Mets-Astros Series Notes

Well, that was awful. The Astros swept the Mets in three games, beating them every way one baseball team can beat another. They outscored New York 18-7 over the three games. They outhit the Mets 30-22, and out-homered them 5-0. Every Astros home run came with men on base, and Houston scored 12 of their 18 runs on those five home runs. The Astros out FIP’d the Mets too, controlling the strike zone all three games: The Mets struck out 22 times and drew just six walks, while the Astros struck out 15 times and drew 12 walks. The Mets made two errors, the Astros none. The Mets won zero baseball games, the Astros won three. And so on.

Notes on the series after the jump:

— Before we get all, “AHH, METS SWEPT BY THE LOWLY ASTROS” . . . the Astros may be for real. The new front office seems to have turned the offense around, Mets-style: Take a bunch of young hitters, make them swing at good pitches, take bad pitches, and then repeat until you score runs. The Mets, as we know, swing at the lowest percentage of pitches in the National League, but the Astros swing at the second lowest. The Mets are third in walks drawn, the Astros second. The Mets are second in OBP, the Astros fourth, and so on. Houston’s home park helps — particularly that porch in right — but their offensive turnaround looks real. They may not have the most talented lineup, but they’re maximizing that talent with their revamped approach.

Houston’s pitching remains a problem: It’s Wandy Rodriguez’s curveball, Bud Norris’ slider, and then not much else. But the Astros could finish ahead of the Cubs or Pirates or both in the Central.

— Let’s mark some good before we get into the bad: David Wright knocked out four more hits in the series, including an opposite field triple on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, he stole a base with two outs and then scored the Mets’ only run on Andres Torres’ single. Wright has stopped chasing breaking balls on the outside corner, and he can drive fastballs on that corner up the middle or into right field. The numbers show as much: He has more walks (17) than strikeouts (14) on the season. His defense, particularly his arm, has been less-awful (though my guess is that an Ike-Davis-sized target boosts Wright’s perceived arm accuracy). If we want to be picky, a little more power would be nice, as Wright has just eight extra-base hits through his first 22 games. Still, April was Wright’s best full month since June 2010, and he’s the Mets’ MVP through the season’s first four weeks.

— New thing to watch with Wright: Against righties with good breaking pitches — especially relievers — Wright will sometimes become so conscious of the outside corner that he’ll lose a guessing game to fastballs inside. Brandon Lyon froze Wright with fastballs and curveballs on the inner half of the plate on Monday night, as Wright  focused on fouling off pitches away away away.

— Other new thing to watch with Wright: His batting helmet makes his head look weird and I can’t quite figure out what it is. He might be using one of the newer, slightly bigger and more protective models. And that makes his eyebrows are more prominent now? Or something?

— One last Wright thing: He’s entered crafty veteran territory. On any throw arriving late at third base, Wright pretends the ball has gotten past him to see if the runner will take off for home. I know Wright successfully deked one runner into an out in that manner last season, and I’ll bet he gets another one or two runners this season.

— Ruben Tejada! We’re going to ignore his ill-conceived attempted at stretching a double into a triple leading off Wednesday’s game, and instead concentrate on the following: Ruben Tejada leads the Mets in extra base hits. He’s second in total bases. He’s performed admirably both playing shortstop and babysitting Daniel Murphy at second base. He’s about as crafty as Wright, despite being seven years younger, and it’s fun to watch the pair’s wheels spin on the left side of the infield. If Wright is the Mets’ MVP thus far, Tejada and Josh Thole are runners-up.

— And we’re out of good stuff. The rest of this shall be bad.

— Worth noting: The Astros basically stole a base off Daniel Murphy in the first inning on Wednesday. Jordan Schafer, on first with none out, took off for second as Jose Atluve deked a bunt. Murphy was pulled towards both second base — he’s the cover man on a stolen base attempt with the righthanded Altuve at the plate — and first base — to cover on a bunt to the first baseman — and, the applied forces being equal, did not move. Tejada read the situation and covered Josh Thole’s throw, but late. It almost looked like a set play against Murphy, perfectly executed by the Astros.

— Murphy also let a ball roll under his glove on Monday night, for his NL leading fifth error as a second baseman. He’s good on balls hit right at him and his arm is strong . . . but his lateral motion isn’t good, his instincts as a second baseman are underdeveloped, and he’s not great at turning double plays. The Mets have to position Murphy so close to the second base bag in double play situations that they seem to be giving up extra hits in the 3-4 hole. Enough extra hits where it might be worth eschewing some potential double plays to position Murphy regularly and cut down that hole.

— On the other hand, the Mets’ collective infield defense has been passable, if still below-average. Opposing teams are batting .235 on ground balls against the Mets, tenth among the 16 teams and only a bit higher than the NL average is .226.

