The Mets just got smashed by the rival Nationals in two straight games, and watching it happen wasn't a lot of fun. Another poor showing from Matt Harvey means we'll just have to face more speculation about the right-hander's struggles leading up to his next start. Reading about that isn't a lot of fun, but you know what can be? Watching the Mets play baseball against the Brewers this weekend.
Unlike Washington, Milwaukee does not have a winning record or a pitching rotation stacked with multiple All-Stars. The team, led by former big league middle infielder Craig Counsell, would appear ripe for the picking had it not just defeated the mighty Cubs in two out of three games at Miller Park.
The Brewers would have had the sweep had they not squandered a bases-loaded opportunity with no outs in the bottom of the 12th inning on Wednesday night. That left the score tied at 1-1 in the top of the 13th, where former Met Carlos Torres walked fellow relief pitcher Travis Wood with the bases loaded to force in the winning run. Losses don't get much more brutal than that.
You have to hand it to Counsell and the Brew Crew, then, for bouncing back and defeating Chicago 5-3 the following afternoon. Once again, a former Mets player played a vital role with Kirk Nieuwenhuis crushing a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth. Nieuwenhuis, who starts in center field against right-handed pitchers for Milwaukee, has played quite well this year despite a strikeout rate that is still a little out of control. He's walking at a very solid 14-percent clip, hitting for some power, and playing solid defense to maintain an important role in a surprisingly deep lineup.
The Milwaukee offense is producing quite well even though it has had some issues getting hits when they're needed most. It certainly helps that star outfielder Ryan Braun is playing as well as he's played in years with seven home runs, a .429 on-base percentage, and a strikeout rate of just 14 percent. Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy also appears to be in the midst of a vintage campaign after a disappointing 2015 season. He's hit .304/.373/.507 so far with six home runs.
However, neither Braun nor Lucroy were in the lineup for Thursday's series-clinching victory. Lucroy sat out because he had just caught 13 innings the night before and Braun has been dealing with back stiffness. There's a good chance he recovers in time to make an appearance or three this weekend, though.
With Braun potentially on the shelf, it's a good thing for the Brewers that their newcomers are helping out as well. Along with Nieuwenhuis, Jonathan Villar has raised his game since coming over from another team. There was no fit for the shortstop in Houston with the incredible duo of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve manning the middle infield, so Villar was dealt to Milwaukee in November. Villar always had the speed of a leadoff man, but this year he's really done the job right with a .391 OBP and a 14-percent walk rate. He still doesn't make as much contact as you'd like for a guy with so little power, but if Villar keeps this up, he's going to force some tough front office decisions when shortstop prospect Orlando Arcia is ready for the show.
Another former Astros slugger, first baseman Chris Carter (not the one that played for the Mets), is also making a good impression on Wisconsin. As a a three-true-outcomes player, Carter's success in the big leagues will hinge on him hitting enough home runs and drawing enough walks to make up for his massive strikeout totals. That didn't work out last year in Houston, where he hit .199/.307/.427 with 24 home runs before being non-tendered after the season. 2016 is looking better, though, with Carter raising his batting average to .245 and slugging at a 45-home-run pace.
In order to get some of the wins back that they lost to Washington, the Mets are going to need to keep up with Milwaukee's offense, and that means getting more out of some players who have struggled lately. We knew Michael Conforto and Neil Walker wouldn't stay hot forever, (only Yoenis Cespedes can do that!), but no one has stepped up to replace that production. Curtis Granderson looked amazing in Tuesday night's victory, but he followed that up with two straight 0-for-4 stinkers. Meanwhile, Lucas Duda continues to be both literally and figuratively quiet as we wait for his OBP to peek above .300, while David Wright is starting to take games off at a more frequent rate due to his back issue. When he's in the lineup, the captain is striking out in 34 percent of his plate appearances.
Fortunately, if there's any pitching staff that knows how to wake up an offense, it's Milwaukee's. The team has allowed more runs per game this season than any other National League club except for Colorado and Cincinnati. Plus, the Mets won't have to hit against the two best rotation guys, Jimmy Nelson and Junior Guerra.
|Date||Time||Television||Brewers Probable Starter||Mets Probable Starter|
|May 20, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Wily Peralta||Steven Matz|
|May 21, 2016||4:10 PM||WPIX||Zach Davies||Jacob deGrom|
|May 22, 2016||1:10 PM||WPIX||Chase Anderson||Noah Syndergaard|
Important stats: 40.2 IP, 25 K, 18 BB, 7 HR, 7.30 ERA, 5.57 FIP, 1.99 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (94 mph), slider (85 mph)
Peralta has been one of the worst starters in baseball with an ERA and WHIP that are not befitting of someone who has made eight starts in the majors this year and is about to make his ninth on Friday night. He's allowed multiple runs in every outing this year, and in six of the eight, he's allowed more than two runs. Peralta doesn't strike many batters out, walks far too many, and allows a decent amount of home runs when the ball is in the air. The one thing Peralta has done well is keep the ball down with a 50-percent ground ball rate, but a .392 BABIP does more than enough to cancel that out.
