Browsing Archive July, 2007

Series Preview: Mets vs. Rockies II

Colorado Rockies baseball logoWhat a time for the Mets to come into Coors — the bats are heated up and swinging as well as they have all year.

Of course there is the issue of the humidor — but that’s really more PR than anything else. Oh, you didn’t realize they’ve been using the humidor since 2002? It’s true — it took Colorado’s crack publicity team five years to get the story around the country.

While it’s a lot more difficult to hit homeruns at Coors than in the days of Dante Bichette, we’re not entirely sure if that’s due to the injection of humidity or the non-injection of another variable (yet to be determined by the Mitchell Investigation). Yes, it’s easier to put one over the fence in Citizen’s Bank Park, but Coors is still pretty high on the list — as of now the seventh-most homer-happy park in MLB. And according the ESPN’s Park Factor, it’s ranked as the sixth-most hitter friendly stadium (by comparison, Shea is #16, and Citizen’s Bank is #9)

So don’t believe the hype — it’s a sequel. The Mets will be expected to continue their hot hitting in this three-game set in Rocky Mountains.

Game 1: Tom Glavine vs. Jason Hirsh

Glavine is coming off two brilliant starts, including a one-hit shutout in his last start (OK, so it was only six innings, but it counts that way in the book). How he does at Coors depends entirely on the strike zone the home plate umpire offers him. If he doesn’t get the corners, it could be a long day of walks and pitching around guys like Holliday, Helton, and Hawpe. He absolutely, positively, must be able to establish his fastball inside early in the game, and he’ll need to show his curve a few times without hanging it.

Jason Hirsh is a young gunslinger still trying to find his way in the wild west. He can get his fastball into the mid-90s with movement, throws an occasionally tough slider, and mixes in an average change-up to keep batters honest. In many ways, he’s like a young John Maine in that he may rely too heavily on a high fastball and ends up getting hurt by it. If he has his slider biting, he could be a tough customer — but that has been rare for him thus far this season. He’ll more likely use his change, which is still a work-in-progress. Look for the Mets to swing and miss in the early innings, but catch up to the high heat the second time through the lineup.

Game 2: ? vs. Aaron Cook

Ollie Perez has already opted out of the start, so we’ll see either Jason Vargas or perhaps Aaron Sele. Vargas was bit by the longball in his only other big league start this year, and won’t be helped by the thin air here. However, he should keep the Mets in the game, and hopefully the dingers will be of the solo variety. One thing going for him, Vargas has been pitching in the PCL, a notoriously hitter-happy league with small parks — so he’s used to these circumstances.

If Aaron Sele gets the start — which appears doubtful — it will be his first appearance since March, I think. From what I understand, the thin air severely hampers the break on curveballs. Considering that Sele’s best pitch is his curveball, and his fastball is both flat and in the mid-80s, it could be a very, very long evening for Mets fans should he be pressed into duty.

Aaron Cook goes for the Rockies, and he’s a much better pitcher than his numbers suggest. He throws a hard sinker about 85-90% of the time, with the goal of getting groundouts. The aggressive Mets get eaten up by this type of pitcher even when they’re swinging well, so expect to see a few five and six-pitch innings. The one point of optimism is the fact that Cook is pitching more poorly at Coors than on the road, as pointed out by MetsGeek.

Game 3: John Maine vs. Josh Fogg

Say what you want about his luck, his BABIP, his FIPS, and any other uber-stat you can find — bottom line is, John Maine is developing into an excellent pitcher, nearly good enough to receive All-Star consideration. He hasn’t walked a batter in his last two starts, and needs to keep that streak going at Coors Field. If he can continue to throw that ever-improving change-up down in the zone for strikes, he should do well.

Josh Fogg embarrassed the Mets when he faced them in May, but is coming off a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Astros in his last start — which lasted only four and two-thirds innings. I’m still baffled that he’s able to retire Major League hitters, and have no explanation for his ability to pitch so well against the Mets. The only possible conclusion is that teams beat themselves when facing him by swinging too early in the count — much the way Steve Trachsel continues to garner a paycheck. He throws four very average pitches, including a flat mid-80s fastball that’s often high in the zone, and rarely challenges hitters. Sound like a recipe for disaster in Coors Field, right?

