New York Mets News

Mets-Rays Series Preview Extravaganza!

By Milo Taibi
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Entering this three game set against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Mets record stands at a mediocre 33-31. I’d point out that the Rays 35-33 record would be a positive forthe Amazins, but the way the Mets played against a terrible Orioles team leads me to believe that the Mets haven’t the room to be taking any form of opposition for granted. In this sleek, stylish preview I’ll take a glance at the pitching match-ups as well as  each team’s current state of affairs. 1,2,3: GO!

Game One: Fernando Nieve vs. Andy Sonnanstine

Nieve is still a bit of a mystery to Mets fans. In his first major league start with the organization he pitched exceptionally well against the New York Yankees, allowing four hits and two runs over 6 2/3 innings. Nieve’s minor league season was going well before his call-up; he had a 3.70 ERA as a starter in Buffalo with 23 K’s in 24 IP. Adding this to the fact that Fernando’s had moderate success previously in the major leagues (1.33 WHIP with the Astros in 2006) gives me some faith that, at least in the short term, Nieve will perform well in place of John Maine.

Meanwhile, Andy Sonnanstine has had a really rough year for the Rays. 6.55 ERA, extremely low K/9 rate…yikes. Andy’s not much of a power pitcher, he relies more on the location of his secondary pitches for success. If the Mets are able to make him throw lots of pitches and eventually miss up in the zone, this could be a very lopsided game. It should be noted, however, that throughout Andy’s poor 2009 campaign there have been some very solid starts mixed in along the way.

Game Two: Johan Santana vs. James Shields

Of all the games in this series, this is going to be the toughest to get a read on. While Shields is consistently a very good number 2 pitcher, Santana has had a very rough month of June. It could be bad luck because of the caliber teams he’s faced (Johan first had trouble with the Phillies, then the Yankees), or there could be something to the reports that Santana’s knee is a problem. Either way, we’ll have to wait and see on Saturday if Johan Santana is able to pitch the way the Mets need him to.

Game Three: Mike Pelfrey vs. Jeff Niemann

Rays starter Jeff Niemann has responded very well to this past offseason’s trade of Edwin Jackson to the Tigers. With a spot secure in the rotation, the out of options Niemann has posted an ERA of 4.21. Niemann’s shown the ability to go deep into ballgames when he limits his walk total, so it’s crucial for the Mets to elevate his pitch count as much as possible (possibly give Brian Schneider the start over Omir “I hate walking” Santos).

Meanwhile, Mike Pelfrey is coming off a very strange outing in Baltimore. He seemed to be perfectly in control through the early going, but lost concentration as well as his ability to locate his fastball later on in the game. Pelf has good enough stuff to get by without dominant command, but this Rays lineup is patient and will take their share of walks. The way Pelfrey handles disciplined hitters such as Pat Burrell and Carlos Pena should be quite interesting to watch.

Prediction

The optimist in me wants to say that this is a series the Mets can sweep. Because on paper a sweep does appear to be attainable. The Rays have a heavily depleted bullpen due to injuries, and the pitching match-ups lean in the Mets favor.  Judging solely from the way the Mets have played lately, however, I’ll give them the edge in two of the three games. I can see Fernando Nieve pitching well enough for the Mets to win tonight, Johan rebounding and getting the W tomorrow, and the Mets having an off day and losing the third of this set. Regardless, the Mets have to gain some ground in the NL East and this series is a prime opportunity for it.

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