Browsing Archive May, 2007

Series Preview: Mets vs. Giants

Barry Zito responds after being asked how many runs the Mets will scoreComing off three wins in Arizona, the Mets find themselves in the same spot as before the Left Coast trip started: tied with the Braves for first place.

They now have a three game set against the San Francisco Giants before returning to Shea Stadium and games that end before the Dunkin Donuts guy heads out to make the doughnuts.


Game One: Oliver Perez vs. Barry Zito

As Mets fans, we walk on egg shells every time an Oliver Perez start approaches. Is he really the dominating guy of 2004, the one who threw 20 consecutive strikes against the Braves one fine Saturday afternoon at Shea? Is he the stopper that keeps the Mets out of losing streaks, such as his win over the Marlins that prevented a sweep? Or is he still prone to meltdowns, such as the seven-walk affair against the Phillies in Game Eight? What we do know, is that when he’s “on”, he’s awesome. When he’s not, there’s no in-between — he’s godawful.

Meantime, the “other” Barry on the Giants is not quite earning his paycheck just yet. He has a fine 3.52 ERA but only two wins against three losses. Not quite what you’d expect of someone with a nine-digit contract.

Barry Zito is a soft-tosser along the lines of Tom Glavine, except that he has one of the most devastating 12-6 overhand curveballs in the game. If the curve ain’t working, however, Zito can get into trouble in a hurry. Considering that the Mets batters — particularly Carlos Beltran — are put into fits by curveball artists, it could be a long night for the offense. Actually, it would be a pretty short night, now that I think of it.

One other caveat: though Zito is a longtime Major Leaguer, he’s never faced the Mets. Therefore, the Wandy Rodriguez Effect is in his favor.

Game Two: Tom Glavine vs. Matt Cain

Will Glavine ever get to career win #294? This will be try #5, and one would think the big 3-oh-oh is starting to become a unclimbable wall in his mind.

While Glavine works with his inner demons, the Mets batters will be facing one of the top young righthanders in the game in Matt Cain. Cain is the young version of Jason Schmidt — and in fact the reason Schmidt became expendable after the 2006 season. His hard sinker and sharp curve can be devastating at times, but as a youngster he can also beat himself at times. The Mets’ best approach would be one of patience, as he can fall into control lapses and pitch-limit himself out of the ballgame early.

Game Three: John Maine vs. Matt Morris

What can we say? John Maine is right now one of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball. Let’s hope he keeps it that way in the Frisco Bay.

Matt Morris is the guy that Matt Cain could evolve into if he doesn’t become the next Jason Schmidt: a guy with a lot of talent who falls too much in love with his curveball, tries to strike out too many hitters instead of pitching to contact, and ten years later has people shaking their heads saying, “what happened to this guy on his way to several Cy Young Awards?”.

At one time, Morris was a 22-game winner, and the ace of a staff that included Chris Carpenter. Today, he is a shell of his former self, but still picking around the plate and not challenging hitters with his sinking fastball. That said, it would be silly of the Mets hitters to be aggressive against him; given time, he’ll pitch himself out of the game.

For a much more detailed and insightful overview of the Giants’ starters, head over to MetsGeek.


Mets Hitters

Reading the above capsules, it’s obvious that the team hitting approach should be one of patience. All of the Giants starters in this series are prone to bouts of wildness, and will walk themselves out of ballgames. As always, everything starts with Jose Reyes — he sets the tone. If Reyes can show some patience in his first at-bat of the game, perhaps draw a walk, the rest of the lineup will likely follow suit, slowly wearing down the starter. Looking at the Giants’ bullpen, anchored by closer Armando Benitez, it doesn’t take a genius to buy into such an approach. The earlier the Mets can get into the San Francisco bullpen, the better their chances of winning a game.

Giants Hitter

Barry Bonds is back on HGH and performing at his unrealistic, Gameboy-like levels. The key to keeping Barroid from hurting the Mets is to throw strikes to the hitters ahead of him — none of which are serious threats. If Bonds comes to the plate with a base open, I’d much rather see a Met pitcher plunk him than waste energy on four balls. Naturally, the ball would not be able to penetrate the various shields of armor worn by the sissy slugger, but there’s a good chance he’d react in a fit of ‘roid rage and get himself tossed from the game.

On second thought, it’s probably better that the SNAC poster boy stays in the game — it’ll be much easier for the Mets to get base hits against only two outfielders.

