Series Preview: Mets vs. Braves, April 7-9, 2014

Rob Carr

The Amazins hit the road for the first time this season with a three-game series against the Braves.

What's going on with the Braves?

The Braves have multiple starting pitchers on the disabled list. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are both out for the season because of Tommy John surgery, while Mike Minor is recovering from shoulder tendinitis. Atlanta's rotation may look like a bit of a mess right now, but its performance has been golden, allowing two or fewer runs in each of the team's first six games against Milwaukee and Washington.

Given that, it's kind of disappointing that the Braves are 4-2 so far. Their powerful boom-or-bust offense is off to a sputtering start, with Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson the only hitters playing up to par. The Upton brothers have combined for a ridiculous 21 strikeouts and one extra-base hit, while Jason Heyward is still looking to become the superstar player he has the potential to turn into.

On Sunday afternoon, the Braves got a second straight solid start from lefty Alex Wood, but the offense was shut down by Nationals rookie Taylor Jordan and the Washington bullpen. Atlanta lost 2-1.

Who are these guys?

Ryan Doumit always seemed destined for greater things, but he never quite got there. With Pittsburgh in 2008, he hit .318/.357/.501 with 3.1 fWAR while playing catcher. Since then, it's been all downhill for Doumit, but he's maintained usefulness on major league rosters by being able to play the outfield and first base as well as backstop. That versatility has allowed Doumit to stay healthy as of late. During his two seasons with the Twins, he posted two career highs in games played with 134 in 2012 and 135 in 2013. Looking to add bench depth, the Braves traded minor league lefty Sean Gilmartin for Doumit over the winter.

Ramiro Pena is a former Yankees farmhand and career backup infielder. Last season, he only found his way into 50 games (107 plate appearances) for the Braves, but he still managed to be worth 0.5 fWAR by hitting .278/.330/.443 and playing solid defense at shortstop, second base, and third base. With Chris Johnson bound to regress from a spectacular 2013 and Dan Uggla not having posted a slugging percentage over .400 since 2011, Pena should see an increase in playing time this season.

Who's on the mound?

Tuesday: Bartolo Colon vs. Aaron Harang

After spending eight years eating innings in Cincinnati, Harang has bounced around the league like a pinball since 2011. A native of San Diego, he found moderate success with the Padres and then the Dodgers before his ERA ballooned to 5.76 in Seattle last season. Allowing 21 home runs in just 120.1 innings will do that to you, but Harang ended up looking okay in a pit stop with the Mets at the end of 2013. He's parlayed that into a deal with the Braves, and thanks to the aforementioned injuries, he'll start their home opener. Last time out, he shut out the Brewers for 6.2 innings while allowing just two hits and a walk. Colon—who is somehow five years older than Harang—will try to build upon his Mets debut in which he allowed three runs in six innings against the Nationals while striking out four and predictably walking none.

Wednesday: Zack Wheeler vs. Ervin Santana

When you think about pitchers who make 30 starts per season as routinely as Santana does, you think consistency. Despite his constant presence on the field, Santana is one of the more volatile pitchers in baseball. The good news for the Braves is that his BABIP has been trending low over the last four years, but they still have to be concerned about the high amounts of walks and homers Santana allows. Last season with the Royals, he was pretty great with a 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and "only" 26 home runs allowed. That was quite a delight for Kansas City fans who were worried about the insane 39 home runs Santana gave up in 2012 (nearly a fifth of his fly balls allowed left the yard). Now with the Braves on a one-year deal, he'll hope to continue to befuddle opponents with his slider while trying to replicate last year's 2.18 walks per nine. Speaking of walks per nine, Wheeler is looking to drop his mark of 4.14 from 2013. In his first outing of 2014, he got off to a good start with just two walks in six innings.

Thursday: Jenrry Mejia vs. David Hale

Hale is Atlanta's seventh-best prospect according to Baseball America, and while he doesn't appear to have eye-popping stuff, he does have a knack for keeping the ball in the yard. In 114.2 Triple-A innings last year, Hale allowed 36 walks and only eight home runs while striking out 77. Those aren't exactly top-of-the-rotation numbers, and most scouts project Hale as either a back-of-the-rotation starter or bullpen arm. As a member of the Braves' staff who is healthy enough to throw a ball, Hale is looking very useful right now, and even more so after pitching five shutout frames in his 2014 debut. Mejia is another guy who may or may not have a future in a big league rotation. Last Friday against the Reds, he flashed his potential by allowing just one run in six innings despite walking five batters.

What about some GIFs?

Mets fans know how good Jason Heyward can be with the glove. Here he is making a nifty catch against the Brewers last week.

As if Bryce Harper wasn't having a rough enough start to the season, he had this potential sac fly taken away by an incredible B.J. Upton throw.

Back in spring training, Juan Lagares made an incredible catch to take an extra-base hit away from Justin Upton.

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