Archive: August 31st, 2007

Mets Game 134: Win Over Braves

Mets 7 Braves 1

Ahhh … that’s much better.

The Mets broke their five-game slide with a big win over the Braves, getting strong performances from several individuals.

In the series preview, I implored John Maine to throw a nine-inning shutout. To his credit, he came damned close.

Maine threw seven sparkling innings, allowing one run on three hits and three walks, striking out eight. I will admit a twinge of hope that he’d stay in for one more frame, but even I have to admit 112 pitches was probably the best you could get out of him.

In support of Maine, the Mets offense — the entire offense, not just D-Wright — finally showed up to the party.

The Mets scored first and kept scoring, with four unanswered runs in the first five innings, thanks to a three-run homer to dead center by Carlos Delgado and capped off by a solo blast over the rightfield fence by Jose Reyes.

The Braves finally broke through in the sixth, loading the bases with no outs on a single and two walks during a John Maine brain fart, and scoring a run on a Maine wild pitch. However, Maine regrouped in time to get harmless popups from Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira and striking out Brian McCann looking. It was the turning point in the game, and a promising performance by Maine.

The score remained 4-1 until the top of the ninth, and with Billy Wagner warming up in the bullpen, the Mets loaded the bases with two outs and Aaron Heilman coming to the plate. Heilman was called back in lieu of Marlon Anderson, who once again stepped into the batter’s box wearing a red cape. He drove the first pitch he saw into the right-center gap, clearing the bases and putting the Mets up 7-1.

At that point, Wags sat down and Scott Schoeneweis closed out the game, allowing only a Brian McCann single.

Notes

Nice to see Reyes come out of his slump — he went 2-for-5 with a double in addition to the tater, and stole his 73rd base.

Delgado started to come alive in Philly, and has continued to stroke the ball with confidence — he also added a double to his day. He’s waiting on the ball again, letting it get deep, and driving it to all fields. The Mets need him thumping.

Carlos Beltran had a relatively quiet 2-for-4 day, scoring once.

Next Game

Mike Pelfrey pitches against Chuck James in a 3:55 PM start. As you probably figured out by the start time, it’s going to be televised by FOX. Personally, I was hoping to see Philip Humber get his first start, but maybe the eighth time will be a charm for Pelf. It would be great to see Pelfrey show something — his hard sinker could be very useful coming out of the ‘pen.

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The Better Team

As isuzudude remarked:

The Phillies were the better team, so tip your hat and move on.

Unfortunately, ‘dude is right — the Phillies WERE the better team, and they ARE the better team, right now.

Let’s face it — the Mets are hardly the only team in MLB with bullpen issues. Heck, EVERY team in baseball has major issues with middle relief, and most are uncomfortable with their closers. In fact, according to some numbers, the Mets have one of the better bullpens in baseball, if you can believe that. So before we start clamoring for Omar Minaya’s head because he didn’t fix the bullpen before July 31st, remember that EVERYONE was trying to do the same thing.

Indeed, looking back and wondering why Omar didn’t find a way to get Scott Linebrink or Eric Gagne (for example), is akin to complaining that he didn’t get Barry Zito or Jeff Suppan over the winter. As we’ve seen, both Linebrink and Gagne have been busts — as have Zito and Suppan. So if hindsight is 20-20, Omar was correct in not giving up the farm for an arm that might not have made a difference.

Rather than the bullpen, the Mets have much deeper issues — and luckily, they can be fixed in-house. And they’re same problems that plagued them in the postseason of 2006: offense, and focus.

Forget game four in Philly for a moment … what about the first three games? No team can go into Citizens Bank Park scoring two runs a game and think they’re going to win. And when the games become a battle of the bullpens, you can’t not hit the Phillies’ middle relievers. Prior to this season, the Mets’ offense was considered — on paper — to be the strongest in the National League. We’re still waiting for the on-paper predictions to perform on-field. Those supposedly big bats didn’t score in Coors, barely scored in Wrigley, and most recently did nothing in CBP — the three easiest parks to hit in. That same lineup routinely looks overmatched by below-pedestrian (they may as well be called wheelchair-bound) pitchers such as Adam Eaton, Scott Baker, and Hong Chih-Kuo. Facts are facts, and the facts tell us that the Mets offense simply isn’t that good.