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Ricky Ledee Next in Line

Ricky Ledee of the New Orleans ZephyrsHow did it ever come to this?

After the Mets made Moises Alou their first, and most significant, free agent signing, the next thing Omar Minaya did was make sure he had plenty of horses behind the fragile Alou. As good as Alou is, it would have been wishful thinking — or downright stupidity — to expect Moises to play in more than 100 – 125 games. It’s hard to get any 40-year-old to play more than that (though HGH might help), much less someone like Alou, who already has multiple ailments and gives his body a daily beating with his all-out play.

Knowing that, Minaya wasn’t going to count on just Lastings Milledge to be the fill-in. He made sure to have a backup plan (Ben Johnson), and a backup to the backup plan (David Newhan), and one more emergency backup (Damion Easley). And if that wasn’t enough, he made sure to sign Chip Ambres, who played about half a season with the Kansas City Royals as their starting centerfielder.

Even after all that planning, here it is in early May and it looks very possible that the next outfielder the Mets promote is Ricky Ledee.

Hopefully, it won’t come to that. Maybe all Moises needs to do is drain his right knee, get some kind of shot, and he’ll be good to go in a few days.

If not, however, and Alou needs to be placed on the DL, guess who’s most likely to join the Mets?

Ricky Luh – DEE.

That’s because Blastings Thrilledge — the first man in line — is out indefinitely with a foot injury, the second man in line, Ben Johnson, is on the DL since spraining his shoulder in mid-April, and top prospect Carlos Gomez isn’t quite ready for prime time. Which means that if an outfielder is to be brought up, it’s between Chip Ambres and Ricky Ledee. Ledee (.266) is batting six points higher than Ambres (.260), but that’s not why he’ll get the call. The real reason is Willie Randolph, who has some illogical trust and bond in the talentless journeyman.

Though he never panned out as the superstar, 5-tool player the Yankees hyped him as, Ricky Ledee must have done something in his 192-game career in the Bronx (6-for-10 in the ’98 World Series?), because it had a lasting impression on then-coach Willie Randolph. Ledee’s most productive season came as a 26-year-old, when he bounced from the Yankees to the Indians to the Rangers and batted .236 with 13 homeruns and 77 RBI in 467 at-bats. Since that year, he’s meandered around the National League as a fifth outfielder and pinch-hitter, producing a .246 career batting average. His main role with the bat is underwhelming; he’s hit .213 as a pinch-hitter over the last three years. Similarly, his glove is adequate at best in this stage of his career, and though once fleet of foot, is not much of an advantage on the bases (though he won’t necessarily clog them). Plainly put, the 33-year-old Ricky Ledee is an all-around, average to below-average player, offering no one particularly strong tool. In other words, he’s Karim Garcia minus the off-field problems with alcohol — or, another “good guy to have in the clubhouse”.

Luckily, if Alou does go on the DL and Ledee is promoted, chances are slim he’d do more than occasionally pinch-hit. Ruben Gotay looks strong enough defensively to allow Easley to platoon with Endy Chavez and/or David Newhan while Alou recovers. And who knows, maybe I’m way off base here. Perhaps the Mets are looking to promote the swift-running Ambres — to have as a pinch-running option — or maybe they’re thinking about bringing up Andy Tracy or Fernando Tatis to give David Wright an occasional breather at third base. With Endy, Newhan, and Easley around, it’s not a necessity to replace Alou on the roster with another outfielder.

Of course, the best thing would be for Moises to not go on the DL. Maybe he can stave off the pain until Thrilledge or Johnson are healed.

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Yanks Sign Clemens, Mets Sign Lawrence

Brian Lawrence pitching for the PadresNot to be outdone by the crosstown Yanks, the New York Mets made their own big splash on Sunday, signing righthanded pitcher Brian Lawrence.

It’s interesting, actually, that the Mets beat the Yankees to Lawrence, considering that the “other” New York team is currently counting on pitchers named Darrel Rasner, Jake DeSalvo, and Chase Wright to fill out their rotation. Perhaps they were too preoccupied with the signing of the forty-something, retired / unretired guy from Texas.

