The last time the Mets faced the Brewers, the Brew Crew had the best record in MLB, and were fulfilling the “surprise” role that many pundits predicted. However, with the Mets going into Milwaukee to start a three-game series today, the Brewers find themselves with a slim lead over the Cubs, a team on a hot streak and making nearly daily improvements to their club. In addition, the Brewers’ previously impenetrable bullpen has sprung some leaks, prompting GM Doug Melvin to acquire Scott Linebrink and Seth McClung. Oh, and they recently found out that Ben Sheets will be out until at least the end of August. It’s a tough time for the Brew Crew right now.
Meantime, the Mets have started to distance themselves from the Phillies and Braves, but now have some pressure with Atlanta’s acquisitions of Mark Teixeira and Octavio Dotel. It doesn’t help that the team’s offense is still underachieving, and Carlos Beltran remains on the bench due to a mysterious muscle pull in his stomach. Ironically, the Mets’ starting pitching — which many experts predicted would be their downfall in the preseason — is the single, consistent strength of the club.
Game One: Tom Glavine vs. Jeff Suppan
Tommy is going for win #300, and coming off a shakier outing than the boxscore might suggest. He has the number in his head, but at this point that may be a positive. My theory is that he’s had trouble concentrating during games on his way to 299, but will focus hard on this start similarly to how he treats postseason games. It’s kind of like rushing out of work to get home and pack and shoot down the shore on a Friday afternoon — you rush, you get sloppy, you speed, you forget to pack your toothbrush, but once you get over the Driscoll Bridge, you kind of relax, and start thinking about the beach, because the urgency of getting through the previous 30 or so exits is behind. That said, I think Glavine will pitch a gem, treating it like a World Series start.
Hopefully, Jeff Suppan won’t pitch like it’s a postseason game, because we know what that looks like. After a red-hot April, Suppan has regressed to the pitcher he’s always been: something slightly better than Steve Trachsel. He usually goes five or six innings, keeps the game close enough, and mixes in one gem for every two thrashings. Suppan allowed six hits and four runs in six innings in his outing against the Mets in May, and that’s a pretty typical start for him. According to Jeff Sackmann:
“Suppan has been mediocre since a really nice April. He’s well-known for his good second halves, but we’re still waiting for that. He hasn’t imploded more than a time or two–Brewers beat writers keep saying that he’s had x starts in a row where he allows 4 runs or less–but allowing 4 runs in 5 innings isn’t much to write home about.”
Game Two: Oliver Perez vs. Dave Bush
In the first five innings of his last start, Ollie looked as dominating as he’s been all year — but then the wheels came off unexpectedly in the sixth, and as a result the Mets failed to sweep the Pirates. The linescore doesn’t look good, but if you watched the game you saw a number of remarkably lucky hits by the Bucs, and some inexplicable other events that caused the catastrophe. I’m not worried about Oliver, and expect a solid six or seven innings.
Dave Bush has had a Perez-like, rollercoaster season. Sometimes he looks like a top-of-the-rotation guy, other times he looks like he deserves a ticket to AAA. As Jeff says:
“Bush has been an enigma since the day we acquired him: his peripherals are always outstanding, he rarely walks anybody, and he’s been solid lately, but just when we start getting comfortable, he coughs up five runs in the first inning. With any of these three guys, especially Bush, anything could happen, from a blowout to a no-hitter. “
Game Three: Jorge Sosa vs. Claudio Vargas
Sosa has not just fallen back to earth, he’s starting to look like the pitcher who was released twice last year — the early season shine has worn off. His success depends heavily on the sharpness of his slider, which when good he’ll throw over 80% of the time. If it’s flat, fans beyond the outfield stands have a good chance of bringing home a souvenir.
Vargas throws gas — he can touch 97 MPH — and mixes in a curveball that can have good bite. However, his fastball tends to be straight, and often gets too much of the plate — which results in the longball. In some ways, he’s a lot like Sosa. An interesting stat: in 18 starts this year, the Brewers are 15-3. Says Jeff:
… the Crew has been very successful with Claudio on the mound, but he’s constantly pitching into trouble and not always getting out of it. He had a good outing last weekend, but has mostly been the king of the 5.1 inning start.
Aaron Heilman has re-found his touch (we think), and Billy Wagner continues to be lights-out, but everyone else is hit or miss. Even Pedro Feliciano, who had pitched so well, has proven mortal — though he’s probably even more reliable than Heilman right now. The fact that the Mets are on the road bodes well for Scott Schoeneweis, but the team needs to get better performances from Guillermo Mota. The bullpen is an arm short, unless something happens before 4pm. Aaron Sele should be ready, as he’s had his customary 12 days of rest.
Milwaukee’s pen looked to be one of the strongest in MLB until fairly recently, but it should be bolstered by the additions of Linebrink and McClung. According to Jeff Sackmann:
“Linebrink isn’t automatically the setup guy over Derrick Turnbow, but D-Bow hasn’t been lights-out lately. I would expect a sort of platoon, where Ned Yost tries not to overwork either one, especially Turnbow. Coco Cordero, who was so incredibly good for the first couple of months, has had a few shaky outings, but I’m convinced it’s just a blip. Lots of dribblers getting through. McClung is a nice pickup, but is purely Triple-A depth right now; I would guess he’s behind at least one or two other guys on the depth chart in Nashville.”
One of the Mets’ hottest hitters, Ruben Gotay, returns to the bench with the acquisition of second baseman Luis Castillo. That leaves Lastings Milledge as the main on-fire offensive force in a lineup still trying to get out of second gear. Jose Reyes continues to reach base, and is the Mets main hope for scoring opportunities. The addition of Castillo at the top of the lineup should provide more RBI opportunities for David Wright, who remains consistent and is approaching .300. If Paul LoDuca goes on the DL, it could be a blessing in disguise as Ramon Castro has been swinging the bat with the power and authority everyone expected when he was a first-round draft pick in 1994. On the other hand, Moises Alou’s return to the lineup has been far from noteworthy, as Alou looks like it’s March all over again. The Mets will need Milledge to continue his performance as a one-man wrecking crew and get more production from Carlos Delgado in the middle of the lineup — particularly with Carlos Beltran still suffering from a stomach injury. Want to hear something crazy? Guess who the Mets’ third-best hitter for average is, behind Reyes and Wright (for those who qualify for the batting title)? Shawn Green, at .272.
The Brewers had some bangers before, but now they have Billy Hall back from injury and added rookie Ryan Braun — who right now is hitting like George Brett. J.J. Hardy is no longer hitting homers, but is still a solid stick, as are Kevin Mench, Johnny Estrada and Corey Hart. Rickie Weeks has been a disappointment, hitting just .212, but Prince Fielder continues to carry the weight (his, and the team’s). Then there’s Geoff Jenkins, who can start raking — or whiffing — at the drop of the hat. Jenkins is batting only .217 this month, but just came off a 3-for-5 day against the Cardinals — so he may very well be about to go on a rampage.
Not sure what to make of this series. The pitching matchups are of eerily similar pitchers — in the opening, the unspectacular but crafty veterans, two remarkable enigmas in the middle game, then two completely unpredictable, gopher-ball vulnerabilities in the final. Both offenses are underachieving, and each team’s bullpen has been inconsistent of late. I’d be very happy if the Mets take two out of three, but with so many variables it’s hard to feel confident about any one game — much less the series as a whole.