Aug 29, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (10) in the field during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Atlanta Braves @ New York Mets

The Mets head home to Citi Field to take on the Atlanta Braves this weekend, which will include Chipper Jones‘ last road trip to New York, as he plans on retiring at the end of the season. Earlier this year, there were some news stories about what the Mets were planning to do to honor Larry, but nothing has been said in anticipation of his arrival. New York avoided getting swept against the Cardinals this week, but are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and at 65-72, they’re one game behind Philadelphia for third place and five games ahead of the Marlins.

How the opposition is doing:

Although they’re 7 games behind the Nationals in the NL East, the Braves are sitting pretty in playoff contention, with their 78-60 record. According to Baseball Prospectus, Atlanta’s chances of clinching a postseason berth is now at 90%. However, they’re going to need to play hard this month so they don’t experience the same collapse from 2011. Fredi Gonzalez and company hold the top spot in the Wild Card race, 3.5 games ahead of the Cardinals, who hold the second spot.

Despite being at the end of his career, Chipper Jones (.304/.381/.497) is leading the offense in batting average. Martin Prado (.298 BA) is hot on his tail, especially now that he’s taken over the starting duties at second base with the recent benching of slumping slugger, Dan Uggla (.207/.336/.371). Brian McCann (.224/.295/.393) has also not had a good year, as he’s been trying to play through various injuries. Michael Bourn leads in stolen bases (38) and runs scored (88), while Jayson Heyward’s 24 home runs are tops on the club, and Freddie Freeman has driven in the most runs with 84 rib-eye steaks in 2012.

Pitching, as always, has been the strong suit of the Braves, and it starts with Craig Kimbrel in the back of the bullpen. He’s converted 34 of 37 save opportunities, holds a tiny 1.23 ERA and has struck out 94 batters in 51.1 innings pitched. Kris Medlen (7-1, 1.56 ERA) and Paul Maholm (2-3, 3.96) have helped ease the pain of losing Brandon Beachy (5-5, 2.00) for the year. Tim Hudson earned his 14th win yesterday, which leads the staff, but Mike Minor has edged him with 155.1 innings pitched. Tommy Hanson currently holds the strikeout crown with 134 punch-outs, and no one has a better WHIP than Kimbrel (0.66).

Probable pitching match-ups:

Paul Maholm (11-9, 3.96 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (10-8, 3.55 ERA)

Hoping to shake off the 2 inning, 7-run appearance his last time out against the Phillies, Paul Maholm will look to find the form he had against the Mets the last time they met, as he threw a complete game shutout, needing only 95 pitches. He’s done a nice job on the mound since the All-Star break, going 5-2 in 10 starts with a 2.77 ERA, and opponents are only hitting .220 off him. Before his sub-par outing, Maholm had a streak of 11 straight starts with at least 6 innings pitched. Niese is coming back off seven days rest thanks to the six-man rotation, and will try to minimize allowing extra-base hits, as he gave up five in his last start. He’s coming off a solid month of August (3-3, 2.61 ERA in 6 starts) and will try to put together two straight solid months for the first time this season.

Kris Medlen (7-1, 1.56 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hefner (2-5, 4.52 ERA)

When Medlen is on the mound, the Braves win. Period. They’ve won his last 18 starts, but it also helps that he hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 37.1 innings pitched, while boasting a 0.54 ERA over his last 7 starts. He’s thrown two complete games in his last four appearances, while striking out 56 hitters over his past 55.2 innings pitched. Although Jeremy Hefner has received two no-decisions in his last two starts, he’s pitched the best he has all year; in his last 14 innings pitched, he’s given up 11 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, while striking out 11. However, Hefner is pitching during the day, which has proved to be tough for him, as he currently has a 0-3 record and 4.94 ERA in 6 appearances (3 starts) without the stadium lights on.

Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.40 ERA) vs. Chris Young (4-7, 4.48 ERA)

Although he’s been striking people out (55 K’s in last 54.2 IP), Tommy Hanson has been hit hard lately, getting through 6 innings only once in his last four starts. After going 10-5 with a 3.71 ERA in the first half, the young hurler has seen himself dip to a 2-3 mark with a 6.20 ERA and 1.92 WHIP since the All-Star break. If he continues to struggle with his control (25 BBs in last 40.2 IP), he could be removed from the rotation. It’s been an inconsistent year for Chris Young on the mound, but his health has been consistent for the first time in a while. Ten of his sixteen starts have come on the road, but he needs to find a way to overcome his struggles at Citi Field, where he’s 0-4 with a 4.46 ERA.

The Mets will win this series if:

The bullpen can eliminate the big hit. Like I said the last time these two teams met, Michael Bourn needs to be kept off the bases so the big hitters like Heyward and Freeman won’t have RBI chances. So, when there is a jam in the 6th or 7th inning, the presence of relievers like Josh Edgin and Bobby Parnell will that much more important.

I would say they need to consistently score runs, but most teams kind of have to do that in order to win ballgames, so the Mets are no different. Let’s hope that after all these years of pain Chipper Jones has put us through, New York can win this series and go out on a high note…Let’s go Mets!

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Tags: Chipper Jones David Wright Jeremy Hefner Jonathon Niese Mets Series Preview New York Mets

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