Series Preview: Here Come The First Place Atlanta Braves

Mets vs. Braves Series Preview

The Mets begin what will be a very tough three-game series against the Braves tonight at Citi Field, weather permitting.

The Braves are on fire right now and pulling ahead in the division at 28-18, four and a half games in front of the second-place Nationals. They are 7-3 in their last ten and are one of six teams in the NL (and one of 11 in all of baseball) to have a winning record on the road. They are going to be a tough team to beat.

The Atlanta pitching has been what has carried them, but recently, the offense has stepped it up as well. Over their last seven days, the offense is hitting .273/.353/.448, compared to .245/.322/.418 on the season. This is all happening while the Upton brothers are cooling down. B.J. has not been able to hit all season and he is currently batting .155 on the year and Justin has hit just .239 this month with two home runs, after hitting 12 in the month of April. Evan Gattis, of all people, has been their leading home run hitter (along with Dan Uggla)  this month with four. Freddie Freeman has also stepped up, leading the team in hits with 21.

While the offense has come and gone, however, the one thing that has remained constant for Atlanta has been their bullpen, which is third in baseball with a 2.79 ERA and tied for first with a 1.14 walk. Despite some injuries to some key pieces, the Braves have kept their strong bullpen, led by Craig Kimbrel, together. Just like the last time these two teams met, this should be a hard-fought battle with some very close games.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Jeremy Hefner, RHP (0-5, 5.00 ERA, 45 IP, 6.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9) vs. Kris Medlen, LHP (1-5, 3.02 ERA, 56.2 IP, 6.0 K/9, 3.5 BB/9)

Medlen’s win-loss record does not at all tell the story of his season. Despite being 1-5 on the season, he has actually been very good. It was difficult to expect him to match his magical run last season in which he posted a 1.57 ERA in 50 appearances (12 starts). One major concern though is his walk rate, which is uncharacteristically high this season at 3.5 batters per nine innings. That’s unusual for Medlen, who, throughout his minor league career and most of short time in the majors, has walked somewhere around 2.1 to 2.3 per game. Another thing to note is his strikeout rate, which is down almost two full strikeouts per nine innings over last season, and a strikeout and a half below his career average.

Medlen career vs. Mets: 15 G, 1.58 ERA, 45.2 IP, 37 K, 12 BB

Game 2: Dillon Gee, RHP (2-5, 6.04 ERA, 44.2 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) vs. Mike Minor, LHP (5-2, 2.78 ERA, 58.1 IP, 7.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9)

Minor, a former top pitching prospect, has had only a so-so career on the mound. The 25 year-old has a career ERA of 4.11 after shooting through the minor leagues out of the University of Vanderbilt. Minor posted a 4.12 ERA last season in 30 starts, his first full season with the Braves. He hasn’t lived up to expectations, but Minor has settled in as a decent fourth or fifth starter.

Minor career vs. Mets: 7 G, 5.63 ERA, 38.1 IP, 28 K, 13 BB

Game 3: Shaun Marcum, RHP (0-5, 6.59 ERA, 27.1 IP, 6.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9) vs. Julio Teheran, RHP (3-1, 3.99 ERA, 49.2 IP, 5.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9)

Teheran is trying to ressurrect his status as a future star for the Braves. He is finally getting his first chance at a full-time role this season. He struggled badly last year in Triple-A, unable to strike guys out and finishing with a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts. That terrible year brought him from #4 on Baseball America’s top 100 list to outside the top 30. This year has been better for him in terms of ERA and actual results, but his strikeout rate is down (although so is his walk rate), which is a bit concerning. It’s still too early to tell what the Braves have in Teheran.

Teheran career vs. Mets: 2 G, 5.63 ERA, 8 IP, 5K, 4BB

Series Notes

The Mets have scored three runs or fewer in 12 of their past 16 games.

Matt Harvey was upset about the way he pitched in his last outing, a 7-4 Mets loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field. he got a no-decision after Rick Ankiel tied the game late with an RBI triple. That allowed Harvey to maintain his perfect 5-0 record, with five no-decisions in 10 starts. He is one of five undefeated pitchers in baseball with at least five wins.

Ike Davis snapped a streak of 12 consecutive plate appearances without reaching base when he drew a walk in the second inning Wednesday. He has one hit in his last 38 at-bats. Marlon Byrd is hitting .307 (12-for-39) with three home runs this month. He’s five hits shy of 1,100 for his career.

Hefner is 0-1 with a 8.53 ERA (six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings) in his career against the Braves, spanning two appearances (one start). His last start against Atlanta was Sept. 8, when he went 2 2/3 innings and gave up five earned runs on eight hits.

Left fielder Justin Upton, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks on Jan. 24, is tied with Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the MLB lead in homers with 14. Upton became the first player in major league history to homer five times in his first five games with a team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Braves have a 2.79 bullpen ERA, narrowly behind the San Francisco Giants (2.77) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2.78) for the MLB lead. Craig Kimbrel notched his 100th career save on May 9, becoming the second-youngest to reach that plateau (24 years, 348 days). Only ex-Met Francisco Rodriguez (24 years, 246 days) was younger.

Zack Wheeler is expected to make 2-3 more starts for Triple-A Las Vegas and then join the Mets according to a high-ranking team official, confirming what Sandy Alderson said earlier in the week.

About Connor O'Brien 337 Articles
Connor O'Brien is a fourth-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.