What’s significant about the Lawrence signing is that the Mets likely made some kind of promise to him in regard to pitching in the big leagues. Lawrence began the season on the DL, and when he was eligible to come off, was sent on a rehab assignment with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. His numbers were not good — he started three games, allowed 32 hits in 19 innings, suffering through an 8.69 ERA (batters stroked .376 against him). Of course, it was a rehab assignment, so maybe he wasn’t throwing his full repertoire of pitches. Nonetheless, with numbers like that, it was surprising that Lawrence forced the issue and asked the Rockies to either promote him to the Major League roster or let him go. Considering that he did corner the Rockies into making a decision, and that the Tigers offered him a minor-league contract, it would make sense that the Mets gave him something signficant to sign on. Is Mike Pelfrey bound for New Orleans, for example?

Originally, Lawrence was signed to fill out the back-end of the Colorado rotation, and he pitched well enough in spring training to earn a spot. However, the Rockies wanted to be cautious with the righthander, as he was coming off surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum. He was expected to join the team by May, but unfortunately for him, Josh Fogg (5.67 ERA) and Taylor Buchholz (8.04 ERA) proved to be diehard Jesus freaks, while Lawrence only attends church on Sundays. And faith is not something you can fake.

The big question is, do we care that Brian Lawrence is an option? Before the shoulder surgery that knocked out his 2006 season, he was an average pitcher who pitched a lot of innings, gave up a lot of hits, and won more than he lost only once in five big-league seasons (that one winning year was 15-14). Essentially, he’s a young Steve Trachsel, except that he hasn’t experienced anywhere near the success that Trax had (scary, isn’t it?).

I guess Lawrence is a better option than Chan Ho Park (or Jose Lima, for that matter), but what the Mets need is a bonafide, veteran relief pitcher — not another starter. Though, stockpiling starters is never a bad idea if you can get veterans to accept minor league assignments — especially after witnessing the epidemic the Yankees have suffered. Even if the Mets don’t find him useful, if he can put up decent numbers in AAA, they may be able to turn him over at the trade deadline. Remarkably, several teams expressed interest in the mediocre righty, including the Tigers, Orioles, Padres, and Mariners.

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Mets Game 30: Loss to Diamondbacks

Diamondbacks 3 Mets 1

It had to happen eventually — the Mets couldn’t win EVERY game in Arizona.

Mike Pelfrey pitched another mixed bag game. On the one hand, he kept the Mets in the game by allowing just two runs in 5 and one-third innings. On the other hand, the bookends of his start — the first and sixth innings — were shaky and glaring reminders of his immaturity.

Pelfrey’s first inning jitters returned, as he walked two batters and looked to be aiming the ball. It was getting painful to watch him throw ball after ball — it couldn’t have been much easier for big Mikey to endure. In the end, he gave up only one run, but the entire inning was a struggle.

In the sixth, Pelfrey hit Eric Byrnes to start the inning, and he allowed him to steal second base on a 3-0 pitch to Stephen Drew. No doubt the advance scouts are putting in their reports the fact that it is easy to steal on Pelfrey, and we’ll see more teams take advantage as the season wears on. Eventually, Drew bounced a ball to second base to move Byrnes to third, bringing Carlos Quentin to the plate. Pelfrey quickly got ahead of Quentin 0-2, seemingly setting him up for the slider. However, Ramon Castro called for an inside fastball, and Pelfrey hit Quentin in the hip. That was an opportune situation for Pelfrey to grow as a pitcher — by striking out Quentin. Instead, he went backward a step, and was removed from the game. No one said it was going to be easy for him.

Mike Pelfrey continues to struggle in the early innings, but improves as the game wears on. One has to wonder, does it mean he needs to extend his pregame warmup routine? Is it a mental issue? He looks lost and confused in the first two innings, then settles down and does a nice job of hitting spots with the sinker. Each inning seems to feed his confidence, making me think it’s more a mental thing than anything.

By the way, how awesome must it be to be a raw young pitcher like Pelfrey, returning to the dugout between innings to be schooled by future Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine? Not many other young pitchers have that kind of a resource at their disposal.

It’s too bad the Mets had their “Sunday afternoon” lineup in place for this game, as Pelfrey pitched well enough to earn his first win of the season. Unfortunately, he’s now 0-4, which can’t be much of a confidence booster — for a kid in dire need of confidence.

The only Mets run came on a single by Ramon Castro in the fourth. Otherwise, the bats were lackluster, other than two hits — including one double — by Endy Chavez.

Notes

Despite hitting an opposite-field homer in this series, David Wright is not yet out of his slump. He’s still swinging with an uppercut, causing him to get beat on pitches inside and popping balls up. Swinging with a lift turns Wright from a tough out into an ordinary hitter with vulnerable holes in his swing.

