Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

Kevin C. Cox

The Mets play a short two-game series against their southern rivals before the Tigers come to town.

What's going on with the Braves?

If you haven't heard, Atlanta is running away with the National League East. The Braves have a 16-game lead over the second place Nationals, and that lead was only bolstered by a long stretch of division games in the month of August. Since the second day of the month, Atlanta has exclusively played division opponents, and they have gone 12-3 in those games. The Phillies, Nationals, and Marlins have all fallen before Atlanta's might and now only the Mets stand in the way.

It sounds like it's pretty cool to be a Braves fan nowadays. Just look at this story about a fan who was treated to a wonderful afternoon by Justin Upton just because Upton ruined the fan's fantasy hitting streak. Based on that, Justin's brother B.J. should at least buy everyone who drafted him in fantasy baseball this season a nice steak dinner.

That feel-good tale makes the Braves sound like nice people, but they aren't always so friendly. On Friday night, Atlanta pitchers hit Bryce Harper with pitches twice. Earlier this month, the Braves threw at Harper because he looked at them the wrong way, so that makes three times in a month that the young stud has been plunked. Isn't there a "best interest of baseball clause" we can use to suspend the entire Braves team? I'm pretty sure it's not in baseball's best interest to have one of its young star players on the disabled list.

Seriously, though, can everyone just leave Harper alone? Last time I checked, he wasn't even that much of a showboat. Maybe the Braves just don't get the humor in his GEICO commercials.

Who are these guys?

Paul Janish is the Braves' starting second baseman because Dan Uggla couldn't wait until after the season to have corrective eye surgery. The decision makes some sense because Uggla has been hitting .186/.307/.389 this season and has not found a pair of contact lenses that agree with him. Still, those commercials say you can return to work the next day, but I suppose that's different when "work" involves staring into bright lights to catch pop-ups. Anyway, Janish has been an all-glove, no-hit infielder since he debuted with the Reds in 2008. That means he is an improvement over Uggla, who has been no-glove, no-hit this season. Check out this play Janish made the other night! Sick.

Scott Downs was acquired by the Braves before the July 31 trade deadline to be a dependable left-handed setup man. You might remember the Braves having a surplus of such players in the not-so-distant past, but both Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are having Tommy John surgery this season, so here we are with Downs. Since becoming a full-time reliever with the Blue Jays in 2007, Downs has been a very effective pitcher and has kept his ERA below 3.00 five times in the last seven seasons (including this one). Downs's lack of even one 10-plus save season has more to do with the fact that he is a soft-tossing lefty than with his actual skill as a pitcher. Stereotypes suck.

Who's on the mound?

Tuesday: Brandon Beachy vs. Zack Wheeler

Since a disastrous season debut in Colorado at the end of July, Beachy has looked a lot more like the pitcher who was dominant in the first half of the 2012 season. In his last three starts, Beachy has 14 strikeouts and only three walks, and he's throwing his fastball at 90 MPH. That's just slightly below where it was in 2012 before Beachy underwent Tommy John surgery. The big different between this season and last season is that Beachy is throwing his changeup much more often than his slider. If he can keep posting quality starts like he has during the month of August, Beachy could be Atlanta's staff ace on Opening Day 2014.

Wednesday: Alex Wood vs. Jon Niese

The Mets were able to score four runs in 4⅔ innings off of Wood when he faced the Mets on July 25, but since then he's been even better than Beachy. In his latest start, the rookie left-hander struck out nine Nationals batters in 6⅓ innings while allowing just one run and walking no one. That's pretty nasty for 22-year-old who started the season in the bullpen. Wood has gotten a little fortunate with his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, but he's done a good job keeping the ball on the ground and sports a 2.51 xFIP for the season.

What about some GIFs?

Jason Heyward makes this amazing catch to send Mets fans home disappointed on July 22:

2013-07-22_jason_heyward_diving_catch_to_end_the_game_medium

Orange uniforms! Also, David Wright hit himself in the back of the head when his bat cracked during New York 8-2 loss on July 24:

2013-07-24_david_wright_breaks_bat_on_head_medium

Zack Wheeler sets a career high with 12 strikeouts in his last outing against San Diego:

2013-08-15_zack_wheeler_s_swinging_strikeouts_medium

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