The Pirates shove into Flushing for a three-game set with the Metropolitans … though I doubt they’ll arrive by ship. They do, however, come battle-scarred.
After a surprising 11-7 start, the Bucs have lost their sixth consecutive game and nine out of their last ten, and now sit just above the lowly Astros in second-to-last place in the NL Central with a 12-16 record. In those last ten contests, they’re hitting .188 with three home runs, averaging just a hair above three runs a game. Their pitching hasn’t been much better — they’ve allowed 56 runs over the last ten.
As if all that weren’t enough stacked against the Pirates, their closer Matt Capps is battling a sore right elbow and likely won’t be able to pitch until Sunday. Backup closer Craig Hansen is stuck on the DL.
Bottom line? This is a gift for the Mets, who should feast this weekend. Pittsburgh is a bad team going through a tough time — an ideal opportunity for the Mets to take control of their destiny.
Game One: Jonathan Niese (0-0) vs. Jeff Karstens (1-1, 5.85 ERA)
Niese had an unsightly 7+ ERA through his first four starts in Buffalo, but put together six shutout innings last Friday against Louisville, earning him a spot start this evening. (Louisville is second in the league in HRs and has a .255 team batting average, for what it’s worth.) Karstens has made it to the 6th inning only once in four starts this year. He has walked 13 and struck out 9.
Game Two: John Maine (2-2, 5.20 ERA ) vs. Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.97 ERA)
After two straight losses and a no-decision to start the season, Maine has won his last two starts. However, he’s walked 18 batters in 27 innings and his command has been nonexistent. Against the free-swinging Bucs, though, he should be fine. Maholm is the Pirates’ ace and could give the Mets problems, particularly the lefties, who are hitting .133 against him this year.
Game Three: Livan Hernandez vs. Ian Snell (1-4, 4.50 ERA)
This will be an educational game to watch in that we should experience a stark constrast in efficiencies. Livan, if he’s on, will pitch to contact, induce ground balls, and get through innings with ten pitches or less. Snell, regardless of whether he’s on or not, will expend pitches like there’s no tomorrow in an effort to strike out every hitter he faces. It’s entirely possible that Snell will throw more pitches in one inning than Livan throws through four. Snell has walked 23 and struck out 22 in 34 innings.
If the Mets batters are willing to take a strike in games 1 and 3, they are virtually guaranteed a series win. The Pirates’ lineup is slumping, young, undisciplined, and missing the bats of Jack Wilson and Ryan Doumit, and are ideal fodder for Maine and Hernandez. Friday night’s opener is something of a crapshoot, but I like Niese’s chances against Pittsburgh’s lefty-heavy lineup. A sweep is not out of the question, and could catapult the Mets into first place with the Braves and Phillies locking horns this weekend.