Archive: September 10th, 2007

Mets Game 143: Win Over Braves

Mets' David Wright blasts a Tim Hudson pitch into the bleachers for a two-run homerun

Mets 3 Braves 2

It was a classic pitchers’ duel between Oliver Perez and Tim Hudson.

Hudson made few mistakes, but Perez made a few less.

Ollie went 7 full innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks, striking out 7. He was focused, pitched with a consistent arm angle, and was on top of his game. It was one of his most impressive performances of the season.

The Mets could muster only one measly run against Hudson through the first five — the lone run scored by Jose Reyes in the initial inning on a groundout by Carlos Beltran. Hudson was rolling ground balls like it was his job, as the Mets killed worms for five innings. Then in the sixth, Reyes led off with a walk, and was sacrificed to second on a great bunt by Luis Castillo, bringing up David Wright. Wright worked the count to 2-2, then went down and drove a flat sidearm slider into the leftfield bleachers for his 28th homer of the season, making the score 3-0.

Perez began the following inning — the seventh — with two quick outs sandwiching a single by Jeff Francoeur. He then went to a full count to Brian McCann before uncorking one of his few mistakes of the evening — a waist-high fastball that got a bit too much of the plate. McCann jumped all over it, blasting it over the rightfield fence to make the score 3-2. Ollie kept his cool and rebounded by striking out Willie Harris, whose body language clearly screamed that he wanted no part of facing Perez at that time.

Aaron Heilman came on to pitch a perfect eighth, bridging the gap to Billy Wagner, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning capped by a sliding catch web gem in the gap by Beltran to end the game.

Notes

A turning point in the game came in the sixth, when the Braves got men on first and second with none out and Edgar Renteria at the plate. Renteria lined out to Wright, then Perez picked off Hudson straying too far from second to squash the threat (a perfect timing play between Ollie and Luis Castillo), and Perez proceeded to strike out Matt Diaz looking to end the inning.

Castillo is really hobbling around on that bad knee, but is somehow gritting through it and both making plays and running the bases well. It’s kind of scary — if his knee were healthy, I think he’d be getting to a few more balls, stealing more bases, and hitting at least 15-20 points higher. And yet he’s still been remarkably effective on the bad wheel.

Reyes finally drew a walk — his first in 37 at-bats — and added a hit and his 75th stolen base. He still looks like he’s jumping a bit at the ball, and making his decision to swing too early, but on several pitches he stayed back the way he should, letting the ball get deep. I’d be fine with him slowly getting his stroke back, then exploding in, say, October.

David Wright is hitting like a man possessed. Those MVP chants at Shea may well become reality. Interestingly, the Mets have never had a Most Valuable Player in their history.

Tim Hudson has to be suffering from some kind of shoulder ailment — or at the minimum, fatigue. He was dropping down sidearm far more often than normal, and moving his arm around in gingerly motions. He’s a pretty tough competitor, so it wouldn’t be a surprise that he’s pitching hurt — and it might explain his last few starts, which have been less than stellar.

SNY finally turned down the orange tint a bit. In their postgame show, both Matt Yalloff and Lee Mazzilli looked nearly human.


Next Game

The Mets and Braves do it again at 7:10 PM. Orlando Hernandez is scheduled to start against Buddy Carlyle — we’ll see if El Duque is good enough to go.

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Mets Math

Mets magic number is 15The Mets’ “magic number” is currently 15, going into this three-game set with the Braves. What that means is, any combination of 15 Mets’ victories and the second-place team’s (currently the Phillies) defeats, eliminates the second-place team and makes the Mets NL East Champions.

For example, if the Mets win 8 more games between now and the end of the season, and the Phillies lose 7, the Mets finish in first.

In the recent “series preview” vs. the Braves, I stated that I’d be happy with one win in the Braves series, and one win in the Phillies series. Let me explain why.

With the magic number 15, and 20 games to play, time is running out quickly for the Phillies. If the Mets win just one against Atlanta, and just one this weekend vs. the Phils, the magic number goes down to at least 13. I’m banking on the idea that the Phillies lose at least one of their four games against the Rockies, so that knocks it down to 12, with 14 to play.

Of the Mets’ final 14 games, 13 are against the last-place Marlins and the may-as-well-be-in-last place Nationals (the other game is a makeup vs. the Cardinals). I’m fairly certain the Mets will win at least 7 of those 13, and that knocks the magic number down to 5.

Meantime, the Phillies will have 13 games left: 3 vs. the Cardinals, 7 vs. the Nationals, and 3 against the Braves. While it’s certainly possible that they’ll finish 9-4, I simply don’t see it happening. They would have to win both series against the Cards (in St. Louis) and Braves, and take 5 of the 7 from the Nats (of course, there are other combinations, but I’m throwing that out there as an example, to offer perspective). Again, anything’s possible, but with the Phillies throwing the likes of Adam Eaton, J.D. Durbin, and a fast-fading Jamie Moyer to the mound, that kind of dominance seems like a pipe dream — particularly when their bullpen ERA is around five.

