Series Preview: Atlanta Braves @ New York Mets
After going 0-6 on their first home stand of the second half, Josh Thole said it best as the Mets were heading for their 11-game West Coast swing; they needed to be away from home for a while to fix their problems. They appeared to be back on track after a 6-5 trip, but once they returned to Flushing, the Amazins dropped two in a row to Jose Reyes and the Miami Marlins. Thankfully, R.A. Dickey gave the Fish a knuckle sandwich that they couldn’t handle to prevent the sweep. As the Braves come strolling into town, Terry Collins’ club sports a 54-58 record, going 5-5 in their last ten games.
What’s up with the enemy:
Like last season, the Braves are among the National League’s best teams, coming into this weekend series with a 64-47 record. Atlanta
and the Pittsburgh Pirates both hold the two Wild Card spots at this point in time. In the NL East, the Braves are looking up to the Nationals, who are 4.5 games ahead of Chipper Jones and company, even though they’ve gone 7-3 in their last 10 ballgames. Fredi Gonzalez is looking forward to keeping his team on the road, as they’ve gone 32-21 away from Turner Field this season.
Although he’s only played in 71 games and approached the plate 250 times, Chipper Jones leads the team with a .316/.395/.508 slash, and while he’s been getting questions as to whether he’ll keep playing beyond this year, the third baseman has not wavered from this being his last season before retirement. Martin Prado (.296 BA) and Michael Bourn (.289 BA) are doing their best to give Chipper some support. In the power department, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann lead the squad with 18 homers apiece, with Freddie Freeman (13) and Dan Uggla (12) following closely behind them. The same four men take the top four spots in the RBI department, with Freeman’s 69 rib-eye steaks lead the way.
The pitching staff took a hit when Brandon Beachy (2.00 ERA) was lost for the season, but the emergence of guys like Ben Sheets and the acquisition of Paul Maholm (after their attempts for Ryan Dempster were unsuccessful) have picked up the slack. Craig Kimbrel (31/33 saves, 1.26 ERA) continues to be the anchor in the back of the bullpen, as well as Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Chad Durbin helping create the bridge to their closer.
Probable pitching match-ups:
Paul Maholm (9-7, 3.75 ERA) vs. Matt Harvey (1-2, 3.86 ERA)
When the Braves swung a deadline deal for Maholm and Reed Johnson, they were getting two players that were having great years. In Maholm’s last seven starts with Chicago, he was 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, while giving up one homer. In his first start as a Brave, he gave up two bombs in a 3-2 loss against the Astros. The Mets will try to capitalize upon his 5.33 road ERA to go along with the .309 clip opponents are hitting against him on the road. We will find out a lot about Matt Harvey, trying to bounce back following his first sub par start in the Major Leagues. He showed tremendous competitive spirit by hanging in the ballgame against the Padres when he didn’t have his best stuff. Citi Field will certainly be buzzing for his home debut.
Kris Medlen (2-1, 2.37 ERA) vs. Johan Santana (6-7, 3.98 ERA)
Medlen has been used out of the bullpen for most of the season, racking up 38 appearances in 2012, but after giving up only 2 runs in 2 starts, Fredi Gonzalez has no choice but to leave him in the rotation. The most intriguing statistic is that Medlen has made 13 starts since May of 2010, and the Braves have won every time. Meanwhile, Johan Santana makes his return from his first DL trip of the season, hoping to erase his 0-3, 13.50 ERA line in his last three starts. He’s happy to be at home, where he’s gone 4-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in front of the home crowd, including that no-hitter.
Ben Sheets (4-1, 1.41 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (8-6, 3.82 ERA)
After not pitching in the Major Leagues in just about two years, Ben Sheets made his Braves debut against the Mets the last time they were at Turner Field, and proceeded to make them look like fools. Once New York left town, Sheets has kept doing that to everyone,
becoming one of the best small free agent pickups this season. He’s split his four wins between the road and home, but his road ERA (0.68) is much more impressive than his home ERA (1.93). Niese has been enigma, looking great one outing and then terrible the next. Following a good outing in San Francisco, the lefty had one bad inning that doomed him against the Marlins. So, Terry Collins is hoping he gets the good Niese Sunday night.
For the Mets to win this series, they need to:
Keep Michael Bourn off the base paths. He’s only stolen one base in his last 10 ballgames while hitting .231, but he’s swiped 29 bags so far in 2012 (5th in MLB), and has scored 75 runs already (6th in MLB). When he’s not on base, it will be less of a blow if players like McCann, Freeman, or Chipper Jones get a big hit.
The Mets starting pitching needs to be on point this weekend. The bullpen has been doing it’s job of late, and it will be up to the starters to not let the game get out of hand early and keep it close so the offense will have the opportunity to get big hits.
It’s always interesting when the Braves are in town…Let’s go Mets!