What's going on with the Braves?
No, they haven't been playing the toughest schedule as of late, but yes, the Bravos have been getting some work done. After sweeping four games in Philly and taking three in a row from the Mets in Atlanta, Fredi Gonzalez's squad moved its win streak to nine games with a pair of wins over Arizona before finally falling to the Snakes on Sunday.
The Atlanta offense still strikes out too much to be consistently effective, but a deep rotation and bullpen has helped the team stay even with Washington through 88 games. With series against the Mets and Cubs coming up for the Braves before the All-Star break, you know the club has thoughts of moving into first place before the "second half" begins.
Speaking of the All-Star break, Atlanta is sending closer Craig Kimbrel, starter Julio Teheran, and stud first baseman/Met killer Freddie Freeman to the midsummer classic. Fans can also vote for (or against) outfielder Justin Upton into the game if they feel so inclined. What really piqued my interest, though, was when Talking Chop called Jason Heyward an "All-Star snub."
Heyward is still only 24 years old, but it's been disappointing that he hasn't yet turned into an all-world hitter the way it looked like he could when he was one of baseball's top prospects. Still, Heyward is a versatile player who brings more to the table than just a bat. Mets fans know he is one of the best defensive outfielders in the league, and if you look at his strikeout (16.1 percent) and walk (11.5 percent) rates, you begin to see a player who still has the potential to be an MVP candidate in his mid-twenties.
Who are these guys?
The best part about Jordan Walden might be the SNY booth talking about his "illegal" delivery when he pitches against the Mets. If you're paying attention this week, you might just get a few sips ahead of your friends while playing the GKR Drinking Game. While watching Walden launch himself off the hill may be a thrill in and of itself, Walden's 34-percent strikeout rate is what really brings home the bacon for the right-handed reliever. He's also had some trouble with his control this season, but with seven strikeouts and just one walk against the Mets this year, New York hasn't seen that side of him yet.
For a guy with a 1.73 WHIP, David Carpenter is a pretty good relief pitcher. He was thrown in with manager John Farrell when the Blue Jays shipped their skipper to Boston in exchange for Mike Aviles in October 2012. Carpenter was then claimed on waivers by Atlanta just over a month later, and the Braves appeared to unlock the right-hander's potential in 2013. After muddling in mediocrity for much of his career, Carpenter pitched to a 0.99 WHIP in 65.2 innings last year, making him one of the league's most valuable relievers. This year's high WHIP is mostly due to a .452 BABIP against him, as he's actually doing a better job on a strikeouts and walks basis than he was during his 2013 breakout.
Who's on the mound?
Monday: Mike Minor vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Last week we talked about how Minor wasn't pitching up to his strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he didn't do anything to change that notion against the Mets last Tuesday. Even though he struck out five batters and walked just one in 4.1 innings, Minor gave up four runs on 101 pitches, mostly due to a pair of left-handed home runs hit off of him by Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy. In fact, home runs have been a pretty big problem for Minor in 2014. He's given up 13 in just 70.1 innings, and he's got to find a way to lower his 17-percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio in order to reclaim the success he had in 2013.
Also having trouble reclaiming past glory is Matsuzaka, whose 10 runs and seven walks allowed in his past two outings had him hanging by a thread as far as a rotation spot is concerned. This might have been his last start in a while if Jon Niese didn't just land on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, but now it appears that Gee will take Niese's spot and Matsuzaka will continue to force Mets fans to cover their eyes and cross their fingers for a couple of more passes through the rotation.
Tuesday: Julio Teheran vs. Jacob deGrom
Teheran did nothing to hurt his All-Star candidacy when he pitched against the Mets last Wednesday. The Amazins showed good patience to walk three times off of the young right-hander, but Teheran otherwise shut down the Mets with one run and four hits allowed over seven innings. Teheran still doesn't have the fame or name recognition that other young starters like Jose Fernandez or Matt Harvey have, but he's been just as impressive, and more importantly, he's stayed healthy so far in his big league career.
Maybe someday deGrom will be able to strike out a lot of batters while also working deep into games, but for now we'll take an outing like last week's when he struck out eight Braves but needed 110 pitches to get through five innings. deGrom's last three starts have been solid, but he's gong to have to improve on his 2:1 strikeout-to-walk rate and 1.41 WHIP if he's going to lay claim to a rotation spot when Noah Syndergaard is eventually called up.
Wednesday: Ervin Santana vs. Dillon Gee
Santana's foray into the National League has gone about as well as fans of the veteran right-hander could have hoped. He's striking out more batters than he has in years, and his walk rate is nearly as low as the one that made him so successful with the Royals last season. The Mets were fortunate enough to miss Santana the last time they faced the Braves, because he's made four straight quality starts, and in his last three outings, he's allowed zero home runs and three walks total.
Gee's return to the rotation from a strained lat comes at a welcome time for the Mets. They just sent Niese to the DL, and could at least replace the lefty's production with Gee, who was pitching pretty splendidly before he suffered the injury. Although Gee's strikeout rate has been alarmingly low when compared to his last two seasons, he's still managed to pitch quality starts in six of eight outings in 2014. If he can start punching out opponents again now that he's healthy, Gee could be a big improvement over Matsuzaka in the second half of the season.
Thursday: Aaron Harang vs. Bartolo Colon
We knew Harang wasn't going to keep up his Cy Young-like pace from the first month of the season, but while he's fallen off a good deal, he's still pitching well enough to be considered an effective fifth starter. Harang's strikeouts have gone down and his walks have gone up since May ended, but the off-the-street pickup by Atlanta is still looking like a solid one thanks to his ability to eat up innings while the Braves have so many valuable pieces on the DL. Harang dominated the Mets twice back in April, but the Amazins should find him much more inviting now that he's a mere mortal again.
One could be forgiven for mistaking Colon for an immortal being with the way he's pitched for stretches in 2014, but his last two starts have been humbling. Colon gave up five runs in six innings to the Pirates on June 29 before surrendering five runs in seven frames to Texas over the weekend. Over those two starts, he's allowed three home runs while striking out just five batters. When Colon is on, he can boost his stirkeout rate with his mystifying two-seam fastball. His two previous outings versus the Braves in 2014 have been quite solid, so hopefully he can get back on track down south.
Prediction: Sure, a split here seems optimistic, but it's not crazy to think that the Mets can beat up on Minor and Harang.
What about some GIFs?
Jason Heyward made another sweet sliding catch during the first game of the Mets' series in Atlanta last week.
The next day, Daisuke Matsuzaka got some revenge by sawing off some of Heyward's lumber.
Of course, Mets fans can't be too impressed with Heyward when they get to watch Juan Lagares almost every day.