Mets Bats

Carlos Beltran has finally caught fire, and it looks like he might just be warming up. My guess is he’ll stay hot through the All-Star break, and have a few monster games in Coors and Minute Maid. Interestingly, though Beltran hit four homers over the weekend, he’s only hitting .259 over the last week. On the other hand, Carlos Delgado is hitting .308 over the same span (who’da thunk it?) and Jose Valentin is at a .296 clip in his last seven. Jose Reyes had cooled off for a bit, but seems to be back on track. David Wright continues to be solid if unspectacular, getting his one hit a game. Call me crazy, but my eyes tell me that both Shawn Green and Carlos Gomez have been taking good at-bats lately — one or both of them could be ready to go on a tear. Ruben Gotay’s clutch hitting and .300 average most likely will remain on the bench while Damion Easley continues to pilfer at-bats from him. Easley hit a homerun a few days ago, justifying his presence in spite of his current 4-for-19 slide.


Rockies Bats

Though the trade rumors whirl around him every day, and he’s not the 35+ homerun threat he once was, Todd Helton is still a dangerous and professional hitter. Though he’s been in a slump for the last few weeks, he walked twice yesterday and went 2-for-4 the day previous, so he may be busting out. Meantime, Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Troy Tulowitzki are heating up as of late, and Matt Holliday is still leading the league in hitting. Oh, and then there’s this Japanese infielder named Matsui at the top of the lineup who is flashing a sure glove, hitting nearly .300, and has stolen 15 bases. Leadoff batter and centerfielder Willy Taveras (.310) may miss the series with a strained quad, but his replacement, Ryan Spilborghs, is batting .368 in his last 7 games. It’s a tough, deep lineup.

Bottom Line

Don’t expect to see any pitcher’s duels for the next three days — the Mets are a hot-hitting team and the Rockies are an always-hitting squad. From the outset, this looks to be a slugfest, with the winning team most likely the one that swings early, often, and late.

The Mets have an added advantage — Rockies closer Brian Fuentes is no longer the closer, having been removed after four straight meltdowns. That leaves the Mets to feast on the offerings of former teammate Jorge Julio and LaTroy Hawkins in the late innings.

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I Don’t Want to Pitch

Well, it appears that Jason Vargas WILL be starting on Tuesday — unless the Mets remember Aaron Sele is still on the roster.

Per quotes from Newsday, Oliver Perez stated:

“I don’t want to pitch on Tuesday. I don’t want to pitch when I feel something. I want to pitch when I’m healthy.”

Well if that’s the way he feels, I don’t want him to pitch, either.

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Vargas or Pelfrey?

Jason Vargas pitching for the Mets at Shea in May

New Orleans Zephyrs starter Jason Vargas was held out of his Sunday start, most likely because he is the emergency fill-in should Oliver Perez still have back issues tomorrow.

It’s entirely possible, in fact, that the Mets hold out Perez regardless of how he feels, as a precautionary measure. His 7-6 record does not correlate with the way he’s been pitching this year — more times than not, he’s put out ace-like efforts. With the All-Star break looming, it would make good sense to give Ollie an extended break to let his back heal, and have him fresh and healthy for the second half.

At the same time, Tuesday is as good a time as any to see if Jason Vargas can help this club this year. He gave a solid if unspectacular effort in his one spot start in early May, going seven full innings and allowing six hits and no walks. Unfortunately, two of those hits were homeruns, and thus he gave up five runs. Still, he pitched fairly well, throwing lots of strikes, hitting spots, and changing speeds. Though perhaps not ready for regular duty in a Major League starting rotation, he is much more polished and composed than Mike Pelfrey — if less blessed with god-given talent.

Giving Pelfrey instead of Vargas the start yesterday reeked of trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Though Pelfrey was doing better in AAA than he did in the Majors, he wasn’t exactly lights-out, and based on his performance on Sunday, he’s still very raw. The electrifying sinker we saw in spring training returned, albeit only for an inning and a half. Though his slider looked better, he still isn’t changing speeds — and the fact that he uses the slider for strikes is a recipe for disaster (sorry, Jorge Sosa’s luck with that will run out soon as well). As a result, if he doesn’t have great command of the sinker, he’s doomed.

