Braves 3 Mets 2
In 2006, it took three months for the Mets to lose a three-game series. This year, a very different story — perhaps indicative of the fact that 2007 will be no cakewalk for the Mets.
Though Aaron Heilman was officially charged with the loss, the Mets really lost the game in the first inning.
Jose Reyes led off the game with a walk, was balked to second, and made it to third base on a ground ball by Jose Valentin. With one out, Reyes on third, and the two Carloses due up, the Mets should have been up one-zip by the time El Duque took the mound in the bottom of the initial frame. Instead, both Beltran and Delgado failed in their job as RBI men and stranded Reyes on third.
Then leadoff batter Kelly Johnson jumped on the first pitch by Orlando Hernandez and put it into the right-field stands to put the Braves up 1-0.
Yes, it’s true that the Mets came back to take the lead via back-to-back solo homers by Shawn Green and Ramon Castro, but if not for those two blasts, the Mets would have been shut out. Their inability to move runners beyond second base — much less drive them in — was main reason for their loss to the Braves. Two innings ended with Reyes standing on third — and that’s too many times for one game. With the way teams shift their defense for Carlos Delgado, it’s mind-boggling to NOT see Reyes attempt a steal of home. With the third baseman playing in the shortstop position, he would get at least a 25-foot lead — which should be plenty of head start distance to beat the pitch to the plate.
Speaking of Delgado, he is having a terrible time getting his bat started so far. He seems behind on all pitches, evidenced by the high number of pitches he’s foul-tipping. Without his big bat in the middle of the lineup, and David Wright still struggling, the Mets are going to have trouble scoring runs.
By the way, is it me or does Moises Alou either swing at, or check swing on, every pitch?
Green’s solo blast was his first of the year, and he’s so far doing a fine job filling the seventh spot in the order. He seems to be on one of his hot streaks, as he’s seeing pitches well (better than the home plate umpires, in fact), and laying off the breaking pitches he was waving at during August and September of last year. He’ll need to stay hot and drive in runs while Delgado fights out of his slump.
While it was incredibly disappointing to see the Mets lose their first series against the Braves, I’m not terribly concerned. First, the Braves’ bullpen still looks pretty damn shaky — Mike Gonzalez in particular looks nothing like the dominating force he was with the Pirates last year — and second, their defense and fundamentals are not as solid as in previous years. Finally, if the Mets’ starters continue to pitch as well as they have — and remain healthy — our Flushing heroes should win at least 92-95 games and separate themselves from the rest of the division. Whatever happens, 2007 promises to be a much closer, and more exciting season than last year.
On Monday the Mets face the Phillies in their home opener. The Phils’ have so far fulfilled their preseason prediction that they were the team to beat — everybody’s beating them. John Maine takes his turn to beat the Phillies at 1:10 pm. Second-year phenom Cole Hamels starts for the Phils.