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Series Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets

The Mets get a rematch against the only team to beat them in series this year.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

After yet another sweep of a division rival (one that wore its gray uniforms all weekend!), the Mets find themselves on top of not only the National League East, but the entire senior circuit. While various injuries as well as New York's recent history have made some fans ask just how long this can last, we might as well just embrace the wave of greatness for as long as the Mets can ride it. Considering that the Braves—who beat the Mets in two out of three games during the first weekend of the season—are in town, that might not be for too much longer.

Nick Markakis is a hitting machine

During the first meeting between these two, we were wondering if the Braves could really be good. This time around, we're wondering the same thing, as the club is just one game back of New York in the loss column and coming off of a series win over Toronto. We've noted before that the top three starters in Atlanta's rotation give the team a fighting chance, but what's really been a shock is how well this team has hit the ball.

With the previous regime focusing on power at the expense of strikeouts, new Braves general manager John Hart used the offseason to deal away many of those strikeouts and replace them with contact hitters who are becoming more valuable in today's era of rising whiffs. Markakis was considered a curious signing for a rebuilding club, but he's been awesome so far despite just one extra-base hit to his name.

The former Oriole has 15 hits, eight walks, and seven strikeouts in his first 48 plate appearances for a .479 OBP. Markakis's power might not be what it used to, but he's still managed to hit at least 10 home runs in every season of his career, and his on-base skills make him valuable in any lineup.

Another underrated acquisition by Hart is Alberto Callaspo, another low-power, high-contact player. Since coming up with the Royals in 2008, Callaspo has been an unspectacular player who gets on base and plays good defense. A .242 BABIP doomed him to a negative fWAR in Oakland last year, but Callaspo is back to his old tricks so far in Atlanta. He's stealing a lot of playing time from Chris Johnson at third base and could play himself into a full-time role or a trade to a contender in July.

Can the Mets survive all these injuries?

If the Mets lose this series, the talk will be about how the recent rash of injuries has caught up to them. In reality, the club was probably due for a couple of losses either way, but  the story writers love to look for a "turning point" when things go south. Sunday's loss of both Travis d'Arnaud and Jerry Blevins could be that point, no matter how well prepared the Mets are for the injuries.

Fans may feel like Blevins is a more important player than he is because he's been perfect in five innings so far and gotten some very important outs for the Mets. It's important to remember, though, that five innings ago we were talking about a marginal LOOGY who was acquired for a marginal outfielder and only because Josh Edgin was lost to Tommy John surgery. With some amount of Sean Gilmartin, Alex Torres, chewing gum, and duct tape, the Mets should be able to manage their way around Blevins's absence. Just be prepared for him to be considered the key to a championship when Freddie Freeman hits a home run against the bullpen this week.

The d'Arnaud injury does a lot to highlight something the Mets didn't do this winter. They didn't trade away that other young catcher Kevin Plawecki. As Jeff said on the podcast, that probably had just as much to do with d'Arnaud's injury history as the lack of catching depth in the organization. While it's nice to have an exciting player like Plawecki called up after an injury, the Mets have no more catchers like him, so they ought to be careful this time.

The loss of d'Arnaud hurts so much because he was a young promising player who was in the middle of doing what we'd spent the past six months hoping he'd do: pound the crap out of the ball and play good defense. The silver linings are that we've seen d'Arnaud bounce back from an injury before and that Plawecki could make it rain line drives while he's away.

Which bullpen will collapse first?

Even with a deep young pitching stash that includes recent call-up Hansel Robles, the Mets bullpen is something worth worrying about. The squad has already lost a number of useful players, and now it appears that Carlos Torres is going to have to pitch every eighth inning as well as every seventh inning, especially with the bottom of the rotation due up over the next three days.

Date Time Television Braves Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
April 21, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Trevor Cahill Jon Niese
April 22, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Eric Stults Dillon Gee
April 23, 2015 1:10 PM SNY Julio Teheran Bartolo Colon

The good news is that Altanta's pen isn't in great shape either. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was already giving too many innings to Jim Johnson, and now young lefty Andrew McKirahan has been suspended for PED use. If the Mets can pound away at Eric Stults and the previously unseen Trevor Cahill, perhaps they can make a dent in the Braves bullpen before Atlanta can do the same. Either way, the pitching management in the late innings could decide at least one game in this series.

Prediction: What the heck. Mets win two out of three.

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