Shawn Green has done a great job of seeing the ball and getting himself into good counts all year, but in this game he looked really locked in. Earlier in the season, he looked like he was constantly thinking, trying to figure something out. But against Livan Hernandez, he had a look on his face that exuded extreme confidence: a man with a plan. If Wright continues to struggle, Willie may consider moving Green up in the lineup while he’s swinging a hot stick.

Something that may have gotten lost in the boxscore, but was a major disappointment, came in the top of the seventh inning. Down 3-1 with one out, pinch-hitter Damion Easley worked a walk. Jose Reyes then took a defensive swing at the first pitch, which was low and outside. The result was a weak foul fly ball that Eric Byrnes caught for the second out. Endy Chavez followed by swinging at the first pitch — once again, low and outside — and bounced weakly to first base. Why both Reyes and Chavez were swinging at the first pitch, down by two so late in the game, against Livan Hernandez — who might have been starting to tire — defies comprehension. Their over-aggressiveness effectively erased a good at-bat by the veteran Easley, and instead of getting Hernandez on the ropes, they handed him an easy inning.

Lino Urdaneta finally has an ERA, albeit a very high one. He pitched two-thirds of an inning without allowing a run.

Jose Reyes dove to stop a ground ball by Quentin, then threw a one-hop bullet to Delgado — from a seated position. Reyes snapped off the ball while sitting back on his butt, and still got Quentin by several steps.

Ruben Gotay made some flashy plays at second base, including two glove flips. The first was shuffled to Delgado after he charged a slow grounder, the second came on a miraculous backhand stop behind second base that Reyes bobbled. Had Reyes caught the ball cleanly, it no doubt would have been an ESPN web gem. Gotay also had a very good at-bat in the top of the ninth against Jose Valverde, which culminated in a searing line drive right at second baseman Orlando Hudson. The Mets may have something here with Gotay.

Next Game

Oliver Perez takes the hill in San Francisco against Barry Zito. It’s a 10:15 PM EST start. Man I hate the late-night, Left Coast games.

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Mets Game 29: Win over Diamondbacks

Mets 6 Diamondbacks 2

Going against reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, not much was expected of Jorge Sosa. The Mets hoped he could somehow get through five innings and hold the Diamondbacks to a few runs in what promised to be a low-scoring game. In other words, keep the Mets in the game, keep things close enough to give the bats a chance to win. If he could do that, Willie Randolph would be ecstatic.

Instead, Sosa gave Willie six and one-third innings of shutout ball.

In those 6 1/3, Sosa gave up 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run, striking out 3 in the process. 65 of his 101 pitches were strikes, as he mixed a 95-MPH fastball with a diving slider. Simply put, he did more than keep the Mets in the game — he handed them an opportunity to win.

Sosa seemed a bit nervous in the first inning, giving up a single and a walk, but settled down to end the threat without a run. Few believed it would be Arizona’s best chance to score for the next five innings.

In the top of the second, Shawn Green dropped an opposite-field, two-run homer over the leftfield fence to provide a seemingly fragile lead that stood for much of the game.

Then the dam burst.

It started out simply enough — two walks issued to the two Carloses by Brandon Webb to start the inning. Paul LoDuca followed with a line drive single to leftfield that went under Jerry Hairston’s glove and to the wall, scoring Beltran and Delgado and landing LoDuca on third. A few pitches later, Shawn Green jumped on a high change-up and sent a grounder up the middle to score LoDuca. Green stole second and was advanced to third on a chopper back to the pitcher hit by Damion Easley. Endy Chavez followed with a sacrifice fly to score Green and make the score 6-0.

Other than the homer to Green, Webb had pitched very well up to that point. He clearly had run out of gas but D’Backs manager Bob Melvin was caught blindsided by the sudden lack of effectiveness, and had no one getting ready in the bullpen. It was up to Webb to get himself out of the inning, and luckily for the Mets, he wasn’t up to the task.

Notes

Brandon Webb had a lot of fun in the early innings displaying his overhand curveball. His 12-6 deuce is a prime example of why I disagree with Rick Peterson’s decision to ditch Mike Pelfrey’s curve. I simply do not buy into the idea that sinkerballers have to be sinker-slider pitchers, nor that the slider is a more appropriate complement to a sinker than a curve. The reason I prefer a curve is that it can and should be thrown in the strike zone; it’s a pitch you throw for strikes. In contrast, the slider is a pitch that is more effective when thrown OUT of the strike zone; when pitchers force it over the plate, it tends to flatten and be very hittable. Even John Smoltz’s nasty slider is vulnerable when thrown for a strike. OK, I’ve stepped down off the soapbox … just had to get that off my chest.

