This evening, the Mets will welcome the first place Braves to Citi Field for the start of a four game series. Atlanta has a 55-43 record this season and they sit a comfortable 6.5 games ahead of the second place Phillies. The Mets are 5-5 in their 10 games with the Braves this year but they won 3 of 5 in their most recent series with them in mid-June. To help get a better look at the Braves, Ben Duronio of Talking Chop answered a few questions for us.
Amazin' Avenue: The Braves started the season on a 12-1 tear but they've only played slightly above .500 ball since that point. How do you feel about this team as it's comprised and do you think they have enough to hold off the Nationals and Phillies in the second half, as well as possibly make a deep postseason run?
Talking Chop: I kind of hate this narrative. It has been one thrown around for most of the season. Yes they started off hot, but I guess I just do not get why people discount that part of the year. I have very little doubts that they can hold off both the Nationals and Phillies, but it is far from a certainty that they will. The team could use some pitching help which they should be receiving in Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood in the coming weeks, and the outfield should produce significantly better results than they have thus far. If those things happen then they should be able to maintain a decent lead over those two teams.
AA: Do you see the Braves making any trades before the July 31 deadline and if they do, what area should they focus on most?
TC: I think it will be focused on the bullpen and bench. After DFA'ing Juan Francisco they can use a left-handed bench bat and since Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters have gone down with elbow injuries, they could use some lefty relief help as well. I would be pretty shocked if they did anything drastic and acquired a position player regular or a starting pitcher. Frank Wren has shocked me in the past though.
AA: Justin Upton's cooled down immensely after his hot start and both B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward continue to underperform. Have you seen any signs of life from this trio and if not, what do you think the Braves do there? Continue to wait it out or something more drastic?
TC: As I sort of alluded to earlier, the group altogether should perform much better. Heyward was pretty good for the month of June and then pulled his hamstring just before the All-Star break and he was not hitting that well in July before the injury, but he is the most talented all around of the group and I expect him to show that when he comes back healthy. Each of them has sort of had one really good month and two other bad to awful months. I think they will be more consistent and help going forward, but I have been wrong before.
AA: How have the Braves handled the loss of Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty to injury thus far? Is Luis Avilan's performance as "smoke and mirrors" as you'd expect from a guy with poor K/BB rates, a .177 BABIP, and a shiny ERA?
TC: I absolutely think Avilan's performance has been smoke and mirrors. They somewhat utilized Alex Wood in a lefty reliever role but were more-or-less using him as a mop-up guy. David Carpenter has been pretty good so far and Jordan Walden has been every bit as good as the Braves hoped when they traded Tommy Hanson for him. Things are kind of muddled in the bullpen, but they have survived so far and I expect them to make a move in the coming weeks.
AA: Brian McCann has had a nice bounce back this season after a down year in 2012. How do you see the Braves handling the impending free agent this offseason? Do you see him as a lock to return next season?
TC: He is essentially gone. It is difficult to watch as a big fan of his and how great he has been in his time in Atlanta. He is making a ton of money with this performance this season and the Braves have Evan Gattis ready to take over an every day role for pennies on the dollar compared to what they would owe McCann. I expect him to get a hefty amount in free agency and I will be a huge fan of his wherever he ends up. I would be pretty surprised if that is Atlanta.
Thanks again to Ben Duronio for giving us a preview of the Braves! Here are the pitching matchups for this series: