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Mets vs. Brewers: Amazins look to continue winning ways, slow down Eric Thames’s Brew Crew

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New York’s first trip out west begins in Milwaukee.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, 48 hours without Mets baseball. I feel like we needed that little break, especially considering how Wednesday’s matinee ended. The Amazins had a chance to poke their heads above .500 for the first time since April 19, and they blew it big time. Hey, at least new starting pitcher Tommy Milone looked decent, but you won’t have Jeurys Familia to kick around anymore. He’s certainly headed to the disabled list with a blood clot in his shoulder. Terry Collins, on the other hand, is still here to take all your venom.

No matter whose shoulders the recent brutal loss falls on, the fact remains that these Mets have persevered through injuries and off-the-field drama to win their last four series in a row. If they continue on like this, they’ll win the World Series, but first up is a spunky Milwaukee squad led by a most unlikely slugger.

Even with Eric Thames completely crushing the ball, though, the Brewers are a longshot to make the postseason. You have to hand it to manager Craig Counsell and his squad for hanging around .500 for the first month in a half — in fact, Milwaukee has been within two games of .500 on each day since the second week of the season — but it’s only a matter of time before Chicago and other senior circuit powers overtake them. It doesn’t seem to matter if Thames slows down or not; the talent in the starting rotation isn’t deep enough for Milwaukee to make a serious run.

Mets offense

The most amazing thing about New York’s recent spurt has been the performance of the offense without Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, and Asdrubal Cabrera. That’s a lot of missing firepower, and yet the Mets are third in the National League at just over five runs scored per game. Big kudos have to go out to T.J. Rivera, who has looked like he belongs in the second spot in the order and is hitting .371/.450/.600 in 35 at-bats this month. The Bronx native’s walk rate is up almost five percent over last year’s cup of coffee, and that’s helping him turn into a very useful replacement player. With Rivera as well as Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce batting in the first inning, it’s no wonder that the Mets have jumped out to so many early leads.

The guy batting behind the trio is also getting into a groove, as Neil Walker drove in four runs during the San Francisco series, including the game-winner on Monday night. After a very slow start to the campaign, the second baseman is finally contributing the way we expect him to. His four doubles in May already match April’s total, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts launching the ball over the wall with regularity.

Brewers offense

It’s not every year that a team signs a forgotten name out of Korea and turns him into one of the top players in the major leagues. However, that’s exactly the trick that general manager David Stearns pulled off for the Brewers this offseason with the Thames acquisition. Compared to his first stint in the big leagues with Toronto and Seattle, the Pepperdine product is much more adept at identifying and laying off of pitches that are outside of the strike zone. Before playing in Korea, Thames was swinging at 34 percent of pitches outside the zone, but this year that figure is down to 17 percent. He’s always had raw power, but now that he’s matched it with plate discipline, Thames is walking 14 percent of the time and mashing more selectively.

Does that mean that Thames can be MVP of the league? Probably not, and not just because voters hate awarding the hardware to players from mediocre teams. Even with the awesome adjustments that he’s made, it’s crazy that the well-traveled slugger is hitting home runs on 36 percent of his fly balls and that his BABIP is .351 with a modest line drive rate of 21 percent. Thames can still be a great big league player, but the insane pace that he’s set is bound to slow down, and that means that the rest of Milwaukee’s lineup has got to step up its game.

It would help if Jonathan Villar started reaching base more out of the leadoff spot. He became a fantasy baseball darling last year with his 19 home runs and 62 stolen bases, but he’s hitting just .207/.270/.329 in 2017, and that’s limiting Thames’s ability to drive in runs. The good news for Milwaukee fans is that Counsell is getting good production out of young center fielder Keon Broxton and recently promoted him to the top of the order. Hopefully that helps spark some additional offense, because the Brewers will be losing some if Ryan Braun lands on the disabled list with a recent calf strain. The left fielder is quietly hitting .287/.374/.574 this year and will be tough to replace if he has to sit for a couple of weeks.

Probable pitchers

Friday, May 12: Matt Garza

Important stats: 17.2 IP, 15 K, 3 BB, 2 HR, 2.55 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 1.19 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (92 mph), slider (83 mph), four-seam fastball (92 mph)

Garza missed the first three weeks of the season with a groin injury before joining Milwaukee’s rotation and allowing the team to cut ties with Milone. That alone should give the veteran right-hander hero status, but he’s also been pitching pretty well lately for this overachieving Brewers squad. Although Garza needed 93 pitches to get through four innings during his first start of the season, he’s been very efficient during his two latest outings with 11 strikeouts and nary a walk in 13.2 innings. The Fresno State alumnus hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 since 2014, but he can get there again if his walk rate stays this low.