David Wright had shown signs of breaking out of his slump, but is now 1-13 in this series. He’s still taking more of an uppercut swing as opposed to the more level, line-drive cut he used previous to last year’s All-Star game. Last week, Keith Hernandez also pointed out a more pronounced front leg lift, which may also be throwing things off. Until he corrects these issues, Wright can forget about being a .300 hitter again.

Delgado, on the other hand, is stroking the ball better, though he is still swinging too hard on occasion. Watch him and you’ll see that both of his feet leave the ground when he swings and misses — he’s actually jumping at the ball. He’ll be fine once he starts staying back and taking a more controlled swing.

Sosa may have benefitted from a weak Arizona lineup. His inability to throw anything other than the fastball for a strike could make him vulnerable to stronger offenses. (Similarly, John Maine had trouble spotting off-speed pitches on Friday night, but it didn’t seem to matter much against Arizona’s weak bats.) However, you can’t knock his guts and ability to rise to the occasion in this standout performance. At the very least, he deserves another start — if needed.

Joe Smith did what he needed to do to preserve the shutout, inducing a routine double-play grounder from Chris Snyder in the seventh. However, Jose Reyes botched the transfer from Damion Easley, and Snyder reached base safely to extend the inning. Pinch-hitter Miguel Montero doubled over the head of Endy Chavez to score two runs. Smith then struck out Eric Byrnes to end the inning.

Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman did their usual thing to close out a game that had been over since the second inning.

For those that missed it, Amby Burgos was sent down to make room for Sosa. So, Lino Urdaneta may yet get a chance to turn that sideways eight into a real number.

Next Game

Mike Pelfrey faces Livan Hernandez at 4:40 PM EST in a Sunday afternoon game.

In the 9th inning of the first game of this series, things looked bleak for the Mets. They were down 4-3, Jose Valverde looked to be on his way to an 11th save, and the possibility of being swept seemed entirely plausible. After all, John Maine was due to take a loss (wasn’t he?), the always-tough Brandon Webb was on the hill on Saturday night, and if they had lost the first three, it seemed very unlikely that Pelfrey would have a chance to beat the wily veteran Hernandez.

However, the combination of a meltdown by Valverde and one sweet swing of the bat by Damion Easley turned not just the game, but the entire series around. Now, a sweep is indeed possible, but by the Mets OVER the D’Backs.

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Are the Mets Too Old?

Were the critics correct?

The preseason pundits told us that the Mets would not repeat as NL East champions because:

  • The starting pitchers were too old or too young to be effective
  • Moises Alou was too old and injury-prone
  • Shawn Green’s bat was slowing down, and at the end of his career
  • Jose Valentin was too old, and would never repeat his 2006 renaissance season
  • The bullpen would sorely miss Duaner Sanchez, Chad Bradford, and Guillermo Mota

For the first few weeks of the season, the 2007 Mets seemed on the road to disprove the naysayers. Shawn Green stroking a base hitThey began the season with an exclamation point, sweeping the reigning World Champion Cardinals in St. Louis. Their starting pitching was clearly the team’s strength, as the four-man rotation of Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, and Oliver Perez was routinely pitching into and past the 7th inning. Moises Alou was red-hot, leading the NL in batting for a short time, and the “slow” bat of Shawn Green was right on his heels. Jose Valentin was hitting around .270, getting clutch hits, but more importantly, flashing a gold-like glove around the keystone.

Then May came, and the wheels fell off.

All at once, it seemed, the Mets were breaking down — just as the pundits predicted. El Duque developed bursitis in his shoulder; Jose Valentin tore his ACL; Moises Alou split his lip and injured his shoulder; Mike Pelfrey’s sinker was pilfered; Aaron Heilman was looking like a deer in headlights; and neither David Wright nor Carlos Delgado could buy a homer, hit, or RBI.

And all that happened BEFORE the Mets lost two in a row at home to the Florida Marlins, getting shut down by the 6.27 ERA of Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco, a guy who went 0-3 with a 19.72 ERA against the Mets in 2006.

