With the Mets set to open a three-game series in Baltimore on Friday night, the team with the worst record in baseball, the prime opportunity for the Mets to show that the chasm between their home record (24-10) and road record (8-18) is nothing more than small sample size.
The linchpin to the series may well be Hisanori Takahashi. With R.A. Dickey on the mound Friday against titular ace Jeremy Guthrie, Friday night would appear to favor Baltimore. Sunday, with Mike Pelfrey on the mound against TBA, seems to favor the Mets (though the Orioles could always swing a trade for Stephen Strasburg, or bring back Jim Palmer- TBA offers limitless potential).
But Saturday night, Hisanori Takahashi takes the mound to oppose the talented but erratic Brian Matusz. Still, Matusz, a hard-throwing lefty, is pitching well of late. So the question is: will Takahashi keep them in the game?
If he can re-discover the magic that helped him post back-to-back starts of six scoreless innings, he is certainly likely to do it against a Baltimore offense that, as a team, has an OPS of just .676 this year. (To put that in perspective, Joe McEwing's career OPS was .657).
Still, Takahashi had his great starts against the Phillies and Yankees, his poor ones against the Padres and Marlins. So it isn't clear that opponent has much to do with it.
The problem, of course, is Takahashi is the linchpin for more than just the series; indeed, he is the last refuge for a staff that has precious few alternatives to fill his role, either as a starter or reliever. With John Maine scheduled to pitch a rehab start this weekend, he would presumably take Takahashi's rotation spot if he doesn't improve. But what reason is there to think Maine is either healthy or effective, let alone both?
Other options? Oliver Perez is currently disabled, for his own good, while at Triple-A, Dillon Gee (4.37 ERA) and Tobi Stoner (5.23 ERA) don't inspire much confidence.
And should Takahashi continue to struggle out of the bullpen, these are precisely the options who will be in line to serve as long man. Raul Valdes, overused and miscast in that role, pitched five innings on May 20, three innings on May 25. The result? Someone who had been a tremendous asset out of the bullpen has pitched 1/3 of an inning over two appearances, allowing eight runs since.
So Saturday looms large for the Mets in the short-term narrative of the season. But much of the depth the team has is, truly, Takahashi alone. So the long-term picture gets much rosier as well should Takahashi pitch well on Saturday.