By Mike Steffanos
Mets 4 - Braves 3
Braves 7 - Mets 3
Played Wednesday, August 8 - Thursday August 9, 2007
Sorry I didn't post yesterday. I haven't been feeling too good this week. I still don't feel that great, so rather than try to write something exhaustive about these past two games I'll just chime in with a few thoughts.
Kudos again to Orlando Hernandez for giving the Mets a chance to win Wednesday's game. One bad inning cost him the chance to win it, but he did a great job matching zeroes with John Smoltz against a Braves lineup that features more than its share of left-handed power. Hernandez may only be 7-4 on the season thanks to a bunch of tough no-decisions, but the Mets are 13-6 in the 19 games he has started.
Billy Wagner gets his share of credit and blame for the ninth inning escape. What concerns me somewhat is Wagner's sudden vulnerability in his four appearances in August. Although he did not give up an earned run in those games, he has allowed 7 hits and a walk in 4 IP. You just hope that it's just slump, which he's certainly entitled to experience after being so dominant for so much of this season, and not indicative of any physical problems. It bears watching.
I know that Moises Alou and Luis Castillo are not universally acclaimed by Mets fans, but I think both have important parts to play this season. Alou, who is notorious for bad spring trainings, is going through something similar as he tries to get his stroke back. If he can stay healthy, he will be an important part of this lineup the rest of the way. Castillo may have lost a couple of steps, but he's still the goods on defense and as a number two hitter. I don't think I want to see either player back next year unless it is in a supporting role, however.
As for yesterday's game, Maine struggled again for his second outing in a row, unable to limit the damage on a day where he wasn't at his best. It was a worry with both Maine and Perez that they would hit a wall at some point. Perez at least has the experience of pitching just under 200 innings in 2004, Maine is in somewhat uncharted waters. I think they both will be fine, but to some extent this is a learning experience. There is a reason clubs value experience in starting pitchers, even if some fans get frustrated with this at times.
The decision to put a terrible defensive outfield behind Maine yesterday was a poor one. Milledge can have days off once Beltran comes back, for now he should be out there every day. If Willie wanted Marlon Anderson in the lineup that was fine -- he could given either Alou or Shawn Green the day off. I don't pick apart every lineup decision the way some do, but that was really a no-brainer. It wasn't the first time that bad outfield defense cost the Mets this season. After being spoiled for the most part last year this is getting old to watch.
I defended Shawn Green in this space before. He gets a lot of credit for carrying the offense at times in April while both Wright and Delgado scuffled. As bad as he is defensively, you could see he's been working on his defense and has improved somewhat. Still, he is what he is in the field -- a sub-par defender. He can only justify a place in this lineup with his bat. He was great in April, and his May numbers were probably just good enough (.263/.325/.421) to keep him in there with both Endy and Milledge hurt.
When Green returned from a stint on the DL in June, he put up a .182/.229/.318 line in 66 ABs in June, and struggled to a .255/.278/.340 with 0 HR and 2 RBIs in just under 100 ABs in July. At this point, Shawn is not hitting with any power and not even drawing walks. Frankly, a contending team cannot put up with this level of production from a right fielder. I understand there have been guys hurt, and I was not in favor of trading away good prospects for a fading Jermaine Dye, but it's inconceivable that they couldn't scrounge up anyone to play outfield who couldn't get to a few more balls and provide average production for the position. While I am not sulking that they were not able to trade for a "big bat", it seems to me that a well-run team would have found a way to put Green on the bench weeks ago. I know he just had a hitting streak snapped, but other than the 4-4 on Wednesday he's been getting one hit a game. When Beltran comes back, Milledge should get the bulk of the playing time in RF.
I don't believe in moral victories, but it was nice to see the club try to fight back in the ninth. It did bother me, however, that they lost their good approach on offense when Hudson left. They were pressing against the Braves pen instead of maintaining the discipline, and that might have cost them. They did better in the ninth, but ran out of time and luck.
The Braves have won 4 straight series against the Mets by outplaying them. Up until Wednesday, I thought the Braves wanted these games more, too, but that has changed. The Mets brought the intensity the last two games. If they had done this all year, I believe they would be better than 4-8 against Atlanta. I think it's finally dawned on them that they can't turn it on and off whenever they wish.