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Series Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets

The Braves have been sneaking up on the Mets for the past month.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

You may not have noticed it thanks to the way the team has clung to first place recently, but the Mets have been slowly slipping back to the .500 mark over the course of the last month. While the Nationals may not have been able to take advantage of that, the Braves could make a run at the top spot this weekend. Atlanta has been stubbornly hanging around .500 for the whole season, and that puts the team in a great position with the way New York and Washington have failed to pull away.

Now just two losses out of first place in the National League East, the Braves are looking to turn themselves into an underdog story with some wins against the Mets.

Familiar faces in the bullpen

2015 hasn't always been pretty for the Braves, but they've persevered enough to avoid falling out of contention like they were supposed to. One thing they've had to overcome is a bullpen that's among the worst in the majors. While the two most commonly used guys, Luis Avilan and Jim Johnson, are holding their own despite sub-par strikeout rates, Atlanta doesn't have a regular relief pitcher with an ERA below 3.00.

Rookie right-hander Cody Martin was supposed to give the unit a lift this season, but he was recently sent down to Triple-A thanks to his 24 hits and four home runs allowed in 21.2 innings. In his place is David Aardsma, who hadn't pitched in the majors since his appearance with the Mets in 2013. Before being scooped up by the Braves earlier this month, Aardsma had struck out 23 batters in 18.2 innings with the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, so he might just have enough stuff left to help Atlanta's relief corps.

Aardsma isn't the only former Met in the bullpen, though. Dana Eveland, who wasn't even on the roster last week, joined the big league club when the Braves finally gave up on Trevor Cahill. After pitching surprisingly effectively for New York in 2014, Eveland had a 1.54 ERA for the Pawtucket Red Sox (Triple-A) this year before being let go.

Couldn't the Mets use Juan Uribe?

The bullpen isn't the only place where the Braves have had a makeover since the last time they faced the Mets. Two weeks ago, the club made a trade with the Dodgers to bring in Juan Uribe and the injured Chris Withrow in exchange for Alberto Callaspo, Eric Stults, and a pair of minor leaguers. Although Stults started earlier in the year against the Mets, he, like Cahill, has been cast aside in favor of younger starters with higher upside.

Callaspo is a nice bench piece who can play multiple positions and get on base a bunch, but Uribe is a better player if he can match his numbers from 2013 and 2014, when he played like an All-Star for the Dodgers. Why would Los Angeles deal him away, then? The team may be in the middle of a pennant chase, but they're rich at third base with Justin Turner hitting .310/.382/496 and Alex Guerrero with 10 home runs in just 123 plate appearances.

Turner, Uribe, and Callaspo all sound like guys who could help the Mets in their current hot corner predicament. Certainly the Mets would seem like they should be more willing to make a deal for a third baseman than Atlanta, but maybe the front office is more confident about David Wright's health than we are. If Wright continues to sit out as we get closer to the July 31 trade deadline, you can bet that pressure on the Mets to make a move will only build. Until then, they'll try to hold onto first place for as long as possible.

How good is Shelby Miller?

The 24-year-old is making Atlanta look like winners of the Jason Heyward trade with his 1.84 ERA in 78.1 innings this season (and he hasn't even faced the Mets yet!), but don't expect the charade to last much longer. Miller is striking out fewer than seven batters per nine while sporting a .218 BABIP and 85-percent strand rate. Numbers like those don't tend to hold up for a full season, so maybe the Mets can give the young right-hander a dose of reality on Saturday. One thing that Miller has improved on since his St. Louis career is his ground ball rate, which has risen from 40 percent last year to 51 percent this year. If Miller can continue to keep the ball on the ground, he'll still be an effective starter, if not a magnificent one.

After disposing of Cahill and Stults, the Braves have added youngsters Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez to the rotation. The former will be pitching against the Mets on Sunday, and he'll be looking to get over a couple of rough June outings. Foltynewicz pitching exclusively out of the pen for Houston last year, but he's posted a solid 21-percent strikeout rate as a starter for Atlanta. His walk rate of three per nine innings has been shrinking as his season continues.

Date Time Television Braves Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
June 12, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Alex Wood Bartolo Colon
June 13, 2015 4:10 PM PIX 11 Shelby Miller Jacob deGrom
June 14, 2015 1:10 PM SNY Mike Foltynewicz Noah Syndergaard

Also looking for a rebound start on Sunday will be Noah Syndergaard, who struck out a career-low two batters during Tuesday's loss to San Francisco. Before that, the Mets will send Bartolo Colon and his three consecutive quality starts to the hill opposite Alex Wood tonight. Wood has only let up two home runs all year, but one of them was hit by Michael Cuddyer back on April 12. If deGrom can win his duel with Miller on Saturday, the Mets may just win their first series of the month.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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