Series Preview: Mets vs. Nationals

Washington Nationals baseball logoNow it’s getting down to the nitty gritty, and the schedule makers were kind to the New York Mets. After all, the Mets — who go into their last seven games 2 1/2 games up — have the benefit of finishing the season in Flushing, with 6 of those 7 against the two weakest teams in the NL East. However, there is one problem: the games have to be played, and there’s no guarantee that the first-place team will dominate the last-place teams. We can cite every statistic, analyze every matchup, and come up with all kinds of odds, predictions, and permutations, but none of it means anything. All the numbers go out the window, because the bottom line is, the games will be played on a baseball field — not a 2007 Strat-O-Maticboard — and the team with more runs at the end of each is granted the victory.

In order to guarantee at minimum a tie in the NL East, the Mets must win 4 of these last 7. If they do, and the Phillies win all six of their final games, Philadelphia and New York will finish in a tie. Of course, we’re counting on the Phillies to lose at least one or two of their final six; if they go 4-2, for example, then the Mets can finish 3-4 and still win the East outright. Enough for now … there are too many different combinations and numbers make me angry. Let’s focus on the three-game series with the Nats and get on with the pitching matchups.

Game 1: Mike Pelfrey vs. Matt Chico

Pelfrey appears to have turned a corner, and though he’s far from realizing his much-hyped potential, he has at least evolved into a guy who can keep the team in the ballgame over 5-6 innings. After losing his first seven decisions and getting demoted to AAA, it looked as though 2007 might be a “lost” season for the big righthander. However, he has won his last three starts — including his last against the Nats on September 19th — and is brimming with confidence.

Meanwhile, the Mets have seen Matt Chico three times and therefore the Wandy Rodriguez Effect no longer applies. If Chico sticks to his M.O. — poor command of mediocre soft stuff, often left up in the zone — then the Mets’ offense should provide plenty of support for Pelfrey. Let’s hope all goes according to plan.

Game 2: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Bergmann

Tommy has pitched very well down the stretch, and though his most recent start was less than stellar, the previous four were excellent. He’s also manhandled the Nationals, allowing only two runs in 13 innings against them.

Bergmann, on the other hand, has been troubled by elbow issues all season, struggling to a 5-5 record despite a 1.19 WHIP. However, he appears to be healthy again, as he has pitched through the sixth inning in all of his last five starts and most recently pitched a very strong game against the hot-hitting Phillies. The Neptune, NJ native and Rutgers alum pitched only once against the Mets, tossing seven innings of two-hit ball — but lost the game 1-0. His low-90s fastball has a lot of movement, and is complemented by a sharp slider — a combination that can be deadly (think: John Maine on a good day). The over-aggressive Mets lineup will have to focus on letting the ball get deep, taking the slider as it falls out of the strike zone, and going the other way if they hope to hit him. Otherwise, if Bergmann’s on, we’ll see lot of wild swings and misses from the Mets.

Game 3: Philip Humber vs. Shawn Hill

A week ago, Philip Humber was too much of a “baby” to start a game for the Mets. After all, Willie Randolph was “trying to win games” at the time — why else would one start Brian “Cy Young” Lawrence instead of Humber against the Nats in the heat of a pennant race?

With Lawrence and his 6.83 ERA long gone, Humber finally gets his first MLB start. What he’ll do is anyone’s guess. He had a fairly decent AAA season in a hitter’s league, and finished strong. However, he hasn’t made a start since August 27th and he’s pitched a grand total of three innings since. So even if does have the ability to pitch at this level, who knows if he’ll be sharp?

Against him will be Shawn Hill, the poor man’s Brandon Webb and a guy who has pitched well against the Mets in two tries, allowing only four runs in 14 innings. If Hill throws 90 pitches, 88 of them will be sinkers. Let’s hope that he either has a bad day, or that the Mets batters have seen enough of him already to have figured him out. For some reason the Wandy Rodriguez Effect doesn’t apply to the opposition, so we can’t count on Humber beating the Nats solely on unfamiliarity.

Bottom Line

The Mets have to take two out of three, at minimum. Whether they do so remains to be seen. I don’t like the idea that the Nats are throwing their two best starters in this series while the Mets are countering with their two worst, but what can you do. Nationals manager Manny Acta has already shown that he’s taking the role of spoiler very seriously, and will approach each of these games like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. Hopefully, Pelfrey and Glavine can take the first two games (or the Phillies can lose one) and remove the pressure from Humber in the finale. Regardless, the Mets will need a big game from the big Texan — he of four innings of MLB experience. Let’s root for Humber to rustle a win from those Nats.

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.