After looking relatively hopeless against the Marlins over the first two games of the series, the Mets (16-10) came back to salvage the last game. Next up on the docket are the Arizona Diamondbacks (16-13), with whom the Mets will play a four-game series at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks have the youngest team in the National League other than Florida and Pittsburgh, and dividends have been paying off—they’re currently sitting pretty in second place in the West. Their offense is fair, but their pitching staff has been particularly potent in the early going: their 112 runs allowed ranks sixth in the league, which is even more impressive when you consider where the team plays half its games.
In the first game, we’ll see a matchup between Tom Glavine (3-1, 2.80) and rookie righty Micah Owings (1-1, 2.93). Game two finds Mets ace John Maine (4-0, 1.35) squaring off against Randy Johnson (0-1, 6.55). The game on Saturday features what might be the biggest mismatch of the young season: Chan Ho Park (0-1, 15.75) against reigning Cy Young Brandon Webb (2-1, 3.21). Mike Pelfrey (0-3, 6.75) throws against Livan Hernandez (2-1, 3.55) on Sunday.
Game 1: Micah Owings
What’s the Story? Owings might be best recognized as the pitcher the Diamondbacks refused to part with for Randy Johnson. Right now, GM Josh Byrnes looks smart, since he got Johnson anyway, and Owings has been holding big league hitters at bay so far this season. Thursday will mark his first start since going on the DL following his April 17th start against the Dodgers due to a sore hamstring. Owings has a fastball he can throw in the low-90’s, a great slider, and, like many young pitchers, a changeup that needs work.
Last Year: Since he’s a rookie, Owings will be making his first career start against the Mets.
What to Expect: Expect the Diamondbacks to be careful with Owings because of his youth and the hamstring; he shouldn’t go very deep into this game. If he’s healthy, he’ll move the fastball all around the strike zone—inside and out, up and down—while using the slider as his out pitch. He’ll mix in the change here and there, especially against lefties. He still doesn’t have a great feel for it yet, so he’ll use it relatively sparingly. Hitters should see something to hit, as Owings likes to throw strikes.
Game 2: Randy Johnson
What’s the Story? Even at 43, the Big Unit has a fearsome presence on the mound. At 6’10”, he can still throw his gas in the upper-90’s and his slider can still be one of the nastiest in the game. There are two big differences between the current model and prime Unit: consistency and health. He’s unable to throw the slider as consistently as he had in his prime years (for evidence of this, check out the slider Ray Durham crushed in his last start), and last year saw his walk rate rise for the third straight year. His homerun rate and opponents’ batting average have been steadily rising as well. Johnson is making just his third start this year after missing time resulting from offseason back surgery.
Last Year: Johnson made two starts against the Mets last season as a member of the Yankees. He was hit hard in both his starts, giving up a combined fourteen runs on sixteen hits—three of them homers—and six walks over eleven innings. He struck out twelve.
What to Expect: It’s tough to say what you’re getting from Johnson nowadays; his first start this season was poor; the second was better, largely due to differences in his command. He’ll work mainly with his fastball-slider combination while mixing in a changeup to keep things interesting. Lately his velocity’s been in the low-to-mid-90’s on the fastball, so he still won’t hesitate to challenge hitters. His slider is still very tough on lefties, who hit only .194 against him last season. The Diamondbacks have kept Johnson under 100 pitches so far this season, and there’s a good chance they’ll do it again, so hitters should be patient with him to work up his counts.
Game 3: Brandon Webb
What’s the Story? Webb, a groundball pitcher who can get strikeouts, is one of my favorite pitchers in the game. Last season, Andrew called Brandon Webb “a groundball automaton,” which is extremely accurate as grounders accounted for nearly two-thirds of his balls in play. As great as that 90-93 mile-per-hour sinker is, it’s easy to forget how good his secondary offerings really are. He has a big, 12-to-6 curveball, which he’ll throw often and at any count to keep hitters guessing, plus a solid changeup and slider. If that wasn’t enough, he has great control (50 walks in 235 innings in 2006) and can pitch deep into games, averaging more than seven innings a start last season.
Last Year: Webb pitched against the Mets twice last season, and did very well both times (0.60 ERA), but wound up with an 0-1 record to show for it. In the first start Webb went seven frames, allowing just four hits and a walk while striking out five. He was rewarded with a no-decision for his efforts thanks to the Diamondbacks’ faulty bullpen. In the second start, Webb threw eight innings allowing four runs (one earned) on eight hits, while striking out nine.
What to Expect: What impressed me most about Webb last season wasn’t his sinker—I was expecting that to be a great pitch—but rather his curveball. Many power sinker pitchers rely almost exclusively on their fastballs, and their next best offerings tend to be a power slider. It’s just shocking to see that curve come out of Webb’s hands, and it can really freeze hitters, especially since he doesn’t get too predictable with it. The sinker, of course, is still enemy number one. He’ll pound the lower half of the strike zone with it, resulting in a lot of groundball outs. Hitters’ best bet is to put the sinker in play, and hope to find a hole. If you get a baserunner, then you hope some more to avoid the double play.
Game 4: Livan Hernandez
What’s the Story? Livan Hernandez has made a career for himself by simply being incredibly durable; he hasn’t thrown fewer than 200 innings since 1997 as a 22-year-old rookie. He’s not going to wow anyone, but he’s become your standard league-average innings muncher. In fact, Hernandez is average in everything he does. He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, his control is merely average, and he’s a flyball pitcher which can lead to some homeruns. He even has the standard four-pitch arsenal: a fastball, slow curve, slider, and changeup, with the fastball topping out at around 88.
Last Year: Hernandez made two starts against the Mets in April, pitching decently the first time and terribly the second and picking up the loss in both games. In the first outing he went six innings and allowed three runs on eight hits. The second time, he went six again, but allowed eight runs (seven earned) on eleven hits. Amazingly, he gave up four homeruns, including back-to-back shots to David Wright and Cliff Floyd.
What to Expect: It’s tough to know exactly what you’re getting from Hernandez, who will throw almost any pitch on any count, much like his older brother. While he relies on his ability to change speeds, he’s at his best when he throws to both sides of the plate, establishing the corners. He can forget to pitch inside, and when his pitches start to sail to the middle of the plate he gets hit hard. His breaking stuff isn’t as effective against lefties, so he’ll need to watch the two Carloses and Shawn Green.
Overall: The Mets aren’t playing great baseball, right now so a trip to Chase Field might be just the ticket. Last season’s trip to Arizona produced four straight victories won by a combined score of 37-9. I have to say, I like the Mets’ chances in this series. Arizona’s pitching has been its strong suit this season, but three of the four pitchers the Mets will see are carrying question marks. Owings and Johnson are coming off of injuries, and while Livan Hernandez has been effective so far this season, I doubt anyone believes it will last much longer, and the Mets are entirely capable of teeing off against him. I’m going to be guardedly optimistic and predict the Mets take three of four.