Talk about two teams going in different directions. After starting out the season brilliantly, the Mets have now lost ten of their first twelve games in June, including their last five. The Mets are coming off an especially embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been surging, winning nine straight games and eleven of their last thirteen. Of particular importance have been Alex Rodriguez hitting his stride again and Bobby Abreu finding his. This weekend the two teams will face off, with the Yankees as heavily favored as the Mets were when the two played last month.
In the first game Oliver Perez (6-5, 3.21) squares off against everyone’s best friend Roger Clemens (1-0, 4.50). Game Two features a pair of pitchers on opposite ends of the experience spectrum in Tom Glavine (5-4, 4.15) and Tyler Clippard (3-1, 5.32). Sunday, Orlando Hernandez (3-2, 2.38) pitches against sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang (6-4, 3.49).
Game 1: Roger Clemens
What’s the Story? Roger Clemens returned to the Yankees amidst much fanfare, and was immediately lauded as a savior. Luckily for the Yankees, his arrival has coincided with the Yankee bats coming alive. He’s made only one major league start and pitched serviceably against a weak Pirate offense. Clemens largely had his fastball clocked around 90, and shouldn’t be counted on to get it up much faster than 92. He also throws a nice slider and a simply phenomenal splitter. In his last start, Clemens surprisingly included a slow curve among his arsenal.
Last Year: Clemens did not start against the Mets last season. Over his career, he is 3-5 against them with a 5.09 ERA.
What to Expect: In his last start, Clemens was more reliant on his splitter than he usually is, because the velocity on his fastball wasn’t quite there yet. Of his seven strikeouts, five came via the splitter. One thing to keep in mind is that Clemens can’t be expected to pitch deep into games anymore in general, and even less so considering he’s making only his second start of the year. It might be wisest for Mets hitters to take as many pitches as possible to build up his pitch count early.
Game 2: Tyler Clippard
What’s the Story? To see my original scouting report on Clippard, please look here.
This Year: Clippard made his debut against the Mets and pitched quite well. He allowed only one run on three hits and three walks over six innings while striking out six. The lone run he gave up came on a homerun by David Wright.
What to Expect: Clippard handled the Mets very well the last time, but it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to facing a team for the second time. In his last start Clippard threw very intelligently, relying exclusively on his fastball-curve combination his first time through the lineup before introducing the changeup, which might be the better pitch. Whether he’ll do the same thing this time out will depend on how well he adapts to hitters who have more familiarity with his stuff. Still, Clippard likes to throw strikes, so early-count fastballs are the best pitch for hitters to look for.
Game 3: Chien-Ming Wang
What’s the Story? A surprise success story in 2006, Wang wound up finishing a distant second in the AL Cy Young race. Wang will throw both a sinker and a four-seam fastball which will sit in the 92-96 range along with a good mid-80’s slider and a mediocre forkball he uses as a changeup. While Wang is far from a strikeout pitcher—he averaged only 3.14 per nine innings in 2006—he succeeds with great control and by keeping the ball on the ground.
Last Year: This is Wang’s first career start against the Mets.
What to Expect: Expect a lot of fastballs: Wang threw more of them last year than any pitcher in baseball not named Aaron Cook or Brandon Webb. He’ll live in the lower half of the strike zone, throwing almost exclusively sinkers to left-handed bats. He’ll mix in his slider to righty hitters, and if he throws eight changeups on the day, it’ll be a lot. Wang can sometimes get a little too predictable, which is when hitters can take advantage. He’ll also need a top-notch infield defense behind him, which has often not been the case.
Overall: Believe it or not, the Mets might actually have the better starter in all three pitching matchups this weekend. It’s tough to bet against Clemens, but he’s making only his second start of the year after breezing through his minor league preparation, while Clippard is no Tom Glavine. As for El Duque versus Wang, that one is more of a toss-up, though Hernandez has certainly been the better pitcher this year. But the Yanks are playing great baseball, which is a lot more than you can say about the Mets. At this point, part of me thinks the Mets will be lucky to win one out of three. But I’m going to go with my gut—which has been very wrong lately—and say the Mets beat up on Clemens and Clippard to take two out of three.
The Mets aren’t going to lose every series; they have to turn it around sometime. Why not this weekend?