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Series Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets

The Mets stay home to face a familiar foe after getting spanked by the Yanks.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If losing two out of three games to the Marlins wasn't enough, this past weekend's series loss to the Yankees proved that the Mets' September honeymoon is over. The story has shifted from the amazing underdog Mets somehow leading their division this late in the season to all the issues plaguing these Mets and how that may lead to an early October exit.

Thanks to three straight Nationals victories, New York's magic number has been stalled at eight since Saturday, and the pressure will be on the Mets to whittle that figure down during the team's penultimate home series of the campaign. The next time the Mets see Citi Field after these three games, it will be during the potentially meaningful showdown with Washington at the start of October.

The good news for Mets fans is that the Braves' front office might welcome a little losing as Atlanta comes into Queens fresh off of a three-game sweep over the Phillies. Those were far from dominating victories, as each game finished with a 2-1 score, but they were enough to move Atlanta from one game in front of Philadelphia to four. That might be swell for on-field team morale, but the Braves are now much farther away from a top overall draft pick than they were three days ago.

While Braves fans discuss among themselves whether to root for a higher draft pick or as few losses as possible, the Mets have three games against a team they swept just over a week ago to show that they're ready for October. With Atlanta mired in mediocrity, these three home games are a great opportunity for New York to work out some issues that flared up against the Marlins and Yankees.

The offense isn't as fun when Cespedes isn't so hot

Not too long ago the hot topic surrounding the Mets was Yoenis Cespedes and how cool it would be if he won the NL MVP award. For those of us who didn't want to be bothered with such nonsense, it was nice to see that talk fade away over the past week. The only problem with that was Cespedes getting only one hit in his last 20 plate appearances.

Who would have thunk that a player who swings at many pitches and doesn't give much of a thought to the strike zone would be prone to slumps? It was fun to watch Cespedes carry the New York offense for most of September, but he's still a mortal baseball player, albeit a great one. In fact, the man known as La Potencia now has played nine games this month without hitting a home run and nine with a home run.

The recent offensive malaise isn't all Cespedes's fault, though. The reason the Mets did things like trade for Kelly Johnson, promote Michael Conforto, and wait for David Wright to get healthy was to create an lineup that was more than just a one-trick pony. Even with its best player struggling at the plate, this offense still has enough talent to power through... when other guys are hitting well. Seeing as how New York has scored more than three runs just once in its last five games, not many guys are hitting well right now, but the point remains valid. The Mets have collected enough talent on offense to not completely depend on one guy in October.

Besides, this Mets slump hasn't even been going on that long. If you just take the last 14 days, there are still a number of players with more-than-decent numbers: Curtis Granderson is batting .265/.500/.382 in his last 50 plate appearances, David Wright is at .273/.347/.455 for his last 49, and role players like Johnson and punching bag Michael Cuddyer are coming up big when inserted into the lineup. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Mets turn things around and score a bunch of runs versus Atlanta this week.

So many skipped starts

Offense hasn't been New York's only problem. Surrendering runs has turned into a bugaboo recently with the young staff tiring at the end of the long season. We've heard enough about the Matt Harvey saga, but Noah Syndergaard was also recently skipped, and Jacob deGrom is also due for a brief vacation.

The strategy appears to be working for now. Harvey looked awesome against the Yankees last night, even if the evening was spoiled by poor relief pitching. Syndergaard had great strikeout and walk numbers in his last start, despite giving up five runs on long balls. Perhaps deGrom will look rejuvenated after his extra rest as well.

It doesn't hurt that New York's rotation is just as deep as its lineup. Logan Verrett has shown the ability to step up and give the Mets quality innings at the drop of a hat, and Bartolo Colon is somehow getting stronger as the season goes on. The 42-year-old has a 2.59 ERA since the start of August.

Both of those guys will be starting this week, along with Jon Niese, who has lacked consistency for the better part of the second half. The lefty is having enough trouble as it is, but one guy who could cause more problems for him is Adonis Garcia, the 30-year-old jouneyman who has been surprisingly productive for Atlanta in 2015. The right-handed third baseman is much more effective against southpaws (.348/.354/.674) than right-handers (.239/.256/.402), but that first part of the equation has been enough to earn him a big league job after toiling in the Yankees organization from 2012 through 2014. With Niese starting tonight and Garcia hitting .313/.343/.469 overall this month, the slugger has got to be licking his chops.

We highlighted Cuban import Hector Olivera in our last Braves preview, so this time we'll focus on a guy who entered the Atlanta clubhouse with far less fanfare, the former Detroit prospect Cameron Maybin. Also known as that other guy from the Craig Kimbrel trade, Maybin got off to a great start this year and was looking like a huge steal. Before the All-Star break, he was hitting .289/.356/.418, which was a big boost over his career on-base numbers. However, in the second half, Maybin has slumped to .226/.281/.308 thanks in part to a decrease in BABIP, but also because his power and walks have dropped. Nowadays, Maybin looks like the same useful-but-disappointing player he's been throughout his big league career.

Three familiar faces

All three Braves starters that will face the Mets this week are guys who pitched pretty well but not excellently versus New York earlier in the month. Shelby Miller will go tonight, with his quality start versus the Mets (three runs, five strikeouts, two walks, six innings) sandwiched around a pair of poundings against Washington and Toronto. Like we said last time, though, Miller has been consistently solid all year round, so he should provide a challenge for Cespedes and company. Last time out, the Mets failed to hit a home run off of him, and that's probably because Miller has allowed just 11 in 2015.

Date Time Television Braves Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
September 21, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Shelby Miller Jon Niese
September 22, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Matt Wisler Logan Verrett
September 23, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Williams Perez Bartolo Colon

Matt Wisler moved from the bullpen to the rotation and allowed two runs in six innings versus the Mets on September 11. He's on tap once again tomorrow after being on the losing end of a 5-0 Toronto shutout. Despite being a big strikeout guy in his minor league career, Wisler is only punching out six batters per nine innings this season, so it will be interesting to see if can start to show some of the upside that made him such a huge pickup for the Braves back in April (in the same deal that brought Maybin to Atlanta).

On Wednesday, fans of players with two last names will enjoy Williams Perez, the ground-ball machine who has had a lot of success lately. Perhaps that's because he didn't pitch in that Toronto series, but his last three outings have been impressive nevertheless. After allowing two runs in seven innings to Philadelphia, Perez pitched a quality start versus New York and then dominated the Phillies again with six strikeouts, one walk, and one run allowed in five-and-two-thirds innings. Let's hope that most of those solid stats are just the Phillies' bats talking.

Prediction: Mets sweep it.

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