Most Mets fans would likely have cringed when they saw the 2015 season schedule come out. The Mets opened with three in Washington against a team many picked to win the World Series, and then would have them travel to Turner Field, a place of futility for the Mets since its opening in 1997. Tonight's performance echoed many of the reasons Turner Field has been labeled a "house of horrors" for the Mets. From bad pitching, to bad defense, to that annoying tomahawk chop, the Mets negatives outweighed their positives in their first game of the year in Atlanta, and some of it was concerning.
Jon Niese got the nod tonight, and his first appearance of the year couldn't have started any worse. After a rain delay held up the game's start until close to 9pm, the Mets went down quietly in the top of the first. In the bottom of the frame, Cameron Maybin drove a ball into the left-centerfield seats for his first home run of the year. Just two batters later, Wilmer Flores made a good stop on a ball to his right, which he proceeded to spike in the dirt on the throw to first, allowing Nick Markakis to get on board. The Braves would make the Mets pay, after a Freddie Freeman single moved Markakis over, and Jonny Gomes single brought him home.
Michael Cuddyer starred in the second inning, when he fired a ground ball to Travis d'Arnaud, who caught Andrelton Simmons making a run at home. Simmons dropped his shoulder, taking d'Arnaud down, but the Mets catcher held onto the ball and recorded the out. As Gary Cohen noted, it was the first notable collision the Mets were involved in since the new collision-avoidance rules were put in place last year.
The Braves would tack on another run in the bottom of the third, on another Wilmer Flores throwing error. This time, Flores made a good recovery on a ball in the hole, but fired the throw wide of Michael Cuddyer, which scored Jonny Gomes. Things were not looking up for the Mets at that point, as Eric Stults was dealing, and had set down nine straight.
The bottom of the third, however, gave Mets fans a reprieve as David Wright and John Mayberry belted home runs off Stults, after Curtis Granderson broke up the bid for a perfect game with a single. The Mets first and second home runs of the season landed in similar spots, but couldn't have come on dissimilar pitches. David Wright got hold of a curveball below his knees that he hammered for a towering shot, while Mayberry was just able to turn on a fastball on the inner half. It appeared as if the Mets had made amends for their earlier issues, with just two swings of the bat.
Jon Niese's night ended with him stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth. He was lifted after five mediocre innings, where he didn't look sharp at all. It seemed the contact he was giving up was hard, and his fastball velocity was sitting in the high eighties, which is definitely of major concern. His defense didn't exactly bail him out, but the hits Niese gave up were well-struck, and he labored with his pitch count.
The Mets bullpen looked good, however, in their first two innings of work. Erik Goeddel took over pitching duties in the sixth, and worked efficiently, getting two ground outs, and a soft fly ball to end the frame. Sean Gilmartin took over for Goeddel in the seventh, and got Nick Markakis to ground out and Freddie Freeman to strike out. Both pitchers showed good control and were mixing up offerings in their short outings. With the right-handed Jonny Gomes coming up, Rafael Montero was called in, and that's where the night got interesting.
Montero struck Gomes out to end the seventh inning. In the top of the eigth the Mets threatened after David Wright smoked a ball in the hole, that Andrelton Simmons got a glove on, but couldn't corral. Wright stole, but the Mets threat was ended. The bottom of the inning was a disaster, as Rafael Montero didn't present a single offspeed offering, and David Wright blundered a play at third which put men on second and third. Wright had a ball hit sharply at him by Andrelton Simmons, but rather than throwing to first for the sure out, Wright attempted to run down Jace Peterson, who was moving over from second base. Wright whiffed on the tag because of Peterson's speed, putting him on third, and Simmons took second uncontested after Daniel Murphy - who was expecting a throw - ran to back up Michael Cuddyer. After and intentional walk, Phil Gosselin singled up the middle, and the Braves took a 5-3 lead, and never looked back.
For a Mets team that is supposed to be a team based around pitching, the middle infield defense has left much to be desired in the early part of this season. Wilmer Flores made two errors tonight, and should've made a third if not for an athletic play by Michael Cuddyer on a wide throw. We know what we're getting from Murphy at this point, and although its disheartening to see a player like David Wright make a mental error, he's a known quantity, and mistakes like that are rare. For a player like Wilmer Flores, who is not a known quantity, nights like tonight can be damning. Although four games is certainly not enough of a sample size to judge anything, there has to be concern when a player who is known for making the routine plays, makes three extremely poor throws in a game. That coupled with his lack of production with the bat thus far are going to make him a target of ire if his poor play continues into next week.
For Jon Niese, there's obviously going to be questions asked in the wake of his shoulder fatigue issues. His velocity was down tonight, and his breaking pitches were not sharp. Rafael Montero, as Anthony DiComo noted, threw thirty-five straight fastballs, and in late game situations, good hitters will figure that out. That said, the performances from Goeddel and Gilmartin were solid, and Jerry Blevins even made a cameo, where he got his man out. The bullpen, which was expected to be a strength, still has some work to do to figure out all of the moving parts.
SB Nation Gamethreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: David Wright, +26.2% WPA, Erik Goddel, +6.7% WPA, Sean Gilmartin, +6.0% WPA
Big losers: Rafael Montero, -34.3% WPA, Jon Niese, -10.4% WPA, Curtis Granderson, -12.2% WPA, Wilmer Flores, -9.9% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: David Wright's two-run home run in the fourth, +16.6% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Phil Gosselin's single in the eigth, +32.5% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -31.1% WPA
Total batter WPA: -18.9% WPA
GWRBI!: Phil Gosselin