Archive: August 7th, 2007

Mets Game 112: Loss to Braves

Braves 7 Mets 3

There were so many things wrong with this game.

First and foremost, the Mets blew the “gimme”. In every series, there is one “gimme” — the game that the Mets should and must win, usually based on the starting pitching matchup. With the Braves #4 starter going against a guy who is arguably one of the Mets best starters, this was the game the Mets were supposed to — and needed to — take.

As much as you may want to fault Oliver Perez, he really didn’t pitch all that badly — much like his previous two starts. He wasn’t lights out, and his velocity was mysteriously down, but he had good command and threw a ton of strikes (78 out of 109). The first at-bat of the game encapsulated the “problem” with Perez on this evening: it took eight pitches — six of them strikes — to retire leadoff batter Yunel Escobar. The next batter, Matt Diaz, blasted the first pitch he saw into the bleachers. That’s pretty much how the rest of the game went for Perez — he’d get ahead of guys, but couldn’t finish them off. The Braves batters consistently drove up the pitch count by fouling off pitch after pitch, and would eventually take a half-hearted swing, resulting in a bloop hit. Naturally, the occasional hard-hit ball would occur immediately thereafter, driving in a runner. In all, Perez allowed ten hits in five innings — but it seemed like at least seven of them were bloops or grounders that just eluded an infielder. Bottom line? Perez wasn’t missing enough bats, and by putting the ball in play, the Braves scored runs.

On the other hand, the Mets struggled to get anything going with the bats. While Perez struggled through long innings of 24-25 pitches at a time, the offense reverted to their June style of quick outs. Jose Reyes was one of the main culprits, first-pitch swinging as the leadoff man in the bottom of the first, and popping up weakly. That set the tone for the rest of the offense, who handed journeyman Buddy Carlyle at-bats with over-aggressive, unintelligent at-bats throughout the game.

Now don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with an aggressive approach, so long as it’s an intelligent approach as well. I like to see Jose Reyes taking a hack at the first pitch of the game — if it’s where he’s zoned in — because he’s quite a few times popped an extra-base hit. But if you’re looking to hack, and you pop up as meekly as he did, then you didn’t get the location you were looking for, and you hold back. What Reyes did to start off the game was the old Mickey Rivers approach — don’t think, just hack, and maybe if you’re lucky the ball will find its way to the barrel of the bat.

OK, we can’t get all over Jose for the loss, because there were seven other batters who also had atrocious at-bats. For example, Moises “Mr. DP” Alou. Here’s a scary stat (which grows scarier every game): in 168 plate appearances, Alou has grounded into 11 double plays. To put it into perspective, that’s once every 15 times up. Not helpful? OK, how about this: he’s tied for second on the team for most GDPs — and he’s only played in 41 games. Worse: if he were to have played a full season, and get about 625 plate appearances, he’d ground into a DP 42 times. That’s A LOT, folks. Remember how Mike Piazza was a DP machine? Well the most GDPs he ever had in a season was 27. Alou might reach that in less than half a season.

Alou grounded into two DPs, and though one allowed a run to score, both completely destroyed mini-rallies that might have turned the tables on the Braves. At this point, I’d consider making Alou sacrifice bunt if there were no outs and a man on first.

Somehow, the Mets scored three runs. One on the aforementioned double play, one on a triple by pinch-hitter David Newhan (hands-down, the most exciting moment of the game for Mets fans), and a third when Jose Reyes swung at the first pitch again but drove in Newhan from third with a weak grounder to second base.

Tori SpellingThis game was so bad, my wife texted me from home (I was agonizing at Shea) with this statement: “Mets – depressing. Now watching Tori Spelling reality show. sigh”

Well there you go — this game was so bad, it was more interesting to watch a webcam follow Tori Spelling around. A new low.

Notes

Jeff Francoeur nearly hit for the cycle, going 4-for-5 and hitting everything but a triple. Larry Jones went 3-for-5 with two runs scored.

How is the Braves depth? Consider this: one of their best all-around players, Edgar Renteria, is out, and his replacement, Yunel Escobar, goes 2-for-5 with an RBI double as the leadoff batter and makes a half-dozen sparkling defensive plays that make you consider the possibility that he’s a better defender than Renteria. For comparison, what in the world would the Mets do if Jose Reyes ever went down?

