With a four-game series upcoming against the Mets, a team the Cubs haven't faced since last July, I exchanged questions with D. J. Short of MetsBlog and Joe Janish of MetsToday. You can read my replies to their queries here and here. Here are my questions to D. J. and Joe and their answers:
BCB: So let me get this straight. Carlos Delgado is hitting .209. David Wright has three home runs. Several key players are injured. And yet the Mets sit at 23-13, third-best record in the NL. How?
MetsBlog: I'd start by looking at Jose Reyes and the Mets bullpen. Reyes has been incredible. A few seasons ago, this guy couldn't buy a walk. Now he leads the team with 20 free passes. He's quickly turning into an on base machine. And when he gets on, look out. More often than not, he'll come around to score (tied with Hanley Ramirez for the NL lead for runs scored, with 33). The Mets bullpen also has been key. In fact, until Saturday, Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith had not given up an earned run all season (in 33 combined appearances). Smith has been a revelation, especially after losing Chad Bradford to the Orioles during the off-season. With Duaner Sanchez and Guillermo Mota out, and Aaron Heilman still working the kinks out after off-season elbow surgery, the bullpen came in as a question mark. It hasn't missed a beat yet.
MetsBlog: Well, Moises Alou went down on Saturday with a quad injury, which has opened the door for 21-year-old outfielder/dynamo Carlos Gomez. Alou has been nicked up for a few weeks now and I have a feeling that his health will continue to be a concern for the duration of the season. Orlando Hernandez falls into a similar category at this point. This team has age, certainly, but it was built with depth.
The bigger question -- for Mets fans anyway -- is Oliver Perez. Some days, Perez looks like the most dominating lefty in the NL. Others, he looks like he can't pitch his way out of a paper bag. Even on a bad day, Maine will keep the score close enough to give the bats a chance to fight back. But when Perez is off, he's WAY off, and can let the game get out of hand in a remarkably short time frame.
With El Duque out, and the fifth spot in the rotation up in the air, Perez is the key to the Mets' chances in 2007. If he can pitch like he did in 2004, the Mets will have a good chance to overtake the Braves. If he continues the Jekyll and Hyde act, it could be a frustrating summer.
MetsBlog: There's a limit to my confidence in their starting pitching. Tom Glavine is as close to a given as this staff has, but at this point in his career, he's just not the type of pitcher who can go out there and throw a complete game. The furthest he has went this season was seven innings. The furthest he went last season was eight, and that only happened once. Luckily they have a competent bullpen which can get him ever closer to that 300 mark. Oliver Perez is quite enigmatic and until he gathers a larger body of work under Rick Peterson, the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned.
It sounds simple, but John Maine makes batters swing and miss. That is something that Maine and Perez add to the equation that the Mets haven't had in a long, long time. I do think Maine will come back to earth a bit, any pitcher would (he allows too many baserunners to have this continue), but I think we are witnessing the development of a solid middle of the rotation-type starter for years to come. That, however, is where the praise ends. Orlando Hernandez? Jorge Sosa? Mike Pelfrey? And Pedro Martinez? I'm certainly not counting on him to save this team down the stretch. Honestly, I believe the Mets lineup and bullpen is good enough to salvage a weak back end of the rotation, which they currently have.
Hitting-wise, I'm never happy to see Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, or Aramis Ramirez come to the plate, as all three can change the game with one swing. Lee is especially frightening --- he's like some freak of nature with a bat in his hands, hitting on the same planet as Pujols and Bonds.
And for some reason, Mark DeRosa torches us. Maybe he's ticked that he was passed over by the Mets despite growing up about 20 miles west of Flushing.
Difficult to find an "easy mark" in the Chicago lineup, especially since Ronny Cedeno was sent down. Though I won't be shaking with fear when Cesar Izturis comes to the plate.
MetsBlog: Honestly, there's something about Aramis Ramirez that always makes me think the next pitch is ending up in the left-field bleachers. And vs. Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner, it often has. Ramirez is 10-for-20 with three home runs vs. Glavine and has two home runs in 11 at-bats vs. Wagner. Something to keep an eye on in this series. Sure, Carlos Zambrano has been struggling this season, but he always has the potential to go out there and strike out ten batters. You can never overlook his stuff.
The Cubs have a very capable lineup offensively, so I don't see many easy outs there. Collectively, they haven't drawn many walks, which I think could work in the Mets favor in this series. As for a matchup I feel good about, I think the Mets have a great shot at taking it to Rich Hill. They came into Sunday's action hitting .345 vs. lefties. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are each ripping lefties at a .462 clip this season.
MetsBlog: Coming into the season, I did expect more of a dogfight from the Braves and Phillies, and the Phils don't usually come around until the second half of the season anyway. This NL East will be far from a cakewalk, I'm convinced of that. The Brewers proved to me this weekend that they are for real. They win with aggressiveness. It's a club where anybody can be a hero on any given night. Who said you need a big bopper like Carlos Lee to win ballgames? This will be my first real look at the Cubs, so it's hard for me to judge them quite yet. The Dodgers and the Giants impress me out west. I just don't think the Padres (and their .239 team batting average) have enough offense.
I take solace in the fact that any day, the Mets have the talent to prove they are the best team in the National League. The question is whether it can sustain itself over 162 games. Personally, I think they'll be there when the dust settles, but once the playoffs begin, all bets are off.
|Today's Starting Pitchers|
Jason Marquis, pitching tonight only a few miles from his hometown on Long Island, is 5-4 lifetime vs. the Mets in 18 appearances (11 starts) with a 3.98 ERA. Don't be surprised to see Mets backup catcher Ramon Castro start tonight -- he's 5-for-11 vs. Marquis with two HR. Marquis and tonight's Mets starter Tom Glavine were Atlanta teammates for three years, from 2000-2002.
Glavine, for his part, has made 33 lifetime starts against the Cubs, with a middling 14-13 record and 3.57 ERA. Oddly, bad as last year's Cubs were, they beat him twice. The last time Glavine beat the Cubs was August 5, 2005, the third of an eight-game Cub losing streak that pretty much killed any postseason dreams we had that year. Of the Cubs who played in that game, only Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett, Matt Murton, Ryan Dempster and Rich Hill (who got pounded that night) remain on the active roster. See this diary for more on the Cubs vs. Glavine.
Glavine has 294 career wins. Let him wait till his next start to resume his quest toward 300. The Cubs will be looking to reach .500 for the seventh time this season (they have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 14-14, 15-15 and 16-16).
As noted on the sidebar, tonight's game will be available nationwide on ESPN; Chicago viewers will either get blacked out on ESPN or get another game, and will see the Cubs on WCIU. MLB.com Mediacenter
MLB.com Gameday (2007 version)
MLB.com Gameday (2006 version)
More Mets fans views can be found at our SB Nation site, Amazin' Avenue.
Finally, thanks to any of you who bid on my daughter Rachel's friend Jenna's Mitzvah Project eBay auctions; she raised over $5,000 for Keshet, a Chicago-area organization which helps special-needs kids. Thanks!
Discuss amongst yourselves.