Mets starter, Matt Harvey: No matter what Harvey’s emotional state is like when he returns to the mound following his team-issued three-game suspension, he’ll almost certainly improve on his last two starts. During those not-so-fun outings, the vigilante allowed 12 runs over nine-and-two-thirds innings with three strikeouts and a brutal eight walks. Beat writers love this because they can write about how Harvey’s in a better place right now even if he does something like four runs in five innings on Friday night.

Saturday, May 13: Zach Davies

Important stats: 35.1 IP, 32 K, 16 BB, 6 HR, 5.60 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 1.75 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (79 mph), curveball (74 mph), cutter (86 mph)

Davies looked to be a young hurler on the rise after a nice showing in his rookie season, but his walk and ground ball rates have moved in the wrong directions during the first month and a half of 2017. The former Baltimore prospect is never going to be a huge strikeout guy, so he’s got to keep the ball in the strike zone to be effective, but he only has one start this year with fewer than two walks. As a result, Davies hasn’t yet finished the sixth inning, but at least his ERA is coming back down to Earth with just four runs allowed in his last three outings.

Mets starter, Robert Gsellman: With all the injuries and Harvey shenanigans that have befallen New York’s rotation this season, Gsellman has the opportunity to step up and be a consistent presence that the team needs right now. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done so just yet. The 23-year-old has allowed at least three runs in every start with just four total strikeouts in his last three. Plus, he’s only gone past the fifth inning once in six tries. The one thing Gsellman has going for him is his 58-percent ground ball rate, so he should focus on pitching to contact and working deeper in games. That way, Mets fans won’t have to concern themselves as much with Collins’s bullpen management.

Sunday, May 14: Wily Peralta

Important stats: 35.2 IP, 31 K, 16 BB, 7 HR, 5.30 ERA, 5.27 FIP, 1.51 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (96 mph), slider (84 mph), four-seam fastball (96 mph)

For a guy who throws so hard, Peralta sure does have trouble missing bats. At least that was the case before this season, but the 28-year-old Dominican has bumped his strikeout rate up to 20 percent. That hasn’t necessarily made him a better pitcher, as he’s also walking four batters per nine innings after walking just three per nine in 2015 and 2016. Peralta has also suffered a drop in ground ball rate, which has led to more home runs and a higher ERA. Maybe Milwaukee would be better off with the version of this pitcher that just let his defense do the work.

Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: While deGrom has been busy blowing away opponents and notching double-digit strikeouts in four of his last five starts, his ERA is slowly creeping upwards. That’s because the fabulous right-hander has allowed at least three runs in each of his last four starts. During that stretch, deGrom has walked a total of 15 batters, and the free passes are turning into a disturbingly consistent problem for him. If he can come close to maintaining his insane 33-percent strikeout rate while bringing back that great control we all long for, deGrom could find himself in the Cy Young conversation.

Bullpens

The last time that the Mets had to be without Jeurys Familia, they at least knew it was only a short while until he returned. The timetable isn’t as ironclad this time around, and that could produce the need for a long-term solution at the trade deadline. Before that, though, let’s see how Addison Reed, Hansel Robles, and Jerry Blevins handle the increased responsibility. Also, can Collins get through a few months without wearing anyone out? That depends a lot on the work of Fernando Salas, who has pitched solidly in May after completely melting down at the end of April. If Salas falters again, it will be interesting to see if Paul Sewald step into a prominent role. The first seven-and-two-thirds innings of his big league career have been surprisingly decent.

Fans around baseball are wondering how much longer Counsell will stick with Neftali Feliz as his closer. The former Texas stud has given up 12 runs in 16 innings this year and has now walked a batter in five straight outings. Meanwhile, top set-up man Corey Knebel has been dominant with just two runs allowed in 18 frames with 29 strikeouts and eight walks. It’s clear that one guy has been much better than the other, but does it matter in what innings they pitch as long as Knebel is being used in big spots? Probably not. Meanwhile, it should be no surprise to Mets fans that the relief pitcher with the most innings thrown for Milwaukee is Carlos Torres. Even though he’s got an abhorrent 12 strikeouts and 10 walks in 19.2 innings with a 1.63 WHIP, Counsell keeps rolling him out there the way Collins used to. At least in his Mets tenure, Torres could miss some bats, though.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare this weekend in Milwaukee?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Strike them out with that high cheddar and pull off the sweep!
    (32 votes)
  • 47%
    Win two of three.
    (59 votes)
  • 12%
    Win one of three.
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    Not a gouda time.
    (7 votes)
  • 8%
    Extra cheesy pizza!
    (11 votes)
125 votes total Vote Now