More frightening: even without Renteria, there is not one hole in the Braves’ lineup. It’s easily stronger than the supposedly “best offense in the NL (with or w/o Beltran)”. The Braves 6-7-8: Francoeur, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson. The Mets 6-7-8: Shawn Green, Paul LoDuca, Lastings Milledge. Yeah.

The air was thick at Shea this evening, holding up balls in the air — particularly drives toward centerfield. I think Mark Teixeira might have hit two out if not for the humidity, and Shawn Green might have gotten one over the fence as well. The balls just died in the thick haze over the field.

Willie Randolph solidified his stature as a knucklehead. With two outs in the top of the seventh and the Mets already down 7-3, Willie removes Aaron Sele after an inning and two-thirds, with the pitcher’s spot coming up in the bottom of the inning. Scott Schoeneweis threw one pitch, got a ground ball, and left the game. Just what in tarnation is Willie thinking? Did he really believe that the Mets had a chance to win this game, four runs down and the Braves ready to send Octavio Dotel, Rafael Soriano, and whoever they pleased to finish out the game? The whole point of Sele’s existence on the roster is to eat up innings as the long man. So he gave up a double with two outs, so what? You’re already down by four, you have nine outs left to do something against nasty pitchers, and you’re going to start managing like it’s the seventh game of the World Series? Stupidity! By wasting The Show in that spot, Willie was forced to use another arm for the eighth, and of course another for the ninth. Couldn’t someone have reminded Willie that “tomorrow is another day”, and the Mets might need some of the better bullpen arms in the event there’s a valid opportunity for victory in the next two days? His gross mismanagement of the bullpen is part of the reason guys like Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman, and Pedro Feliciano are so inconsistent. It makes no sense to burn through four arms in the last four innings of this ballgame. Let Sele finish the seventh, give Schoeneweis the ball until his arm falls off or the game is over — whichever comes first. You can’t tell me you’re going to use The Show against the Braves in a tight situation, at Shea, in the next two days … ain’t gonna happen. Keep Mota, Heilman, Sosa, Feliciano fresh for the REAL opportunities to win games — don’t waste them in these situations, especially when Moises Alou is going to kill any rally you start anyway.

Enough ranting … tomorrow is another day.


Next Game

Another 7:10 PM start, with Orlando Hernandez going against John Smoltz. We need El Duque to step up and have a great game. Another humid evening should help his curveball, and keep fly balls in the park. Let’s cross our fingers that Smoltzie has an off day.

READ MORE +

Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves III

Atlanta Braves baseball logo

Is this a “make or break” series? Probably not, unless the Braves get swept, which ain’t gonna happen (sorry folks) with the likes of John Smoltz and Tim Hudson taking the hill at Shea in the next three days. Any other result of the series has little impact on the standings — relatively speaking.

For example, if the Mets get swept, that puts the Braves 1 1/2 games behind the Mets. Yeah, a heckuva lot closer than four and a half, but still in second. If the Braves take two out of three, that puts them 3 1/2 back — only one game better than where they are currently. If the Mets take two of three, they lose one game, sending them 5 1/2 behind — a comfortable cushion from the Mets’ point of view, but not an insurmountable distance with a month and a half of baseball left. Now if they get swept, sending them 7 1/2 back — well, that’s a lot of ground to cover, particularly since these two teams will go head-to-head only six more times after this week.

All that said, I’d merely like to see the Mets avoid a sweep at home. Yes, it sounds negative, or defeatist, but with the way Hudson has been pitching lately, and the way Smoltz always seems to find a way to beat the Mets, I don’t want to get too greedy with my expectations. Looking at the soft schedule the Mets have after this week through the end of the year, it’s hard to put too much importance on this series. They have 25 games left against the Nationals, Marlins, Reds, and Pirates — the teams they are supposed to beat. The Mets should win between 15 and 18 of those 25, and if they do that, they shouldn’t have to worry too much about the Braves (or the Phillies), because they only have 20 games against the “better” teams.

Anyway, here’s the quick rundown on the series.

Game One: Oliver Perez vs Buddy Carlyle

Ollie is coming off two straight poor starts — though he won one of them. In his bad games, the issue is often a matter of focus, and in keeping his emotions in check. So far this year, he’s 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA against the Braves, and the Mets need him to throw a fourth gem against them tonight. With Atlanta’s two studs pitching games two and three, it is of ultimate importance that Ollie pitches well and the Mets beat Buddy Carlyle.

