The last time these two teams squared off, the Padres were just a game behind the NL West – leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Mets lost two of three in San Diego, and a few days later the Padres tasted first place — partially because the Mets rebounded to beat the Dodgers three times in tries.
What a difference a month makes. While the Padres and Dodgers were neck and neck fighting for first, the Arizona Diamondbacks sneaked past both teams and are now atop the division, three and a half over the Padres and six above LA. The San Diego offense continues to be the team’s achilles heel, with Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez the only two regulars with a batting average above .250. Manager Bud Black has tried to mix and match his offensively challenged personnel with disappointing results. For example, he’s put third baseman Geoff Blum at second in an attempt to get some punch, and he’s also worked former Astro Morgan Ensberg, Rob Mackowiak, and Termel Sledge into the lineup — all without success.
Without question, the Padres’ best offensive player is the elder of the two Giles brothers — Brian is batting over .300 with a .391 OBP, but is not the slugger he once was. He’s a solid leadoff batter, but after him the only real threat is Adrian Gonzalez, who is batting only .271 but usually getting extra bases when he does connect (36 doubles, 20 HRs). Mid-season acquisition Milton Bradley has been a pleasant surprise, batting .355 in 23 games, but injuries have limited his duty — he’s currently nursing a strained hamstring and is questionable for the series. Mike Cameron, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Khalil Greene have been inconsistent, but can go on power binges when hot; unfortunately for the Pads, those binges have not been as frequent as they’d like. Catcher Michael Barrett has been a disappointment since his arrival, and is now on the DL
The pitching, however, has been the Padres’ strength — and the only reason they’re still in the hunt for the division title. Chris Young and Jake Peavy have been lights-out all year, and Justin Germano has been a surprise despite a 6-7 record. Greg Maddux has been his professional self, and though not an ace anymore he is a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy with an ERA under four. Boomer Wells has been released, and the fifth starter spot is up in the air — currently held by Clay Hensley, who has not been effective.
San Diego’s bullpen remains strong, led by future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman’s 31 saves. Former Met Heath Bell is having the breakout year we waited for in Flushing, teaming up with Cla Meredith to solidify the setup role and making Scott Linebrink expendable.
What does this series mean to the Padres? Quite a bit. They fell four games behind the leaders last week — the furthest they’ve been from first all year — and have cut that deficit by only a half game since. The D’backs are rolling and appear to be hitting their stride right now. In other words, San Diego can’t afford to have a poor road trip — and they’re facing the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park immediately following their three-game set with the Mets.
Game One: John Maine vs. Chris Young
John Maine is the Mets’ victory leader with 13 wins, but he’s had only one truly good start since the All-Star break — a rain-shortened, five-inning shutout against the Nationals on July 29th. With Chris Young opposing him, this would be a wonderful game for Maine to re-discover the form that made him 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA before the All-Star Game.
Young, meanwhile, is leading the National League with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. Yeah, that’s right — there’s no typo there. His 1969-like numbers are nothing short of dominating — and he’s not even considered the Padres’ ace! One thing going for the Mets is that they handled him pretty well last year … but, that was last year. It could be argued that he’s greatly benefited by the vast expanses of his home park (where he has a 0.66 ERA), but it’s not like Shea is a hitter’s haven. This will be a tough contest.
Game Two: Brian Lawrence vs. Jake Peavy
Um, how did this happen? The Padres send their top pitcher against the Mets’ worst? While the Mets had their way with Peavy in San Diego back on August 17th, it turns out the Mets were lucky to catch him in the middle of a funk — likely due to a physical ailment. He has a 1.05 ERA over his last five starts, and back to being the untouchable righthander he was for most of the first half. One possible advantage: the New York media. It seems that Peavy provoked a storm by suggesting that the Padres wouldn’t be able to retain his services beyond 2009. Strange, since it’s two years away, but his comments to a Union-Tribune writer were enough to cause a stir in the San Diego clubhouse. Perhaps the press at Shea Stadium can blow the issue way out of proportion and get him out of his game. We can only hope …
Game Three: Tom Glavine vs. Justin Germano
Since getting blown out by the Dodgers on July 19th, Glavine has strung together five straight solid starts, and appears to be reaching his stride at just the right time. On the surface, this might look like a “gimme game” for the Mets, but that’s because you never heard of Justin Germano.
Germano is only 6-7, but he’s been the victim of poor offensive support — suggested by his 4.15 ERA and miniscule 1.18 WHIP. He had a rough July (7.24 ERA) but has made three good starts in August. Not great starts, but good — enough to keep his team in the game and give them a chance to win. He’s not overpowering by any means, and relies on pinpoint control. His fastball is below average, topping somewhere in the high 80s, but he has a good change-up and an above-average curveball. Since the Mets haven’t faced him before, he also has the Wandy Rodriguez Effect in his favor. Actually, only one current Met has a history against him — Shawn Green is 2-for-3 with a double against him.
Based solely on the pitching matchups, this could be a tough series for the Mets — and not unrealistic to suggest that they might get swept (thanks isuzudude for the correction … I incorrectly stated earlier “swept at home for the second time in two weeks” duh). Those Padres pitchers are tough, and unless John Maine suddenly re-finds his stuff, the Mets best chance to win one of the first two is to hope that either Young or Peavy are off their game.