Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

Scott Cunningham

Happy Labor Day!

What's going on with the Braves?

The Mets and the Braves haven't been strangers in the second half of the season. The two have split six games down the middle since the All-Star break, with the previous two contests taking place at Citi Field just two weeks ago. Atlanta dropped three of four to St. Louis immediately after its mini-series with the Mets, but after that the Braves recovered to win six in a row against the Marlins and Indians. For five games in a row during that stretch, Atlanta allowed fewer than three runs to its opponents, but the team's last two decisions are a 5-4 win and a 7-0 loss to Miami.

Roster expansion has brought the immortal Freddy Garcia to Atlanta, and the move immediately paid dividends as the veteran right-handed pitcher shut down the Marlins through 4.2 innings on Sunday.

"He did a nice job navigating through that lineup, taking a little off, putting a little on, spinning it," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You could see the experience, you could see all that kind of stuff. He didn't panic in certain situations and he really saved our bullpen today. Good for him, and good for us."

Sure, the Braves lost the game 7-0, but the big takeaway here is that Garcia is so experienced that his experience is a tangible thing that you can see and feel. He hasn't been a good pitcher since he posted a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts with the Yankees in 2011, but Garcia is a good pickup for the Braves because he has the ability to pitch meaningless innings for a team that should have plenty of meaningless innings available to be pitched this month.

Who are these guys?

Elliot Johnson was picked up by the Braves on the same day that they wrapped up their last series with the Mets. A waiver claim who played for the Royals earlier this season, Johnson is a curious addition because Atlanta already had a no-hit infielder filling in for Dan Uggla. That was Paul Janish, and now that Uggla is back in the lineup following his eye surgery, Johnson has been forced to make himself valuable in other areas. Plays like this diving catch in left-center field should help the utility man carve out some playing time. That's some seriously impressive range for a guy who's only played 54 innings of outfield in the majors.

Who's on the mound?

Monday: Paul Maholm vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Maholm would have been a lost boy in Atlanta's rotation if not for Tim Hudson's horrific ankle injury and Brandon Beachy's elbow inflammation. Just like the Mets with Harvey, Atlanta learned the hard way that you can never have too much starting pitching. Since coming off the disabled list two weeks ago (wrist contusion) Maholm has allowed four runs in 5.1 innings to the Cardinals and one run in six innings to the Indians. He has an uninspiring five strikeouts and five walks over those two starts, and he needs to get back to pitching like he was in the first three months of the season if he wants a meaningful role on Atlanta's postseason roster.

Tuesday: Kris Medlen vs. Carlos Torres

Like Maholm, Medlen probably wouldn't have a spot in the rotation if Atlanta were fully healthy. Unlike Maholm, Medlen has been quite splendid lately, with 30 strikeouts and five walks in 36 August innings. Although the diminutive righty might never have another stretch in his career as successful as the one that took place in the second half of 2012, he's proven himself to be steady enough to be a full-time MLB starter. Someone who would like to emulate Medlen's transition is Torres, who twirled a gem against the Phillies in his return to New York's rotation last week.

Wednesday: Julio Teheran vs. Dillon Gee

Teheran's name has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle this season among young National League starters. He's hasn't been as dominant as Matt Harvey or as young as Jose Fernandez, but Teheran is still a 22-year-old who has been terrific in his first full major league season. With just over 160 innings thrown this season, the Braves are likely to keep Teheran on a tight leash in order to maintain his arm for the playoffs He's thrown over 100 pitches in just eight of 26 starts, so there's no reason to test his stamina now that Atlanta has a 14-game lead in the standings. Meanwhile, Gee just continues to rack up quality starts and a top-three of Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, and Gee doesn't look so terrible for 2014.

What about some GIFs?

Ike Davis hits a very long home run in the Mets' 5-3 win on August 20:

2013-08-20_ike_davis_pepsi_porch_home_run_medium

Eric Young's awesome catch from the same game

2013-08-20_eric_young_diving_catch_medium

Young wasn't the only one flashing the leather that night, as Jason Heyward made this incredible catch to rob Juan Lagares of an extra-base hit:

2013-08-20_jason_heyward_diving_catch_medium

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