Carlyle, though fairly unknown, is a decent pitcher. In a dozen starts, he’s 6-3 with a 4.20 ERA, walking only 16 batters in 70 innings. He pitches to contact, but has only allowed 10 homeruns — or one every 7 innings, which, from a fifth starter really isn’t all that bad. In his most recent start he only threw five innings due to a hyperextended elbow, which apparently won’t keep him out of this game. The Mets have never faced him before, so he has that going for him. He doesn’t throw hard, or have a nasty breaking ball — he merely throws strikes, changes speeds, and keeps his team in the game.

Game Two: Orlando Hernandez vs. John Smoltz

El Duque has pitched some marvelous games this year, and at least a few times has risen to the challenge of facing the opposing team’s ace. Let’s hope he does the same in this game.

Smoltz is, well, John Smoltz: the guy who seems to thoroughly enjoy beating the Mets. He’s having another fine season, sporting an ERA just a shade above three, but looked mortal in his last start — allowing 9 hits and 7 runs (5 earned) in 6 2/3 innings. The Mets battered him back in April, but he shut them out for seven innings in his second start against them. Hopefully the Mets “new” approach of patience will force him to throw more pitches than usual.

Game Three: John Maine vs. Tim Hudson

Maine gets moved up a day due to the off-day on Monday and the fact he threw only 61 pitches in his Saturday start in Wrigley. Obviously, the Mets could use a bounce-back start from him, as opposing pitcher Hudson could be a tough customer.

In three of his last five starts, Hudson threw seven shutout innings. In one of the other two starts, he completed 7 and gave up only one run. In the other start, he pitched into two-thirds of the ninth and gave up three runs. Suffice to say, he is having the pitcher’s equivalent to a hot streak — he’s been lights out. Further, in his one start against the Mets this year, he threw eight shutout innings. So you can understand why I’ll be happy if the Mets get out of this series with one win.

Bullpens

Even though the Braves obtained Octavio Dotel, the Mets still have the advantage at the end of the game — meaning the 8th and 9th. The Bob Wickman, Rafael Soriano, Dotel mixture cannot compete with the duo of Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. However, if the games are decided in the sixth and seventh innings, neither team has a distinct advantage — both have received inconsistent support from their least-valuable arms. If anything, it could be bad for the Mets if Willie Randolph is forced to use Heilman earlier than the eighth.

Mets Bats

The bats are waking up, just in time for some of the best starting pitching they’ll see all year. Lastings Milledge has made Carlos Beltran’s absence a non-issue, and it looks like Moises Alou is at the beginning of a hot streak. Carlos Delgado and David Wright are also on a roll, and Jose Reyes is back to his old self. The Mets will need all hands on deck in this series, and of utmost importance is to 1. be patient, and 2. build on the idea of manufacturing runs, as they did in the Cubs series.

Braves Bats

Yes, the Braves now have Mark Teixeira. More importantly, they still have Met-killer and Shea-lover Chipper Jones. Andruw Jones is hitting only about .210, but has also slugged 20 homers, so he’s still dangerous. Kelly Johnson seems to have learned something from Chipper when it comes to Met killing, and a recent hot streak has pushed his average above .300. Jeff Francoeur has also been red-hot, and also now above .300. Edgar Renteria is on the DL, thankfully, but singles-hitting Yunel Escobar has been spraying base hits in his place. Brian McCann has slipped quite a bit, though, and is down under .270 after a hot first half. Now that they don’t have automatic outs such as Scott Thorman and Craig Wilson manning first base, the Braves have a tough lineup from top to bottom.

Bottom Line

As mentioned earlier, let’s be happy with one win, and let’s get it tonight against Buddy Carlyle. It will be very tough to take two out of three, but not impossible. The key is keeping the Braves from scoring more than 3-4 runs, and doing everything right on offense — i.e., stealing bases, getting bunts down, executing hit and runs, making productive outs, etc. The Braves are not a team against whom you can afford to be sloppy, miss signs, get thrown out taking extra bases, etc. The Braves play good, fundamental baseball, and to beat them, the Mets have to play a similarly sound game.

READ MORE +