Remember when a late July series against the Braves was a big deal? When the specter of going to Atlanta was potentially terrifying? When Chipper Jones was a The Man and the Bravos always unearthed some stud rookie pitcher to shut the Mets down and send them back on their way, embarrassed and disoriented? Well, let’s let this series be a reminder of those days — because all of that could happen starting tonight. Sure, the Braves are twelve games out and five games under .500. And, yeah, they’re also a measly 22-25 at home. But this has all the makings of the most exciting series the Mets are going to play until September rolls around — what with the return of Pedro, a chance to absolutely bury the Braves in the division, and the Trading Deadline literally days away. These next three games go well, and the Mets are looking good. Real good. They go badly, and there’s a solid chance that Lastings Milledge and/or Aaron Heilman never see the inside of a Mets uniform again. Major League Baseball… I Live For This! In tonight’s game, Pedro Martinez (7-4, 3.45) makes his long-awaited return to the rotation against, dare I say, the Braves ace Horacio Ramirez (5-3, 4.04). In Saturday’s matinee, Orlando Hernandez (6-8, 5.40) will look to continue to make his case to stay in the rotation when he opposes the equally unreliable Tim Hudson (8-8, 4.87). And, in Sunday’s finale, Tom Glavine (11-4, 3.69) looks to get off the schnied when he takes on rookie lefthander Chuck James (4-1, 3.53).
Game 1: Horacio Ramirez
What’s the Story? The oft-injured Ramirez has been on the DL twice already this season, both due to hamstring issues, but has pitched relatively well whenever he’s been on the mound. Since June 22nd, he’s allowed only thirteen runs in thirty-five and two-thirds innings — even more surprising when you notice he allowed seven of those runs in a one inning start against the Cubs. Remove that little guy, and he’s given up six runs in thirty-four innings. At least the Leo Mazzone Approach to Hitters still works well in the National League. Ramirez sports two fastballs — a low 90’s two-seamer and a strong cutter. He also throws a nice slider, a decent change, and an average curveball.
Last Year: The Mets saw a lot of Ramirez last season, and it wasn’t pretty for Horacio. Over four starts he allowed fourteen runs off twenty-eight hits in twenty-four innings. Oh, and seven of those twenty-eight hits were homeruns. He also walked five and struck out twelve. And, in case you forgot, David Wright is seven for ten against Ramirez, with four homeruns and a double. That’s good for a batting line of .700/.727/2.000. Just in case you were wondering.
What to Expect: Ramirez is a control pitcher with sub par stuff, so he tends to give up a lot of hits. As I said before Horacio was/is one of Mazzone’s prized disciples, and he still pitches the Mazzone gameplan in every start — working the corners and pounding the bottom half of the strike zone away. As a lefthander, his pitches break in against righties, so they can expect a healthy dose of cutters and changeups to set up the cutter. Though he’s had far more success against lefties than righties over the course of his career, lefthanders have been tagging Ramirez this season. They can expect a lot of sliders and curves, a surprising amount of which will be thrown out of the strike zone. If they can lay off the sliders in the dirt, they can wait on his fastball on the outside part of the plate.
Game 2: Tim Hudson
What’s the Story? For Tim Hudson’s original scouting report, click here.
This Year: Over two starts, Hudson is 1-1 with a 4.11 ERA. He’s allowed seven runs off of twelve hits in fifteen and a third innings. He’s struck out eight and walked four. But let us take a moment to ask what the hell has happened to him? Hudson was the number one starter for the Oakland A’s, the workhorse of the Big Three, and even placed in the top ten in the AL Cy Young voting three times in his five full seasons there. Since coming to the Braves however he’s been injury-prone and battered around on a regular basis. This year he’s averaging a little over six innings a game, and has pitched into the sixth inning exactly once since June 26th. In May he was 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA. In June he was 1-4 with a 4.96 ERA. In July he’s 2-1, but with a whopping 7.56 ERA. Far be it from me to complain about a Braves pitcher’s decline, but what on Earth has become of Tim Hudson?
Game 3: Chuck James
What’s the Story? After an impressive minor league career (25-13, 2.05 over sixty-two starts) James started out the season in the Braves bullpen, making seven appearances before being put on the DL with a strained hamstring. When he returned he was sent down to AAA until late June, when the Braves cut the struggling Mike Remlinger and moved James into their vaunted starting rotation. Since that point James has been a solid fifth starter, going 4-0 in his first four decisions before dropping his first one last week (despite pitching seven innings of two run ball). James is a lefty in the mold of his opponent, Tom Glavine — he throws a high-80’s/low-90’s fastball, a nice changeup and an average slider.
Last Year: This is James’ first start against the New York Mets.
What to Expect: As previously stated, James has been extremely successful throughout his minor league career. In three hundred and forty-three innings he’s allowed two-hundred and twenty-one hits and a mere one hundred and three walks. That’s 324 base runners in 343 minor league innings, folks. James’ success comes from his ability to change speeds on his fastball, as well as mixing in that nasty changeup. Both pitches comprise about ninety percent of his gameplan — a plan that is pretty similar to Ramirez’s. He’ll pound the bottom half of the strike zone, especially away, though he’ll occasionally climb the ladder against righthanders. His changeup is thrown more to righthanders than lefties, while he relies more on his slider to get lefties swinging. James is an extreme flyball pitcher, which has led to a surprisingly high homerun total (seven in his first five starts). Hitters will need to swing their way on against him — which tends to get easier as the game wears on.
This is one of the biggest series the Mets have had in quite some time, so it’s easy to get amped up about it. The Braves were coming on strong a couple weeks ago, but they’ve cooled off some — especially with injuries to both Chipper and Andruw Jones. The Braves will be apparently back to full strength in this series though, coincidentally coinciding with the Mets being back at full strength, so what the hell… they might as well rumble.
Pedro’s start can either go really well, or really badly, but I’m not planning on seeing any middle ground. With Ramirez being an average pitcher against the Mets over the course of his career, I say they’ll take this one. I like Hudson over Duque in the second game, for the simple fact that the Mets are the only team Tim Hudson’s pitched like, well, Tim Hudson, against. For some reason, I think the Braves are the team Glavine will turn it around against — the only problem being that Chuck James is opposing him. James will be a tough pitcher for the Mets, a soft-tossing, control rookie. This series can really go either way — and it all depends on who pitches better in Game 3. I’m going to say the Mets drop it, because we’ve all been burned by too many trips down to Georgia in our lifetimes. I think the Mets are the better team, but Atlanta’s got the better matchups in this series — so I’ll let the Mets prove to me they can exorcise their demons before I start banking on them to do it themselves.