Although the Phillies looked like an unstoppable juggernaut in their four-game sweep of the Mets at the end of August, they haven’t approached that kind of performance since. They’ve gone 4-5 since then, with the same squad. It’s as if they got “up” for that series with the Mets, and the rest has been a letdown. Are they a dangerous team in a very short series? Absolutely, particularly in Citizens Bank Park. Over a stretch of two weeks though, and away from home, the Phillies tend to revert to the mean — an above-average club, but not quite first-place finishers. And 7 of those last 13 games are on the road.

The way the numbers look right now, the Phillies do still have a chance — but they’ll need to get red-hot right now, and they’ll need the Mets to stop their current roll.

Personally, I’m still nervous. However, if the Mets can win both of these next two series, against the Braves and Phillies, I’ll be feeling a whole lot better.

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Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves Finito

Old Atlanta Braves baseball logoIf you told me at the beginning of the season that this final series with the Braves would be arriving a week after the Mets swept the Braves in Atlanta, and up 8 1/2 games over our perennial nemesis, I might not have believed you.

Had you told me this would be the situation after the Braves acquired Mark Teixeira and Octavio Dotel without affecting their starting lineup, I’d think you were playing me the fool.

But here we are, in mid-September, and the Mets are indeed a mile ahead of Atlanta. The Braves’ bullpen is a disaster, they still haven’t found a fifth starter, and Larry Jones is crying about the strike zone. Boo hoo.

It would be nice to see the Mets continue rolling through the Braves, and have momentum for the phinal Phillies series that starts at the end of the week. But it won’t be easy.

The Braves are sending their two aces to the mound — Tim Hudson and John Smoltz — in the games sandwiching a start by Buddy Carlyle, who beat the Mets a month ago. Meantime, the Mets have Ollie Perez and John Maine starting the first and final games against the aces — and both youngsters have been somewhere between adequate and awful in the second half. Let’s take a look at how the series shapes up, game by game.

Game 1: Oliver Perez vs. Tim Hudson

The Mets have won four of Ollie’s last five starts, but that’s been in spite of Perez rather than because of him. He did mix in a beauty — seven innings of shutout ball against the Dodgers on August 24th — but otherwise he has had tremendous struggles, particularly after the first inning of the game. The two most noticeable differences in Ollie’s second half (compared to the first) are 1.) his refusal — or inability — to keep his mechanics and arm angle consistent and 2.) an inability to keep his composure and focus when bad things happen. The first issue can be fixed by Rick Peterson and perhaps a swift kick in the kiester. The second is something he’s struggled with on and off throughout his career, and is tied to his confidence level. When Perez is rolling, he’s nearly unhittable. However, if a broken-bat hit follows an error, he feels the world falling down on him.

Which Ollie will show up on Monday? Who knows, but with Hudson on the hill for the Braves, it would be nice if the “good” Perez would appear.

Hudson, who can look like Sandy Koufax for stretches, is the pitching version of a streaky player. Currently, he’s on a cold streak, having given up 14 earned runs in his last three starts — two of which lasted only five innings. The Mets roped him for four runs on six hits and two homers on the last day of August, and he was pilfered by the Phillies for five runs on 11 hits in five innings five days ago. I’d like to see Marlon Anderson get a start in rightfield against him, as he’s hitting .385 against him — and of the other two outfielders, Moises Alou is batting .429 against Hudson and Carlos Beltran has rapped him at a .354 clip.

Game 2: Orlando Hernandez vs. Buddy Carlyle

Normally we’d look at this game and say this is the “gimme” — the one the Mets should win hands-down. But we thought that the last time Carlyle faced the Mets, since he had a .500 record and Braves killer Ollie Perez on the mound against him. As it turned out, Caryle allowed only three runs, the Braves bullpen held the Mets hitless, and Perez had a 6-run meltdown.

More importantly than a win in this game is the health of El Duque, who left his last game in Philadelphia after three terrible innings with a sore right foot and skipped a start. He had a cortisone shot on September 1st and may or may not be able to start on Tuesday. Is it so important for him to make the start? Might they consider resting him another day and moving Maine up (it’s Maine’s day to pitch anyway)? Maybe they’ll skip him altogether, and give him another shot against the Phils — or maybe that’s exactly what they don’t want, after the drubbing he received at CBP. Time will tell.

Game 3: John Maine vs. John Smoltz

The smell of this matchup is bordering on rancid. Smoltz — forever a thorn in the Mets’ side — has pitched well against the Mets this year, sporting a 2-1 record and 3.66 ERA in five starts. However, the Mets have hit him to the tune of .316, as his slider seems to flatten in the face of the orange and blue. Still, he’s John Smoltz, and he’s therefore going to be tough for 6-7 innings.

Against him is John Maine, whose ERA since August 1 is an even 7.00 — and he’s facing the third-best offense in the NL (the two above them are the Phils and Rockies, who benefit from hitters’ parks). Not to mention his 5.11 ERA against the Bravos this season. His last start was his worst of the season, as he couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. Maybe the extra day of rest will help him somehow. Maybe this is the start where he begins to reverse the trend, and begin pitching well again — a nice finish and good roll going into the postseason. Or perhaps this is another bad game, and we’ll have to wonder if he’ll ever find his way back.

