After losing last weekend’s series to the Braves, the Mets really needed to take a pair of games from the flailing Phillies, and they did just that with their victory against them last night. Even had they lost the last two games of the series, their losing streak wouldn’t last much longer: the slump-busting Washington Nationals (2-8) are the next team on the horizon. The Nationals, who are looking like easily the worst team in the senior circuit, have allowed a league-leading 61 runs, while scoring just 23 times over the first ten games of the season. The team can’t hit, can’t pitch, and can’t play defense (they also lead the league in errors). In the first game, the Nationals’ “ace” John Patterson (0-2, 9.35) squares off against Mike Pelfrey (0-0, —), who will be making his first start of the year, setting up a game two matchup of Shawn Hill (0-2, 3.09) and Orlando Hernandez (1-0, 1.38). The two teams will cap off the series with a contest between Matt Chico (0-1, 7.27) and John Maine (1-0, 1.54).
Game 1: John Patterson
What’s the Story? After 2005, things were finally starting to look up for John Patterson. Healthy for a whole year, Patterson was very effective, going 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA with solid peripherals across the board. He looked poised to build upon that success last year, but the injury bug reared its ugly head again, and Patterson missed most of the season with forearm troubles. When he did pitch, his peripherals stayed strong though his ERA rose by more than a run. Patterson, once a big prospect in the Diamondbacks organization, has great stuff, including a fastball that touches the mid-90’s with good movement, and a power curveball with excellent break. He’s made an effort to mix in his slider and especially a developing changeup more frequently, but hasn’t had much of a chance yet.
Last Year: Patterson made one start against the Mets in April, going just four innings, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks. He did strikeout the side over each of the first two innings and wound up with seven on the day.
What to Expect: Patterson lives off his fastball-curveball combination, so expect lots of fastballs early in counts to set up his breaking ball. Unfortunately, neither of those pitches has been working well for him so far this year, as his fastball has lacked velocity (he hasn’t really hit 90 yet), and he hasn’t been able to get his breaking stuff over the plate. In general, he’s been quite wild, walking seven batters in just over nine innings while striking out four. The key is going to be for Mets hitters to do exactly what they did to him in his start last season: be patient, wait for their pitches, and let him run up his pitch count. With Patterson still building up arm strength, this shouldn’t be a tough contest.
Game 2: Shawn Hill
What’s the Story? The 26 year-old Hill is another pitcher who had an injury-plagued 2006 for the Nationals. He had Tommy John surgery in 2005, and was rushed back, only to have his elbow flare up after six starts, causing the Nats to shut him down for the year. Over those six starts, he was really quite effective, really just getting touched up a bit in his last two when his elbow likely wasn’t 100%. Hill is your classic sinkerball pitcher; he’ll throw a lot of strikes low in the zone, augmenting that with a curveball that can be quite good at times. The sinking fastball is a particularly good pitch, thrown in the high 80’s, heavy and boring in on right-handed batters. Much as he has with Patterson, Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire has been teaching him a changeup.
Last Year: Hill has never pitched against the Mets.
What to Expect: Hill has been the Nationals’ best pitcher in the early going this season, so expect a fairly well-pitched game. He’ll lay that sinker down often, getting a lot of groundballs. Don’t expect too many homers—he’s allowed just three in 57 career innings—or walks. He’ll mix in the curveball primarily to righties and the change to lefties. He’ll occasionally hang a curve, which will probably be the only pitch a hitter will get to drive. Other than that, he’ll let hitters put the ball in play, relying on defense and luck to get him through the game.
Game 3: Matt Chico
What’s the Story? The gem the Nats received in the trade that sent Livan Hernandez packing, Chico is a five-foot-eleven lefty who is making the jump from Double-A to the majors this season. In 2006, he went a combined 12-6 with a 2.87 ERA over 153 innings with 125 strikeouts and 40 walks in the minors. As last year’s stats indicate, he has both good command and good control, capable of locating his fastball right where he wants. This is reflected in his homerun rate (0.82 per nine innings), which isn’t bad for a flyball pitcher. He has a good fastball that touches 94, a decent curve and an adequate change, though I’m sure St. Claire, a big believer in the pitch, will work on that with him.
Last Year: Like Hill, Chico hasn’t thrown against the Mets either.
What to Expect: For a guy named Chico, he sure doesn’t play around; he’ll go right after hitters, staying in the zone with his fastball. I think the Nationals may have rushed Chico a tad, a necessary evil when you’re a team with no starting pitching. His secondary offerings are really nothing special, and his fastball isn’t really good enough for him to get away with that. He’ll leave the ball up in the zone, and sooner or later he’ll pay for that. In fact, he already has, giving up four homeruns in less than nine innings, so far. He has yet to pitch five innings this season, getting roughed up in each of his first two starts. I think he can be a major league starter in time, but he’s not there yet.
Overall: The Nationals are bad. They’re really bad. So bad, I can’t help but predict a sweep for the Mets. Normally I’d say they’re due to win a game, but they won last night, beating John Smoltz in a big upset. They have their only somewhat dependable starter on the mound in Hill and their ace in Patterson, but neither is really capable of dominating at this stage. Even if Hill pitches well, there’s no guarantee the lineup will do enough to support him. So I’m picking the Mets to beat up on Patterson, do enough to beat Hill, and soundly beat Chico in the third game before they head to Philadelphia for another series with the Phillies.