Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

The Braves acquired both Upton brothers this offseason.

The Braves made headlines this offseason with their acquisition of B.J. Upton in November, signing him to a five year deal worth about $75 million. However, just when the offseason was winding down and it appeared the Braves were done, they surprised everyone and acquired B.J.’s brother Justin from the Diamondbacks. The tandem added a boost to the Atlanta offense that they so badly needed, and had some experts picking them to challenge the Nationals for the NL crown.

Thus far, it appears the Braves made the right move, at least with Justin Upton. If the season ended today, he would be the unanimous MVP. Upton is leading the majors with 12 home runs, three more than anyone else. That, to go along with a not-too-shabby .287/.387/.693 has carried the otherwise mediocre Braves offense.

In reality, it has been the pitching that has carried the Atlanta Braves this season. Despite trading Tommy Hanson this winter, the Braves lead baseball in team ERA with an outstanding 3.10 mark coming into today’s action. More specifically, it has been their bullpen, which has been even stronger than last year’s. Craig Kimbrel has continued his dominance, striking out 15 batters in 10.2 innings. Kimbrel and Jordan Walden, who the Braves received in the Tommy Hanson trade, are among five relievers with at least ten innings pitched and an ERA under two. Compare that to the Mets, who have two such pitchers.

This Braves team is good (yes, even better than the Marlins if you can believe it) and will put up a very tough fight, especially in close games. The key for the Mets will be scoring runs off their starting pitching, because  if they trail in the late innings, the odds are stacked against them.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Shaun Marcum (5.2 IP, 50 ERA+, 1.33 K/BB) vs. Mike Minor (31.2 IP, 125 ERA+, 5.40 K/BB)

Minor, 25, was selected seventh overall in the 2009 draft by the Braves and quickly rose to stardom in their minor league system. Once he reached the big leagues, he never pitched like the ace some thought he could become. Minor came into the season with a career ERA of 4.37 in 302.2 career innings. This year, however, has been much better for him, at least so far. Over five starts, he has a 3.13 ERA and career-best 1.4 BB/9 rate. He was roughed up for six runs in 6.2 innings against the juggernaut Detroit offense, but had a 1.80 ERA in four starts coming into that outing.

Game 2: Jonathon Niese (32.2 IP, 112 ERA+, 1.31 K/BB) vs. Julio Teheran (28.1 IP, 77 ERA+, 2.50 K/BB)

Teheran has been a highly-regarded prospect since his breakout year in the minors in 2009. He worked his way through the minors fairly quickly, until stalling at Triple-A last season. Coming off a dominant season in Triple-A in 2011, Teheran failed to earn a job out of spring training, and was sent back. Once he was back in the minors, Teheran wasn’t the same pitcher. His 3.0 walks per nine wasn’t terrible, but his 6.7 strikeouts was a career-low. What was most concerning was the 18 home runs he gave up, doubling his previous career-worst of nine. Teheran has a 5.08 ERA in five starts, striking out 20 and walking eight in 28.1 innings.

Game 3: Matt Harvey (40.1 IP, 237 ERA+, 3.83 K/BB) vs. Tim Hudson (35 IP, 101 ERA+, 2.18 K/BB)

Even at age 37, Hudson continues to be the rock of the Atlanta rotation. In 11 of his past 12 seasons, Hudson has posted an ERA below four. This year, he has a 3.86 ERA in 35 innings over six starts. In his last outing, Hudson shut down the Nationals, holding them to one run on three hits in seven innings on only 96 pitches.

Series News & Notes

  • The Mets sent down a struggling Collin Cowgill today in favor of the red-hot Andrew Brown, who has been tearing it up with the Las Vegas 51s. Brown was hitting .367 with a .440 On-Base Percentage and two home runs in 25 games.
  • Jordany Valdespin slugged a three-run pinch-hit home run on Wednesday to give the Mets a 5-4 lead…It was the Mets first pinch-hit home run of the year and the sixth pinch-hit of Valdespin’s brief career…He is tied for second all-time on the club’s pinch-hit home run list.
  • New York has scored three or fewer runs in eight of itslast 12 games and is hitting .202 (89-441) over that span…Overall, the Mets are seventh in the majors scoring 4.85 runs per game.
  • Craig Kimbrel recorded his 98th career save Monday in Atlanta’s 3-2 win over Washington…Kimbrel’s career save percentage of 89.1 (98/110) ranks fi fth all-time among pitchers with at least 100 save opportunities (see chart at right)…According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the quickest anyone has ever reached 100 career saves was Eric Gagne, who did in his 104th opportunity, followed by John Smoltz (107th) and Joakim Soria (112th)…Kimbrel could tie Soria for third all time if he can convert each of his next two opportunities.
  • The Atlanta bullpen’s homerless streak was snapped at 21 games last Friday (April 26) at Detroit when reliever Anthony Varvaro surrendered a three-run shot in the fourth inning…Since the franchise moved to Atlanta (1966), that was the furthest into a season (21 games) that a Braves team has gone without the bullpen allowing a home run.
About Connor O'Brien 336 Articles
Connor O'Brien is a third-year economics student at Rutgers University, a longtime writer here at MetsMerized Online, and an aspiring economist. He embraces sabermetrics but also highly values scouting. Follow him on Twitter at cojobrien.