Vargas, on the other hand, has an average assortment of pitches — nothing particularly impressive, but nothing awful either. Unlike Pelfrey, no one will ever consider him a future staff ace, but he’s a tough competitor who does everything he can to win a game and rarely beats hiimself. In many ways, he’s a poor man’s Tom Glavine, in that he pitches to contact and does all the “other” things to help himself win — he fields well, hits well, keeps runners close, etc. Though he will get beat with the gopher ball — not a great thought considering he may be pitching at Coors Field — it’s generally because he’s not afraid to challenge hitters. Though he doesn’t have electrifying stuff, at this point in his career, he’s probably ahead of Pelfrey, and better equipped to keep the Mets in a ballgame.

Should Vargas get a start and pitch well, he could be considered as a spot starter / relief pitcher for a while — perhaps until Dave Williams comes back. It might be nice to have a lefty not named Schoeneweis to team up with Pedro Feliciano.

We may find out on Tuesday night.

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Mets Game 80: Loss to Phillies

Phillies 5 Mets 3

At least we took three out of four.

Mike Pelfrey pitched, eh, okay. He did manage to keep the Mets in the game, and allowed “only” three runs in five innings of work, but got away with a number of mistakes. He looked really good in the first two innings, showing good location with his sinker and slider and occasionally humming a high fastball north of 95 MPH. However, he seemed to lose his location completely in the third, and as a fan it was like walking on eggshells, hoping that Pelfrey would somehow find a way to get through each inning. Indeed, every batter was a struggle, as he went to full count against nearly everyone from that point on. Still, he did leave the game down only 3-2.

Pelfrey got no help from home plate umpire, whose strike zone was the size of a tin cup (as Ron Darling quipped) — though it expanded remarkably in the bottom of the ninth with nervous rookie Mike Zagurski facing Jose Valentin and Shawn Green.

Guillermo Mota pitched a scoreless sixth, and Aaron Heilman retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh, sporting a diving change-up. But it was all a ruse, as Shane Victorino pulled a change-up to the most shallow part of the stadium, bouncing a fly off the rightfield foul pole. Chase Utley followed with a hard grounder down the first base line that rolled all the way to the wall and Shawn Green negotiated into a triple. Where in god’s name was Carlos Delgado playing? No one’s quite sure. Usually, in the late innings of a tight ballgame, a first baseman will play close to the line to protect against grounders that could become extra-base hits. Utley’s ball wasn’t that close to the line — about six feet to the left — but Delgado was not even in the TV picture. I imagine he was trying out his new iPhone, snapping a picture of Utley’s sweet swing. And why it took Shawn Green ten minutes to pick up the ball in the corner is another mystery — perhaps he was waiting for it to stop breathing.

Though his range was non-existent and worthless in this game, Delgado’s bat was effective. He blasted another line-drive homer into the rightfield stands, and poked a double down the leftfield line. That was the extent of the excitement on the offensive side, save for a two-out, pinch-hit RBI single on an 0-2 count by Ruben Gotay in the top of the ninth.

Notes

One issue that got me steamed — absolutely terrible at-bats in the top of the seventh by the Mets. Down 3-2, Shawn Green led off and was looking to jerk a first-pitch fastball into the seats. That’s fine, he got a good cut, it turned out being a foul line drive. However, he was still looking to go a yard, instead of looking to get on base, on the second pitch, and popped up the ball Dave Kingman style to first base. Carlos Gomez follows with a bunt attempt — good idea — but failed and then swung at a terrible pitch in the dirt and popped up meekly. Then Ricky Ledee comes up to pinch-hit, J.C. Romero is brought in for the lefty-lefty matchup, and Willie Randolph calls Ledee back and replaces him with Damion Easley. So, with no one on base, down by one, Easley sitting on the bench all day, and Romero coming in from the bullpen, and a stiff wind blowing in, what does Damion do? Swing at the first pitch, of course — a crapola ball off outside corner that Easley pulls to shortstop for an easy groundout. But it’s OK for the “veteran” to do that, because he hits a homerun once every blue moon. Genius.

The ball looks really freaky in the six-fingered hand of Antonio Alfonseca. Question: how does he squeeze all those fingers into a standard glove?

Next Game

The Mets travel to Colorado for a three-game series with the Rockies. Tom Glavine goes to the mound against Jason Hirsh in a 9:05 PM EST start.

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