Yesterday was sort of a sad Sunday for the Mets. Noah Syndergaard looked like a mortal man and gave up some runs while the offense was tamed by San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner. New York lost to the Giants 6-1 and saw its eight-game winning streak snapped, but Terry Collins's team is still in great shape heading into May and has a chance to start another string of victories with Atlanta coming to town.
After the Braves finished getting swept by the Mets a week ago, they lost three out of four to Boston and split a rain-shortened series with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. No, the Braves haven't gotten that much better since the last time we saw them up close, but at least they are coming off of a hard-fought, 10-inning win over a really good Cubs team.
Atlanta got a brilliant performance from Julio Teheran in that one before watching the bullpen fall apart in the eighth and ninth innings. Everyone stayed cool, though, and Nick Markakis came through with a game-winning sac fly in the extra frame.
The veteran outfielder might still be the Braves' top offensive weapon due to his torrid start to the season, but at least Freddie Freeman is finally starting to catch up. When we last caught up with this team, Freeman was mired in an April slump, but the first baseman has since heated up with three multi-hit games and a pair of home runs in the past week. Those two blasts raises Atlanta's team home run total to an astounding five... That's still really poor and kind of hard to believe.
So who else on this team is capable of hitting home runs? Markakis was stuck at zero for a long time last year and ended up with only three, so don't look at him. The catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and A.J. Pierzynski has a little bit of pop but probably won't hit 20 home runs between them this year. Recently Drew Stubbs has gotten some starts versus left-handed pitching, but the Braves are probably better off just letting the much younger Mallex Smith play center field as often as possible.
Third baseman Adonis Garcia was something of a revelation last year with 10 home runs in 58 games, but he's 31 years old and didn't show much power during his minor league days. Garcia's ability to crush lefties could at least make him a decent chip at the trade deadline for the rebuilding Braves.
So it doesn't look like much more power is coming for the Braves, who will have to rely on more pitching performances like Teheran's Sunday gem if they want to be somewhat competitive in 2016. Unfortunately, those kind of outings have been few and far between. In fact, the team is thinking of ditching right-handed starter Bud Norris, who gave up five runs in four innings to the Mets on April 22 and was even worse at Boston last Friday. In order to avoid another Norris disaster, the club is calling up right-handed pitcher Mike Foltynewicz to start on Monday and skip Norris's spot in the rotation.
As a 24-year-old who throws in the mid-90s, Foltynewicz certainly has more upside than Norris, but he also has to improve his game if he's going to stick in the majors. In 2015, while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen, he posted a 5.64 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in part thanks to the six runs he gave up in four-and-one-third innings at Citi Field. With eight strikeouts and three walks per nine innings for the year, Foltynewicz's ratios weren't terrible, but his stuff sure was easy to hit, as evidenced by a .349 BABIP and 17 home runs against him in just 86.2 innings. So far this season, Foltynewicz has a 1.64 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett, but his 14 walks in 22 innings show the ball isn't always going where he wants it.
It will be an interesting contrast, then, when Foltynewicz takes the mound opposite Bartolo Colon, who has made a second career out of placing his two-seam fastball in the strike zone and hoping opponents don't hit it too hard. Colon has had mixed success this year with one home run allowed in three of his four starts. If the Braves can't square the ball up against him a few times, they might be totally hopeless.
|Date||Time||Television||Braves Probable Starter||Mets Probable Starter|
|May 2, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Mike Foltynewicz||Bartolo Colon|
|May 3, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Matt Wisler||Matt Harvey|
|May 4, 2016||1:10 PM||SNY||Jhoulys Chacin||Steven Matz|
The youth movement for Atlanta will continue on Tuesday as Matt Wisler takes the hill. The 23-year-old right-hander is coming off of his worst outing of the season in which he allowed five runs in five frames to Boston, but he had a lot of success in three starts versus the Mets last year. The former San Diego prospect made his 2015 season debut at home against New York and allowed just one run in eight innings. That was during the Mets' big June slump, but later in September, Wisler continued to impress with four runs allowed in 13 combined innings against a much sturdier orange and blue lineup. Wisler's fastball/slider combination isn't totally lethal yet as evidenced by the six strikeouts per nine innings he posted last year, but he's doing a little better in that category so far in 2016.
Starting on Tuesday for the Mets will be Matt Harvey, who has looked more like the pitcher of our dreams lately with 12 strikeouts and two walks spread over his last two starts. Sure, the opponents in those games were Cincinnati and these Braves, but it was still a positive development to see Harvey command his pitches effectively. The next step is to get him deeper into games. The intimidating right-hander hasn't recorded an out in the seventh inning yet.
Steven Matz is another Mets starter we were somewhat worried about at the outset of the season, but he's turned things around nicely with three straight solid starts. In fact, the only team to score a run off of Matz in his last three outings is the Braves! They scored twice against the southpaw back on April 23, but it wasn't enough to stop New York from rolling to an 8-2 win. Besides, Matz was otherwise brilliant that evening with eight strikeouts and zero walks. The lone lefty in the Mets' rotation will look to continue pitching well against an Atlanta lineup whose top two hitters are left-handed.
Jhoulys Chacin will be Matz's counterpart in the series finale at Citi Field on Wednesday afternoon. He's been surprisingly effective for Atlanta so far this season, but his strikeout totals have declined in each of his three outings since his eight-strikeout debut at Washington. Even if the strikeouts don't bounce back, it's a good sign that Chacin is walking so few batters (just four in 22 innings), since he was never a big control guy during his Colorado days. Since he's only signed to a cheap, one-year deal, Chacin could be someone the Braves try to move this July if his performance keeps up.
Speaking of keeping performance up, the Mets' robust offense should have the opportunity to continue scoring bushels of runs with three more right-handed pitchers starting for the opposition. In their three games versus left-handed starters so far, the Mets have struggled, and while that's not a big enough sample to draw conclusions from, it's hard to deny that this lineup was built for crushing right-handed pitching. The near absence of southpaws on the hill was perhaps a big reason for performances like that of Michael Conforto, who finished April hitting .365/.442/.676 for the month with a double in six straight games.
Similarly, Neil Walker, who is stronger as a left-handed hitter, became a major factor with nine home runs to lead New York to a club-record-tying 33 home runs in April. On the other hand, Lucas Duda only hit .253/.291/.443, but he's a solid bet to improve that on-base percentage if the last two years are any indication. Another bat that could get better is that of David Wright, who has hit for a .788 OPS so far despite rarely getting to feast on the left-handed pitching he has loved to crush throughout his career.
As the opposing pitching gets more balanced, we're due to see some Mets cool off, but there is also reason to believe that players like Duda and Wright are capable of picking up the pace.
Prediction: Mets sweep.
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