Say what you will, but I’m pretty excited for tonight’s Mets-Braves game. Yes, I know it’s only the fourth game of the season, but no real Met fan can deny how pleasant it would be to win this series. The Mets roll red-hot into Atlanta for the Braves’ home opener, following their three game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. But Atlanta broke out the brooms on the road as well, as they took all three games (the first two in extra innings) against the Phillies. With both teams undefeated and the marquee matchup of Smoltz vs. Glavine set to air before a national audience on Saturday afternoon, most of the eyes of the baseball world will be focused on Turner Field this weekend. So what better opportunity could the Mets have to show that last year was no fluke and that they are capable of putting the Braves, and all the ghastly memories that come with them, away for good?
Tonight’s pitching matchup probably tips the scales ever so slightly in the Mets’ direction, as lefties Oliver Perez and Mark Redman will take the hill for New York and Atlanta, respectively. Most Mets fans know Perez’s story: he’s got great stuff, but he’s very inconsistant. Down the stretch for the Mets last year, however, Perez improved. From September 1st through his strong start in Game 7 of the NLCS, he posted an ERA of 4.50 and struck out 39 batters in 40 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, Atlanta counters with Redman, the former Kansas City Royal, who has eaten innings throughout his career, but not eaten them terribly effectively. The 33-year-old gave up a lot of hits last year (202 in 167 innings pitched), recorded only 76 strikeouts, and doesn’t throw particularly hard.
I get the feeling that winning this series will require a group effort,
with players chipping in off the bench and the bullpen playing a more
significant role than in the series against St. Louis . . .
Shawn Green is 6 for 6 against Redman in his career, which could lead Willie Randolph to put him in the starting lineup tonight over Lastings Milledge, who Randolph said might start tonight against the left-hander Redman . . .
Atlanta’s home opener is tonight, so the park should be full, as this old rivalry heats up once more. Should be a fun series . . .
It would have been easy for the Mets to let Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta halt their early season success. It certainly seemed possible entering the 8th inning of yesterday’s game in San Diego, that the outstanding offensive start for the ball club was merely an aberration, before entering their usual offensive doldrums.
In fact, entering the 8th, the Mets had collected only three runs in their last 25 innings, dating back to the beginning of Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Atlanta. They had just narrowly escaped a bases loaded, nobody out jam in the bottom of the 7th, and had been limited to just four hits in the first seven innings by San Diego starter Jake Peavy. But Peavy was out, and the bats suddenly came alive.
Xavier Nady doubled on an 0-2 count, and after Kaz Matsui grounded out to third, Julio Franco came to the plate as a pinch hitter. Four pitches later, Franco became the oldest player in major league history to hit a home run, and the Mets took a 3-2 lead.
After piling on four more runs that inning, and eventually winning the game 7-2, one thing was clear: this team may not have exorcised the Atlanta demons yet, but they haven’t been defeated by them either.
First off, let me apologize for the lack of updates to the Daily Mets Blog, as I have been rather busy lately. However, let me assure you that I am just as Mets-obsessed as ever, perhaps even more so now that we are officially (at least for today) the best team in Major League Baseball, record wise. I went to all three games against the Brewers this weekend and came away pretty pleased with what I saw. Even following the Mets taking two of three in this series, Milwaukee is 7-5, and probably the first relatively strong team the Mets have played this year.
Here are some observations from the three game series:
- Carlos Beltran is back! Despite missing Sunday’s game with a minor hamstring problem, the Mets center fielder is doing everything I expected from him. He has the second highest on base percentage on the team (.422), by far the most walks (10), seen the most pitches (204), already stolen two bases without getting caught, has the second most home runs on the team (3), and is tied with Jose Reyes for the most runs scored (13).
- David Wright and Carlos Delgado are as good (or better) than expected. Wright is hitting .429. His OPS is 1.235. Plus he’s Mr. Clutch. Delgado, aside from the strikeouts (12), is hitting tremendously, and his fielding has been much better than expected.
- Pitching is inconsistent. Brian Bannister needed over 110 pitches to work 5 innings yesterday, in a thoroughly Al Leiter performance. With the exception of Chad Bradford and Duaner Sanchez, the bullpen has been up and down. Billy Wagner hasn’t been gotten as many strikeouts as expected, and has gotten hit pretty hard. Aaron Heilman has had two rocky outings. Darren Oliver has had two rough games in a row. Jorge Julio looks like a disastor. With that said, Tom Glavine looks amazing, and the rest of the staff looks pretty solid, Steve Trachsel aside.