In the meantime, the Braves took over first place, the barking Phillies continue to creep up in the standings, and the pundits are patting each other on the back.

Since losing the series to the Fish, the outlook has been mixed. On the one hand, David Wright finally broke out of his slump, hitting his first homerun of the year. On the other, Alou can now add a knee problem to his growing list of ailments. Additionally, Chan Ho Park looked absolutely abysmal in El Duque’s place, and despite a win, Aaron Heilman still looks lost. One thing going for the Mets is that they are starting to get the clutch hits — though Delgado still isn’t stroking the ball the way he should, and 48-year-old Julio Franco is currently outperforming him at bat and in the field. And, after winning their first two games in Arizona, the Mets are back in first — though in a tenuous tie with Atlanta.

Is it time to panic? Are the Mets really too old, too fragile, and too challenged in the pitching department?

Probably not. There are still five months to turn things around, and close to 85% of the season lies ahead. The good news is, the future looks bright, and help is on the way.

For one thing, consider that the Mets started out 15-10, a half game out of first, while getting next to no production from their #4 and #5 hitters. It is silly to believe that Carlos Delgado’s batting average will remain below the Mendoza Line, and Wright looks to be on the way back to his old self. Getting those two bats back into swing of things is a wonderful thing to look forward to, and key to jumpstarting the slumping offense.

Similarly, we can look forward to pitching help arriving from the farm. For example, though Chan Ho Park appears to be a bust, the reclamation project of Jorge Sosa looks to be going very well. Pitching in the homer-happy PCL, Sosa has a 4-0 record and a 1.12 ERA — a considerable achievement, considering that his biggest bugaboo has been allowing balls to fly over the fence. His quick start undoubtedly would have earned him a promotion over Park, but the scheduling didn’t work in his favor. We’ll see tonight if Sosa is the real goods or if his four games in AAA were a fluke.

Philip Humber fires a pitchAnd if Sosa is not the answer, youngsters Philip Humber and Jason Vargas continue to progress, and appear to be on the brink of being helpful at the big league level. Sosa’s hot start means the Mets don’t have to rush either of those arms, and let them develop on their own pace. If they keep improving, one or the other — or both — could be at Shea by mid-June, if needed.

Speaking of June, that’s when Guillermo Mota should be back to help Aaron Heilman with the 8th-inning setup role. Additionally, Dave Williams could be back to provide some middle relief — or starting depth — if needed. And though no one’s counting on him for this year, Pedro Martinez continues to be slightly ahead of schedule in his comeback from rotator cuff surgery. Anything Pedro provides will be a bonus.

In the field, Damion Easley is already filling in nicely for Valentin, providing a flair for the dramatic with the bat and turning double plays. Plus, the nearly forgotten Ruben Gotay has leapfrogged over Anderson Hernandez, and could be a pleasant surprise. Meanwhile, the nagging injuries suffered by Alou offer Endy Chavez an opportunity to prove why he’s the best fifth outfielder in MLB, and give the Mets a boost of speed and defense. And let us not forget Lastings Milledge is chomping at the bit in New Orleans, ready and waiting for another shot with the big club. With plenty of talent in reserve, the Mets are well-equipped to handle the myriad breakdowns that occur on all teams in a 162-game season — old and young alike.

There may be some bumps and bruises over the next month, but during that time several players will define their roles, and the 2007 Mets will start to take shape.

And if you’re still worried about their race for the pennant, consider that at this time last year, Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez were anchoring the back of the rotation, Jorge Julio was taking up space in the bullpen, Kaz Matsui was the starting second baseman, and Jose Valentin was batting .154. So things could be a lot worse … and yet, look at how that 2006 team turned out.

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Mets Game 28: Win over Diamondbacks

Mets 5 Diamondbacks 3

It was a clearly uncomfortable game for John Maine.

But then, all pitchers should be lucky enough to have his discomfort.

With a look on his face that conveyed frustration, aggravation, or possibly constipation, Maine nonetheless powered through the Arizona lineup, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk in six innings. He struck out three en route to his fifth victory without a loss.

Maine didn’t have his very best stuff — his command on all pitches was way off — but he kept a stiff upper lip and turned in a veteran-like performance, keeping the ball in the strike zone and making great “pitcher’s pitches” exactly when he had to.