In addition to a slightly better than average (but not overpowering) offense, the Mets have suffered from a lack of focus. Throughout the season, their drive and attention span have meandered — here one day, gone the next — and the number of mental errors is flabbergasting for a team that prides itself on sound fundamentals (message to Willie: just because you want the team to be strong fundamentally, doesn’t make it so). What’s the reasoning for the lack of concentration? Is it a problem of motivation? An intrinsic inability to hold attention span? Exhaustion? Probably, a combination of all three, with the last one — fatigue — being the most likely factor recently. After all, Willie Randolph rarely rests his best players, and right now is not the time to give a breather to, say, Jose Reyes.

The bottom line is this: the series in Philadelphia meant way more to the Phillies than it did to the Mets. Randolph and his team did all they could to play down its importance, but they were operating on the assumption that they’d take two games automatically simply by showing up. Over the four games, every single Phillie elevated his game, while David Wright was the only Met to meet the challenge. The Phillies approached these games as do-or-die, with a postseason mentality, and the Mets remained calm, oblivious, and flat. It’s really hard to win when only a few of your players are going all-out on every pitch, and all 25 of the opposition is playing like it’s the last game of their lives. Don’t get me wrong — the Mets didn’t exactly roll over. But the Phillies clearly wanted to win these games more than the Metropolitans.

As a result, the month of September promises to be one of excitement. Let’s hope the Mets can find the “ON” button before it’s too late.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves V

The Mets have lost five straight games, and in getting swept in Philly, have now turned a very comfortable first-place lead into a very tight, three-team race. Nice job, boys …

No time to cry over spilt milk, as the Mets move on to Atlanta for another spanking. Here’s how the weekend plays out:

Game 1: Tim Hudson (15-6, 3.23) vs. John Maine (13-8, 3.68)

The Mets are coming off perhaps their most gut-wrenching, spirit-depleting loss since the 2006 NLCS game seven — and their only effective relief pitcher, Billy Wagner, will be unavailable. To make matters worse, the Braves are sending Hudson to the mound, who besides being a Cy Young candidate has beaten the Mets twice this year, riding a 1.93 ERA. However, his season ERA has jumped .30 points in his last four starts. That means one of two things — either he’s starting wear down, and the Mets are facing him at a good time, or he’s due to pitch a lights-out game. Let’s hope for the former.

With the bullpen a complete disaster, and Wagner unavailable, Maine has to go out and pitch a nine-inning shutout. It’s a tall order, and likely an impossible task — after all, Maine hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning in a start since July 24th. Worse, he’s struggled with his pitch count in every one of his last six starts — usually nearing 100 before the fifth inning finishes. I’m not sure he’s capable of suddenly becoming Tom Seaver.

Game 2: Chuck James (9-9, 4.22) vs. Mike Pelfrey (0-7, 5.92) or Philip Humber (0-0, —)
If we have our doubts about game one, game two doesn’t offer much optimism. While it’s true that James has had his problems against the Mets this year, the idea of Pelfrey starting makes the matchup a wash. Pelf is already 0-7 this year, and struggled in AAA. In other words, it looks to be another contest decided by the middle relief — not good. If there’s a ray of hope, it is in the slight possibility that Philip Humber gets the start — but only because Humber is an unknown vs. Pelfrey being a known. Yes, I know Humber has pitched well recently in AAA, but a pitcher’s first MLB start is an absolute crapshoot — he may pitch lights-out, his nerves may jitter him out of the second inning, or he may pitch somewhere in between.


Game 3: John Smoltz (12-6, 3.06) vs. Tom Glavine (11-6, 4.15)

Give it up for Bobby Cox, who threw Smoltzie on three days’ rest earlier in the week so he’d be able to go against the Mets on Labor Day — with full rest, no less. By Monday, the Mets should have a recharged Wagner available for the ninth, and hopefully will have a few extra arms from the farm with the roster expanded. Poor Tommy — the victim of seriously hard luck lately — draws his buddy and future HOFer Smoltz again. The first two times these pals paired up, Tommy lost — heartbreaking losses, no less. If we draw on what’s happened in the last week, the prognosis for this third time isn’t so charming.

Bottom Line

Is it time to panic? No, of course not … after all, the Mets are still in first place, by two games. But, even a realist has to wonder how in the world the Mets are going to pull out ONE win — much less two — in Atlanta this weekend. The Braves are throwing their top three pitchers, two of whom have pitched very well against the Mets this year. Further, it appears that the Mets will have to rely heavily on an already decimated and ineffective bullpen. After seeing the Mets have their butts handed to them in four emotionally draining contests in Philly, the most optimistic view is that the Mets can somehow pull out one win, and still be in first place during their flight to Cincinnati.

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