ERA and WHIP a shade under two. However, the reason those numbers aren’t over 6 and 2 is due to his first MLB start against the Mets — a six-inning, four-hit, seven-strikeout performance. Hanrahan had pedestrian stuff in that July 28th game, and has an ERA of just about TEN in his last four starts. That said, we may see the Mets no-hit for the first time this year.

Game 3: Mike Pelfrey vs. Matt Chico

Pelfrey is the scheduled starter, as the Mets cannot allow 40-year-old Tom Glavine to throw on only four days’ rest. There has been some talk of using Pelfrey out of the bullpen — perhaps because the Mets are desperately in search of anyone who can get outs from innings six through eight — but if Pelfrey is a candidate that will have to wait another week. Hey, there’s plenty of time before the playoffs to find out if Pelf’s sinker-slider combo will be viable in 7th-inning situations.

Despite a 5-8 record, Chico won’t get discouraged, as the Mets, they ain’t so hard to understand. And if he tries now, the Nationals are convinced that Chico can lend a helping hand … because there’s good in everyone, and a new day has begun — you can see the morning sun if you try. Oh, sorry … every time I see Matt Chico’s name I can’t help but think of Freddie Prinze Sr. and Jack Albertson. Lookin’ good!

Matt Chico is a battler, if nothing else, and can beat you if you let him. Or you can wait for him to beat himself. He’s a little lefty with a Napoleon complex who relies heavily on pinpoint control and changing speeds. Unfortunately for him, he rarely exhibits pinpoint control. If he were on the Mets, he’d be in New Orleans with the name “Vargas” stitched on his back. But who knows, if given the chance, the 24-year-old might one day turn out to be something. After all, Jamie Moyer flat-out stunk until age 33.

Bottom Line

The Mets will tell you they are not worried about the Phillies, they need to take care of their business, blah blah blah … but the fact is, they’re a scant 3 1/2 ahead with 14 games to play. In other words, anything can happen. Personally, I don’t believe the Mets are going to blow first place any more than the Phillies are going to go 10-3 the rest of the way. But, these next 14 games are the ones that the Mets are supposed to, and must, win. If the offense continues their non-Phillies dominance of the past few weeks, and the pitchers can refrain from walking a dozen batters a game, the NL East should be nearly wrapped up by this time next week.

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.