— The Mets’ new outfield alignment of Nieuwenhuis-Torres-Duda might even be a tick above average, with the two center fielders covering enough ground to compensate for Duda. Torres covers serious ground. With improvements from Wright and the addition of Nieuwenhuis, the Mets may be far from the worst defensive team in baseball this season.

— Still talking fielding: Josh Thole’s arm seems to be improving, and he had a solid defensive series. He took down three of four would-be thieves in Houston . . . so either he’s getting better or the Astros are just bad at stealing bases.

— It seems Scott Hairston shall see plenty of playing time in left and right with the Mets’ increasingly lefty-heavy lineup. They’re down to five righthanded bats — Wright, Hairston, Tejada, Mike Nickeas, and Justin Turner — and three of those five are middle infielders or a catcher.

— Ike Davis went 3-12 against the Astros, those three singles raising his season averages to .180/.232/.292. Alfonso Soriano was the NL’s anti-player of the month for April, but Davis was a close second. Davis is at least replacing all the backwards Ks on breaking pitches with weak 4-3 ground outs now, so . . . progress, or something. One month. He’ll be all right.

— If you told me chin-bearded Andres Torres was a different person than full-bearded Andres Torres, I would believe you.

—  When I hear a player is out with “flu-like symptoms,” I assume that’s code for “hangover.” At least until said player misses more than one game and gets all his teammates sick. Feel better Mike Nickeas and Lucas Duda.

— Onto the pitchers: R.A. Dickey had the knuckleball working, allowing just three hits and a pair of walks . . . except that all three hits came in a five batter sequence in the sixth inning, the last being a home run by Matt Downs. Dickey has now given up at least one home run in each start this season, and his seven home runs allowed leads the majors. He’s allowed 12 of his 15 runs on long balls, six of those runs coming on three home runs in the Atlanta rain. I do believe I’ve identified a problem.

— I missed the first hour of Tuesday’s game, and thus missed Jon Niese’s brief outing. That summarizes things, no?

— Chris Schwinden failed to impress. The Astros spat on his breaking stuff and lashed anything in the zone. His two worst pitches were a pair of un-bending curveballs that Chris Johnson lovingly placed into the stands behind left field. Jeremy Hefner has a 2.08 ERA through four starts in Buffalo . . . though Schwinden has a 2.05 ERA in his four Buffalo starts before being called up. My guess is that Schwinden gets another turn, but Hefner also gets a call up to provide a fresh arm, piggyback on Schwinden’s next outing, and take that rotation spot if Schwinden’s start goes like his first two.

— Almost everyone in the bullpen is pitching poorly. They’re overworked because the starters last three innings. Then they’re being asked to do weird things — Manny Acosta, multiple-inning reliever! — because everyone is overworked. No one throws strikes consistently. Frank Francisco, with his series of minor leg injuries and poor control, seems destined for a sabbatical on the disabled list. They’ve all made too many appearances: Bobby Parnell is on pace for 71 appearances, Ramon Ramirez for 77 appearances, Jon Rauch and Tim Byrdak for 84. Everyone is tired and no one is effective. The bullpen is already in crisis mode, but with injuries to Pedro Beato and Danny Herrera, reinforcements are decimated. There’s talent in the pen, but the arms have already been worn out. They’ll be playing catch up for a while.

— Non-baseball: Game of Thrones, anyone? How good is that show. Peter Dinklage is the obvious star now, but how talented is the cast as a whole? The villains have proper gravity — Alfie Allen is wonderfully creepy and confused as Theon, Charles Dance has a Count Dracula thing going on as Tywin Lannister — and the child actors are all excellent. The series keeps killing off main, likeable characters, and all I want is more. If you’re not watching, I recommend. But definitely rent Season 1 first, and watch whatever of Season 2 you’ve missed. Or read the books. Maybe both. Just don’t try to jump in cold.

— The Mets finish the six game road trip 2-4, and it could have been much worse. The opposition outscoring the Mets 46-29 across the six games. The Metropolitans survived a tough April schedule with a winning record and without playing all that well. The pitching has been a mess-tastrophe, but the offense has performed well without some key parts clicking. One game over .500, coming back home at the beginning of May? Works for me.


Filed under Mets, Words

3 responses to “Mets-Astros Series Notes

  1. I now demand a regular segment discussing Game of Thrones on the podcast. It’ll only make things better!

  2. If the Mets keep playing like this, they will be killing off main characters too (metaphorically, I hope)

  3. One little nit-pick about the pen, and really there are no correct answers in that pen right now. But why is Parnell (now with multiple good pitches and the developed pitching sense) being used as a roogy while Acosta and Ramirez pitch two innings every other day? Ya think the recently former SP could handle a long outing or two, and give those guys a breather?

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