While Maine was shutting down the D’Backs batters, the Mets offense is finally beginning to kick into gear. Jose Reyes led off the game with a single, stole second, and scored on a base hit by Carlos Beltran. In the second inning, surprise starter Julio Franco gave Maine a cushion, blasting an opposite-field, two-run homer into the pool beyond the right-center fence off Randy Johnson to put the Mets ahead 3-0. Paul LoDuca — who scored on Franco’s homer — hit a homerun of his own in the fourth, a high drive over the leftfield fence. Jose Reyes drove in Endy Chavez in the fifth to finish the scoring for the night.

Though the Diamondbacks managed three runs, they never seemed to be in the game. The homer by Franco seemed to take all the air out of them, save for Orlando Hudson, who made some nice plays at second base and hit a controversial two-run homer off Amby Burgos in the top of the 8th. Hudson’s fly was about to strike the top of the leftfield fence, but the outstretched glove of Endy Chavez (who else?) managed to swat the ball back onto the field. What appeared to be a one-run double was ruled a homerun by third base umpire Gary Darling. Luckily, there were already two out and Burgos induced a popup from Eric Byrnes to end the inning.

Billy Wagner threw 10 pitches to finish the game without incident, earning his sixth save of the season.

Notes

LoDuca batted fifth in the lineup and went 2-for-4 with two runs scored.

Reyes went 3-for-4 with a stolen base, a run, and an RBI, and was thrown out attempting to steal in the fifth on a great throw by catcher Chris Snyder. Reyes argued the call for a few moments, and he might have snuck his hand in before the tag, but in reality the ball beat him to the bag and the play was close enough to go either way.

Chavez started because Moises Alou was resting a sore knee. However, Endy might have injured his ankle on the faux-homer by Hudson. He stayed in the game, but limped a bit through the rest of the game.

The Mets turned three double plays, all of which effectively squelched any momentum the Arizona offense could muster.

Next Game – Sosa Starting

As expected, Jorge Sosa has been promoted to the big club to face Brandon Webb in Saturday night’s game (another 9:40 PM start). Sosa has tallied a 4-0 record and 1.13 ERA in AAA, allowing 29 hits and 4 walks in 32 innings, striking out 29 in the process. His low walk total is encouraging, as is the fact he’s only allowed one homerun in the homer-happy PCL. Also encouraging: he’s induced twice as many ground balls as fly balls. Being that the dinger has been his big bugaboo, perhaps he’s turning a corner in his career.

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Mets Pitching Moves

Lino Urdaneta pitching for the Detroit TigersIn an unsurprising move, the Mets designated Chan Ho Park for assignment after his awful start on Monday. As bad as he was, the New York Yankees would be silly not to at least take a look at Park, considering the injuries that have devastated their starting rotation. Heck, Jose Lima should be asking the Yanks for a tryout.

In a slightly surprising move, the Mets also promoted Lino Urdaneta from New Orleans. As you may remember, Lino’s career ERA is infinity, so we all hope he gets into a game and retires at least one batter, so he can have a number instead of “INF” on his pitching line.

Actually, I’m hoping he gets into a game for a better reason — he may be able to help the Mets bullpen. Urdaneta had a strong spring training, showing good command of a fastball in the upper 90s, and could be further along than Ambiorix Burgos. At this point, it’s doubtful Burgos would be sent down — he’s Rick Peterson’s pet project — but it would be encouraging and helpful to find out that Lino Urdaneta can get big league hitters out. At some point in the season, someone (Heilman?) is likely to suffer an injury, and having Urdaneta step in would be nice insurance and a great story.

Most likely, however, Urdaneta will find himself back in N’awlins come Saturday, when the Mets must put someone on the mound in the first inning to face Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks. Unless the Mets choose to start Aaron Sele on Saturday, it is likely that Jorge Sosa will be promoted and Urdaneta sent back down before he gets a chance to unpack his suitcase.

However, Sosa is scheduled to start tonight in New Orleans, so we’ll know for sure if it will be Sosa or Sele before the Mets and Diamondbacks do battle tonight (obviously, if Sosa gets pulled, he’s coming up). FYI, Jason Vargas pitched on Thursday, and Philip Humber started on Wednesday, so neither of those youngsters is an option for tomorrow’s start.

If indeed Sele gets the start, and does well, Urdaneta may have a chance to stick around for a few more days. With Jorge Sosa pitching lights out in AAA though, Urdaneta will have to pull off a quick string of Mike Jacobs-like performances to stay on the 25-man roster. Who knows — with his electric fastball, anything can happen.

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