Manny's been a master of motivation, but if I ever saw an emotional back-breaker, yesterday was it. The Nationals have 13 games left, with 10 against the Mets, Phillies and Marlins. Obviously we can't beat Florida, and the Mets and the Phillies have everything to play for. Other than that 3-game Strasburg Series next weekend, it's suddenly possible to imagine the Nationals getting swept the rest of the way.
Just to establish the facts, if the Nationals lost their last 13, they would finish with 105. They are on pace for just under 101 losses. Avoiding triple-digit losses is once again starting to seem like a foregone conclusion.
Here's my take on game one of the Nationals' final series of the season against the Mets. (For more on New York's offense and bullpen, check out my preview of game one of last week's two game series. Nothing's changed except that Ramon Castro is back, but it looks like Schneider is still getting most of the starts.)
Pedro Martinez: In a season marred by a hamstring injury that cost him two months and a year and half removed from rotator cuff surgery, Pedro has posted a very un-Pedro-like 5.44 ERA. Mets fans are right to worry about whether he can be an asset to a playoff run.
His velocity has been down for a while, but lately it's been an even greater concern. His last few starts he's come out throwing fastballs at 80-83 for the first 7-8 hitters before finally cracking into the upper 80s after about 20-25 pitches. MLB Gameday is mistaking his fastballs for change-ups. He complained publicly after his August 31 start that had trouble getting loose. Over his last 3 starts his ERA is 7.80.
It was thought that command and craftiness would get him through, but his command has been below par for any pitcher, much less him. He's walking 3.28 per 9, which is a higher number than any season in his career other than 1993, when he was 21 years old. His 2.06 K/BB isn't going to get him sent down to the minors, but it's Todd Wellemeyer / Braden Looper territory.
He's just a really, really hittable pitcher right now. These days, if the Mets get 5-6 innings and 3 earned runs out of him, they're happy.
John Lannan: Is Lannan gassed? He sure looked it his last time out, a 3-inning, 5-ER performance in Shea that pushed his ERA over 4 for the first time since April 17. His fastball topped out at 86, and he's been able to touch 88-89 with regularity. (Fangraphs has his average fastball velocity at 87.5 for the year.)
He can always be counted on to go out and give his team a gutty performance, but knowing that he threw 138 innings in '06, 159.1 in '07, and is sitting on 163 already this year with probably three more starts to go, he may be past the point where guts alone can get him through.
(Season record: 28-16)
The Mets continue where they left off last week out-slugging the Nationals and take game one, 8-5.