Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Mets (9/9)

The Nationals arrive in New York to try to play more havoc with the playoff picture in the NL East

Or, if not, we may make up some lost ground in the Strasburg Sweepstakes.

One thing I've been meaning to blog on is the importance of this team playing hard every game and not losing on purpose to get Strasburg. I think there are a few fans out there who are rooting for us to tank at the end, and it's understandable. And I've had some fun spinning positive on the Nationals failed season by focusing on the reward we may reap, but the integrity of the game requires that we play out the string to win. I know Manny knows that, but I thought it was worth repeating here.

Here's my take on game one of the dramatic Mets-Nationals series.

When the Mets Are Up
--Early in the year, Carlos Delgado was looking like exhibit A of the albatross aging free agent. Since then, he's been an MVP candidate. On the year he's posted a .346 OBP / .504 SLG, but since the all-star break those numbers are .380 OBP / .599 SLG.

--Reyes and Wright have been their normal great selves this year, though they both come into this series slumping. Reyes is hitting just .120 BA over the last two series against the Phillies and the Brewers, and Wright is hitting .167 over that same period. Mets fans better hope this September swoon thing isn't becoming a pattern.

--Ramon Castro is on the 15-day DL with a strained quad, and Brian Schneider is getting all the starts in his absence. Schneider's been better than the last two years, but not as good as 2005. The Mets can't be disappointed with what they've gotten.

--There was talk that Ryan Church may have been out for the year with concussion symptoms earlier this year. He's been back for 14 games but seems to still be struggling catching up. He's hitting a weak .244 / .292 / .378 since his return. When he was healthy and playing well early, the biggest area of improvement was hitting lefties; his line against LHPs has been .299 / .353 / .455, compared to a career line of .266 / .336 / .409.

--Luis Castillo, over the hill at 32, is losing starts to Damian Easley. Good thing he's only signed for three more years. He's been bad, but he still gets on base plenty (.357 OBP); he just never hits for any power at all (ten extra base hits all year long). I'm not sure what Omar was expecting though, and Easley's not really any better (.272 BA / .322 OBP / .374 SLG).

--Since Moises Alou went down early in the year, the Mets have gotten surprisingly good production from a rotation including Danny Murphy, Fernando Tatis, and Nick Evans.

Pitching Match-Up
Oliver Perez: The "Loopy Lefty" will throw a fastball and a slider with 95% of his pitches, which is the kind of repertoire you usually see from a reliever.

His command has never been very good, but last year he shaved his BB/9 from 5.43 in 2006 to 4.03 in 2007. This year that number is finding it's level at 4.77, but lately it's been getting worse. Over his last four starts since we last saw him August 14 he's walked 16 in 25 and 1/3 innings (5.68/9).

He's a flyball pitcher (46% of balls in play this year; 36% is average), and in his last game against the Brewers he managed 15 flyballs and zero grounders. But he's managed to post an ERA of just 3.55 over that time with a .211 batting average against and 20 strikeouts.

He also has a flukily high 76% strand rate and .266 BABIP. The Mets may not see those numbers even out till the worst possible moment. Or maybe he'll continue to coast and regression won't come till next year...

John Lannan: Lannan had his second consecutive strong start last time out against the Phillies, going six innings and allowing five hits, two walks, and two runs to go with five strikeouts. He was back to the Lannan we know and love, spotting the fastball and getting guys to swing over that tight little curve, mixing in the change and slider to keep guys off balance. What he allowed came on good pitches that the Phillies poked through holes in the infield for cheap base hits. He could have easily matched Hamels's shut-out through six with a little more luck.

Other Notes
--The Mets bullpen last season was in the heart of their meltdown. If you told me at the start of the season that Billy Wagner by now would be lost for the year and Aaron Heilman would be sporting a 5.18 ERA, I'd tell you they'd be dead. But Scott Schoeneweis is having a career year, and Luis Ayala apparently recovered from his May overuse just around the time we traded him at the bottom of his trade value. Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, and Joe Smith have all been ok too. They also have Al Reyes, who may have helped you win your roto league last year when he saved 26 games for Tampa, but he's old and is more of a case study on how you don't have to be very good to close. But their bullpen is still a weakness. None of these guys belong on the mound with a season on the line.

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 24-15)
Mets take the opener, 6-3.

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