Well, I did say something about a sweep in the comments section of my last column, didn’t I? I got that part right, at least. The Mets (6-9) got trashed by the St. Louis Cardinals. At the very least the team scored eight runs in Thursday’s game–unfortunately the pitching staff gave up 12. The starters are looking very problematic; after Livan Hernandez’s beating, every starter, save Johan Santana, sports an ERA over 7.30. Except Nelson Figueroa, that is–who is expected to declare himself a free agent after being designated for assignment in favor of Casey Fossum. Thanks, Omar. Thankfully the Mets are returning home to face the Washington Nationals (3-11), who look like they might be just the thing to cure a losing streak.
The Nats will throw Scott Olsen (0-2, 9.00)–the first lefty starter the Mets will face this year–against Johan Santana (2-1, 0.46) in Friday night’s opener. Saturday will feature Daniel Cabrera (0-1, 4.50) and the returning Mike Pelfrey (1-0, 8.10). Rookie Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 3.00) and Oliver Perez (1-1, 7.80) will duel on Sunday.
Game 1: Scott Olsen, LHP
What’s the Story? I’m not sure whether Olsen’s 2008 was a step forward or the emergence of a trend. On one hand, his ERA improved considerably from that of his disappointing 2007. His walk rate improved a bit, too. On the other hand, his strikeout rate took a nose dive, the homerun rate didn’t get any better, and while the walk rate improved, it’s not good enough to make for his other deficiencies. This offseason, the Marlins gave up on his erratic performance and behavior when they shipped him to Washington, where he’s serving as the de facto staff veteran. Olsen’s average fastball velocity dropped by more than two miles-per-hour last season, enough to drop him from the low-90s to the high 80s. He also throws a very good slider, and an average changeup.
Last Year: The Mets are plenty familiar with Olsen. He made five starts against them last season, going 0-3 with a 6.11 ERA, seven walks, 18 strikeouts, and 31 hits allowed over 28 innings. His game scores over the five games were 40, 52, 30, 38, and 61.
What to Expect: With Olsen’s velocity declining, now, more than ever, is the time to be patient with him. Hitters can’t go fishing for pitches out of the zone. When he falls behind, Olsen will be forced to throw fastballs in the vicinity of the strike zone, and those are likely to be fat pitches to hit. If he does get ahead, the slider is still a great weapon against lefties (.538 OPS against), but the changeup doesn’t neutralize righties nearly as well (.796 OPS against).
Game 2: Daniel Cabrera, RHP
What’s the Story? It seems the Nationals spent the offseason collecting other teams’ failed projects. They picked up Olsen from the Fish, and they signed Cabrera after the Orioles non-tendered him. Cabrera has long been a guy whose performance never quite matched his stuff, and the biggest reason is a total lack of control. He’s got a moving fastball than can touch the high-90s–though his declined in 2008, too–a great slider, and a so-so change. But he’s never been able to command that stuff, leading to tons of walks.
Last Year: As a member of the Orioles last season, Cabrera did not face the Mets last season, nor ever before.
What to Expect: Cabrera is the Nationals’ version of Ollie Perez–you never know when that implosion is right around the corner–and he’s had two good starts in a row, so maybe he’s due for a disaster. Like Olsen, hitters need to be patient with Cabrera. He’ll put plenty of them on base, and he’s known for getting unhinged when too many reach at once. He’s certainly prone to big innings and high pitch counts. While Cabrera’s been a strong strikeout pitcher in the past, he was miserable at it last season and has been miserable so far this season.
Game 3: Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
What’s the Story? The Nationals are hoping that Zimmermann emerges as one of the Nats’ top starters this season. Considering all the crap they’ve sent to the mound over the past few seasons, they could really use a solid, homegrown pitcher. Zimmermann was a second-round draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2007, and he moved very quickly through the Nats’ minor league system, showing good command and pretty strong strikeout rates. He’s throws a four-seam fastball that tops out around 95 or so, a high-80s two-seamer with good downward movement, a good slider and curve, and a changeup that needs work.
Last Year: This’ll be the Mets’ first glimpse of Zimmermann.
What to Expect: I’m not sure Zimmermann has a true strikeout pitch, but he does have four good pitches, which should help keep hitters off-balance. He’ll pitch mainly off his four-seamer, which he can lose command of at times, and will save the two-seamer for situations where there are runners on base. The curve is the better breaking pitch right now in terms of movement, but he’s more consistent with the slider. Don’t expect many changeups; it appears that he didn’t throw any during his first start. Expect Zimmermann to attack the strike zone.
The Mets are playing very poorly right now. So are the Nationals. Who to pick? I’ll go with the better team. I say the Mets take the opener–after all, Johan is the only starter on the team deserving of any confidence whatsoever–win the second game late, but lose the third in another implosion from Oliver Perez, who seems intent on making his latest contract look a disaster.