Bottom Line

A sweep is not necessary, and neither is winning the series. In fact, in these last two series against the Braves and Phillies, all I’m hoping for is one win in each. The Phillies play the Rockies for a four-game set beginning today, and I doubt very highly they’ll sweep them. That said, if the Mets can take one of these next three, then one against the Phillies over the weekend, neither team will gain appreciable ground with two weeks left in the season — and the Mets play 13 of their last 14 games against the Marlins and Nationals. Suffice to say, I might start to feel a little confident if the Mets are up by at least 5 with 14 to play — though I’ll still be guarding against a colossal collapse.

Almost as important as seeing wins, we need to see the following:

  1. Jose Reyes to start hitting
  2. Orlando Hernandez healthy
  3. Oliver Perez to pitch with consistent mechanics again
  4. John Maine pitch like we know he can

If we can see all of the above, and squeak out at least one win, the series — in my eyes — is a success.

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Turning It On

It appears that there IS an “on” button in that Mets’ clubhouse, as several players are turning up the heat down the stretch …

– Tom Glavine is 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA since win #299

– Shawn Green is batting .348 with 4 doubles, 5 runs scored, and 4 RBI in September

– Marlon Anderson hit .455 in August, and is batting .343 with 1 HR, 4 doubles, and 11 RBI as a pinch-hitter this year

– In 32 games as a Met, Luis Castillo has scored 22 runs, driven in 12, walked 15 times, stolen 6 bases, and hit his only homerun of the year

– Since May 1st, David Wright is hitting .330 with 30 doubles, 27 HRs, 87 RBI, 83 runs, and 27 SBs


Since the All-Star Break:

– Moises Alou is batting .338 with 8 HRs and 20 RBI

– Lastings Milledge is batting .297 with 5 HRs and 25 RBI

– Carlos Beltran is batting .317 with 12 HR and 36 RBI

– Carlos Delgado is batting .282 with 8 HR and 31 RBI

– D-Wright is batting .356 with 11 HR and 42 RBI

– Aaron Heilman’s ERA is 2.10

– El Duque is 5-0 with 61 Ks in 62.2 IP and batters are hitting .188 against him


On the down side …

– John Maine has turned into a batting practice pitcher

– Jose Reyes has disappeared

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Mets Game 142: Win Over Astros

Mets 4 Astros 1

Mets sweep !

Of course, we wanted the Mets to sweep, wanted to see them win, wanted to see that magic number dwindle to 15. But above all three of those wishes, we wanted to see how Pedro would pitch with five days’ rest, how many pitches he could throw, and where his velocity would top out.

After five scoreless innings, we found out.

Pedro threw an inefficient but strong 92 pitches in the five frames, allowing 6 hits and one walk, and striking out 4. He topped out around 87 MPH, and his overhand curveball looked pretty good — especially mixed in with the fastball, sinking fastball, change-up, and cutter. He had to pitch out of trouble in every inning but the fourth, doing a great job of keeping the Astros hitters off balance with his array of speeds. Overall, it was an encouraging outing.

In support of Pedro, the Mets offense — sans David Wright — provided four runs on nine hits, including a two-run homer by Moises Alou. Alou’s blast into the bleachers came right after Pedro worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth, and put the game out of Houston’s reach. The Mets’ first two runs were driven in by Carlos Beltran, who is suddenly heating up. Beltran drove in Luis Castillo with an RBI single in the first, and chased home Pedro with a sacrifice fly in the third (Pedro had doubled to lead off the inning, and took third on a Jose Reyes bunt).

The lone Astros run came in the sixth off Guillermo Mota, in the first non-Pedro pitch of the afternoon, when Luke Scott sat dead-red on a first-pitch fastball and sent it soaring over the rightfield fence. Mota did everything he could to spoil Pedro’s outing, but the Astros refused to take the bait, stranding the bases loaded for the umpteenth time in the series.

Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman, and Billy Wagner pitched a scoreless inning apiece to close out the victory.

Notes

Beltran was 2-for-3 with 2 RBI and 1 run scored; one of his hits was his 31st double of the season.

Shawn Green was 2-for-4 with his 30th double of the year.

Ruben Gotay started at third to give D-Wright a rest, and though he was hitless, he made several fine plays in the field — his first-ever Major League start at the hot corner.

The Shea Stadium crowd honored Craig Biggio with a standing ovation after he grounded out in the 8th, his last at-bat in New York.

The same crowd pummeled Guillermo Mota with boos after he gave up the homer to Scott, and was clearly shaken afterward. One must wonder if he was more upset with the bad pitch or the outpouring of negativity. Whichever it was, he tried to make up for everything by attempting an impossible play on a bunt — which turned out very badly and put himself in a deeper hole. Luckily, he found a way out of the inning without more damage, but as I’ve mentioned before, his performance is directly related to his confidence level — something I’m not sure can return in the few weeks left before the postseason.

Next Game

The Braves come to Shea for a three-game set. Monday’s night’s game begins at 7:10 PM, with Oliver Perez taking the mound against Tim Hudson.

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