Remember my last column, where I threw all those numbers out there to demonstrate how much better the Mets were than the Nationals? Well, the Mets (15-8) did take two out of three, but they sure didn’t look that much better doing so. Two games were one-run games, and the third was a twelve inning nail-biter that had many Met fans screaming in frustration. The team’s pitching held their end of the bargain, but the hitting did not: if you ignore the four runs scored in the twelfth of Saturday’s game, the Mets scored a mere six runs against the National League’s worst pitching staff.
The Mets’ bats will try to turn it around against the Florida Marlins (11-13) who come to Shea for a three-game set. The Fish, who feature the National League’s best offense, are coming off a disappointing series with the Phillies where they lost two out of three. They’ll be sending Scott Olsen (2-1, 6.23) against what will hopefully be Orlando Hernandez (2-1, 2.53). El Duque is experiencing some shoulder tightness, so there’s a strong chance that someone else—Chan Ho Park?—will be marched out there instead. The middle game features a pair of struggling pitchers in Ricky Nolasco (0-0, 20.25) and Mike Pelfrey (0-2, 7.90). The series ends as Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 4.39) starts against Oliver “Slot Machine” Perez (2-2, 3.86).
Game 1: Scott Olsen
What’s the Story? Olsen was one of the many success stories for Marlin rookies (see below) in 2006, going 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA with 166 strikeouts over 180 innings. The Marlins are hoping he can build upon last year and emerge as the number two starter they need. The 6’4” southpaw has good stuff, including a low-90’s fastball, a wonderful slider, and a solid changeup. Olsen’s control can be spotty – he walked 75 batters last year, and the Marlins would like him to start getting more groundball outs to keep his pitch count lower and reduce the number of homeruns he allows (23 last season).
Last Season: Last year Olsen made four starts against the Mets with game scores of 48, 50, 59, and 67. For a pitcher who saw as much of the potent Mets lineup as he did, Marlins management must have been impressed that he was able to improve against them as he went along. In his last start of the season against them, he went seven innings while allowing just one run on five hits while striking out six. On the whole, he went 0-0 with a 3.81 against New York.
What to Expect: Olsen’s had a rough start to his season but showed signs of turning it around in his last start when he pitched eight strong innings against the Braves, walking one and striking out ten. Olsen has changed his methods a little this season, relying less on his fastball-slider combination and more on a changeup with a late downward break to provide groundball outs. This may have had something to do with his bad start to 2007. Bad control likely has had more to do with it. Lefties, who have hit .206 against Olsen, should still expect a healthy dose of sliders.
Game 2: Ricky Nolasco
What’s the Story? Along with Olsen, Sanchez, and Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco was one of four Marlins’ pitchers to win ten games last season as a rookie. The 24-year-old Nolasco made the jump from Double-A to the majors, going 11-11 with a 4.82 ERA. He has a sinking fastball that he can throw 90-92, a good curve, a passable changeup, and a not-very-passable slider that he wisely doesn’t throw very often. He has good control and can usually spot his fastball where he wants it. While that fastball has some sink to it, it really doesn’t have enough: he got a groundball only 38% of the time last year. This season, Nolasco started the year with a sore pitching elbow and is making his first start since going on the Disabled List.
Last Year: Nolasco made three starts and one relief appearance against the Mets last season, and Mets hitters must have loved seeing him take the mound. The right-hander failed to pitch beyond two innings in two of the three starts, and he only went four in the third. In eight innings and change, Nolasco allowed 22 runs (19 earned) on 26 hits and five walks. On the bright side, he struck out ten.
What to Expect: Nolasco did not have much success against the Mets last season, and that was when he was 100%—now, Nolasco is returning from an elbow injury. Needless to say, Ricky’s probably not bursting with confidence. In truth, I suspect that he might be better suited in the bullpen. He’s really just a two-pitch pitcher, and his fastball doesn’t result in nearly enough groundballs to make him effective as a starter. Expect Mets hitters to go up swinging early in counts to get the fastball while laying off early-count curveballs.
Game 3: Anibal Sanchez
What’s the Story? Yet another Marlin pitcher who was a rookie in 2006, Sanchez had a phenomenal debut, going 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA. In the minors, Sanchez had demonstrated tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratios. That has not yet translated to the major league level (1.57); his control was spotty at times, and he didn’t strikeout a large number of batters. That said, Sanchez has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter: a mid-90’s four seam fastball with great movement, a sinking two-seamer, a deceptive changeup, and a fantastic curveball. Despite the movement on the fastball, he can still throw it for strikes. The pinnacle of his 2006 season came on September 6th, when he threw a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.
Last Year: Anibal made two starts against the Mets last September, pitching very well in both of them (2-0, 2.57 ERA). He went seven innings in both, striking out a combined 13 and walking just two.
What to Expect: Sanchez’s pitch variety makes it very tough for hitters to predict what’s coming. He’s confident he can throw any pitch for strikes, and he knows what he’s doing on the mound, changing speeds and locations well. He’ll use the two-seam fastball to get a fair number of groundball outs, while using the curve as his primary strikeout pitch. Thus far this season, his control has been awful, walking 15 in 26 innings which has resulted in escalated pitch counts and early exits. Stamina is a concern for Sanchez, so if he’s throwing well, the key may be to get to him late.
Overall: I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Mets over the weekend, and despite the presence of Nolasco I’m not terribly enthused about the Mets’ prospects this week. The Mets’ situational hitting was poor once again, and unless that improves, Olsen and Sanchez are going to be trouble. Much also depends on the health of Hernandez. If Hernandez is not healthy, I think the Fish take both end games of the series, while the Mets do their usual thing to Nolasco. Pelfrey should luck out and get his first win of the year.