Mets opponent: Steven Matz had his last turn in the rotation skipped due to an elbow issue and had this one pushed back to make sure everything was alright, so he should be set to continue his domination of the National League on Friday night. The lone southpaw in New York's rotation has now put in almost the exact same workload as he had last year in the major leagues, and the results are impressive. Matz has posted one more strikeout and two fewer walks compared to 2015, when he had one more inning of work. The really cool thing is that his ground ball rate has jumped by 11 percent.
Important stats: 30.2 IP, 20 K, 13 BB, 3 HR, 5.58 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 1.60 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (89 mph), changeup (78 mph), curveball (72 mph)
Like Peralta, the 23-year-old Davies has stats that look pretty dreadful, but unlike Peralta, he's only a rookie and is starting to get into a groove lately. Davies has allowed exactly two runs in each of his last three starts, and in his most recent outing versus San Diego, he set a season high with six strikeouts and a season low with zero walks. Still, this is another ground-ball guy who struggles with control and doesn't have great strikeout stuff. The Mets will be expected to score.
Mets opponent: Thanks to MLB's handy website, I can tell you that Jacob deGrom has four starts in his career against the Brewers. He doesn't have that many against any other non-division opponent, save for the Dodgers. In those four games versus Milwaukee, the fabulous right-hander has allowed just four runs in 26 innings with 21 strikeouts and four walks. Here's something less fun: deGrom struck out just three batters during his last outing in Denver and now has punched out fewer than six per nine innings. That's quite a low rate for someone with a 2.50 ERA and 3.20 FIP.
Important stats: 44.0 IP, 33 K, 14 BB, 11 HR, 5.32 ERA, 5.79 FIP, 1.41 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (81 mph), curveball (76 mph)
After an interesting debut campaign in Arizona in which Anderson showed the potential to be a future mid-rotation starter, the right-hander saw his strikeout rate dip in 2015 while his ERA rose. You can bet that young Milwaukee general manager David Stearns was hoping for a return of those rookie numbers when he dealt for Anderson over the winter, but the negative trend hasn't reversed itself yet. Anderson is striking out fewer than seven batters per nine innings and allowing home runs at an alarming pace this season. Following back-to-back starts with no home runs allowed to start the year, he has allowed at least one ball to leave the yard in his last six outings. That includes two home runs in his latest start against the Cubs even though he improbably entered the eighth inning with no hits allowed. Last year against the Mets as a member of the Diamondbacks, Anderson had one solid outing at home before New York struck back with four runs in fewer than five innings in the rematch at Citi Field.
Mets opponent: There's not much to say that hasn't been said about Noah Syndergaard. The powerful right-hander just lowered his WHIP to 0.99 when he held the Nationals to five hits and zero walks in seven scoreless innings. Those innings, of course, included 10 strikeouts, which marked the second time this season that Syndergaard has reached double digits. What's often overlooked, though, is the way he keeps the ball in the park with his powerful two-seam fastball. Three home runs allowed and a 57-percent ground ball rate mean that Syndergaard doesn't even have to strike out so many batters to be effective.
Torres is one of three former Mets in the Milwaukee bullpen. Blaine Boyer and Chris Capuano also occasionally make appearances, but Boyer doesn't strike out enough batters and Capuano has walked too many for either guy to get a lot of high-leverage work. Counsell would love to have guys like Corey Knebel and Will Smith available late in games, but both guys are nursing injuries on the disabled list. That's allowed for Jeremy Jeffress to emerge as a highly effective closer with Michael Blazek and Tyler Thornburg as the setup men. Blazek has a much lower ERA than Thornburg for now, but that might not hold up if he keeps on walking a batter every two innings. Thornburg, on the other hand, has a 4.08 ERA but also 28 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.
The Mets have had one of the top bullpens in the majors this year, but you couldn't tell from watching Wednesday night's game. While relieving Bartolo Colon against Washington, the unit somehow walked six batters in four-and-one-third innings. The normally steady Logan Verrett even walked two batters in a row to force in a run in the seventh inning. It was an uncharacteristic evening for a group that has been a big part of New York's success in 2016. The amount of reliable arms available to Terry Collins has allowed the manager to keep every non-starter under 20 innings so far, even though he's been known to abuse an arm or two in the past.
Prediction: Mets sweep.
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