Huge three game series against Atlanta tonight. We are four games up, let’s keep it going.
It was ugly, no two ways about that. However, one day after the Mets let a four run lead get away to the Washington Nationals, Mets’ fans can take comfort in the obvious: there are still 160 games to go. It is not yet time to fly off the handle about Carlos Beltran (still hit less) or Billy Wagner (blew last night’s save) or even Jorge Julio (got the loss in disastrous 10th inning).
There is an excellent post over at Mets Geek, which tries (and succeeds) in finding positives in last night’s debacle. Here’s a summary of what they came up with: Anderson Hernandez can field, Beltran got three walks, Delgado (with Beltran on) ripped two hits including a two-run homer, Jose Reyes worked some good plate appearances and saw thirty pitches, and the Duaner Sanchez / Aaron Heilman set-up team looked impressive.
One thing that came to my mind, after I had fired off last night’s angry post recapping the meltdown, was that Mariano Rivera started out last year poorly – blowing a save against the Red Sox – before finishing second in the A.L. Cy Young voting. That is not to imply that Wagner will do that this year, but certainly it is not yet time to start questioning whether Wagner has come down with a case of "Metitis". Basically, he challenged a good young hitter with a piece of cheese and he got beat. Life goes on. What worries many Mets fans more is that Wagner is not throwing nearly as hard as we remember him throwing in previous years. Still, as Eric Simon at Mets Geek reminds us, "it’s only been two games, and both came on rather chilly days."
Brian Bannister pitched decently, though he seemed to really fall apart in the sixth inning. I tend not to read to much into a start like this ever since I saw David Cone’s comeback with the Mets several years ago on a chilly night against the then-Expos. Cone worked five strong innings, against an Expo team that was so cold it practically wore head scarfs to the plate. We all remember how badly Cone struggled in the starts that followed, so we’ll judge Bannister more after his second or third start.
As for Julio, maybe we can worry about him a little bit. Give him a few more appearances, and maybe he’ll turn things around. If not, it will look like Minaya made another Zambrano / Kazmir trade: one that looked stupid at the time and proved to be as bad, or worse, as was expected.
Anyway, the "first place Mets" lasted one day, and now it’s time to regroup and win the series. If Pedro pitches poorly tonight, it could cause more worries than the entire game yesterday, so let’s hope for the best. Since Martinez will probably only give us five or six innings, the bullpen, and possibly Wagner, will be tested again. How they respond could be very telling.
Did the Mets make the right decision today to start the season with Brian Bannister as the team’s #5 starter? The fact that the other option, Aaron Heilman, has actual Major League experience and blossomed last year as a reliever, has led many to question the choice.
There are many factors to consider when examining the Mets’ decision. First of all, was Heilman’s strong performance as a reliever last year a driving factor behind the team’s choice to send him back to the bullpen? The organization is trying to spin it that way, with general manager Omar Minaya claiming that the Mets now have the best bullpen in the National League. But given Heilman’s proven success at the big league level, shouldn’t the fifth spot in the starting rotation be his to lose? He certainly did nothing to lose it, going 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA this spring. While Bannister was even better, posting a 0.97 ERA in his five starts, it is unlikely that such a small difference in Spring Training ERA would play a role in the decision.
In this case, I think Spring is really reinforcing what the team saw from Bannister all of last year in Binghamton and Norfolk: great command, three solid pitches, and a good feel for pitching. I think the best comparison for what Bannister has done this Spring is what Jae Seo did a couple of years ago: a great March that highlighted what he had done so well in the minors. So there’s clearly some interaction between a good track record and a good spring performance, which is really how most teams work when a position’s [sic] up for grabs.
As I mentioned the other day, Buster Olney thinks that Heilman’s experience in the bullpen will prove useful, as he believes that the transition to New York could be difficult for the young Duaner Sanchez, who is the other contender for the set up job.
Though it was a very tough call, I think I like the decision to start the season with Bannister in the rotation. But it should by no means be irreversible. Heilman adds so much to the bullpen, and I think testing Bannister early in the season isn’t a terrible idea. For his part, Heilman is very disappointed, saying, “[i]t is what it is. I’m certainly disappointed. … But I’ll go to the bullpen and give it my best.”