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Braves vs. Mets: Nowhere to go but up?

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This homestand is not going well so far, but maybe the Amazins can turn it around.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In what is becoming a too-familiar trend, the Mets lost three close games to Washington over the weekend to drop their record to 8-11, good for fourth place in the National League East. The team has now lost eight of its last nine while scoring four runs or fewer in all eight of those losses.

The off day on Monday will hopefully serve two purposes. First, it can knock the Mets out of their current funk, and more importantly, it can help the team get a little healthier after it was ravaged by minor injuries last week. Also helping the Mets hit the reset button will be their opponent, the Braves. Atlanta is the only team in the division with a worse record than New York, and our southern rivals just suffered back-to-back sweeps at the hands of Washington and Philadelphia.

Braves offense

Matt Kemp mashed five extra-base hits against the Mets during the first three games of the season, and he looks to be a major threat again despite missing 10 games already with a hamstring injury. He started out 1-for-13 upon his return from the disabled list, but Kemp appeared to be back to 100 percent on Sunday, as he went 2-for-4 with a home run in Philadelphia.

Carrying the Atlanta offense in Kemp’s absence were Freddie Freeman and Brandon Phillips. Before 2016, Freeman hadn’t hit more than 23 home runs in a season, but his power game erupted in a major way last year. In the second half alone, he hit 18 home runs to push his total to 34 and achieve the highest WAR of his career. Mets fans are already sick of Freeman, but he appears to have picked up where he left off last September with seven home runs and a .494 on-base percentage so far. He already has two four-hit games this year, both of which featured two home runs.

Meanwhile, Phillips is hitting .343/.378/.500, but his high BABIP and low walk rate suggest that he’ll probably go back to his career rates of .275/.320/.422 soon enough. Even though he probably won’t stay this hot, it’s kind of surprising that Phillips wasn’t picked up by a more competitive team this offseason. At age 35, he can still make solid contact, turn a smooth double play, and even swipe a bag when the situation calls for it.

One guy who isn’t making solid contact this year is highly-touted shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson. At .139/.162/.194, he’s mired in a tough early-season slump that has forced manager Brian Snitker to move him down the lineup. I’m not sure that replacing him in the second spot with Adonis Garcia was a good idea, though. After debuting with a power surge in 2015, Garcia has proven to be a mediocre third baseman who is already 32 years old.

Mets offense

How New York’s offense performs this week depends a lot on the health of Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d’Arnaud. Cespedes was held out of the Washington series by a hamstring injury, but he appears to be a go for Tuesday. His presence will reunite what has been one of the top offensive outfields in baseball this April. Or it would, if the elbow injury of Lucas Duda wasn’t forcing Jay Bruce to play first base. Duda recently told The Record that he expects to return to action after 10 days on the disabled list. If and when that happens, there’s just no reason for Terry Collins to start anyone other than Cespedes, Bruce, and Michael Conforto until one of them either cools off or gets hurt again.

Even with the outfield looking sexy, there are still plenty of problem spots in the Mets’ lineup. Jose Reyes continues to be terrible with Wilmer Flores stuck on the DL with an infection, while Asdrubal Cabrera has cooled off after a solid start to the campaign. There soon might not be room for Curtis Granderson in the starting nine, but it would have been cool if he used a great Friday night performance — in which he reached base three times and hit a game-tying home run — to build some momentum. Instead, the veteran went 0-for-7 with a pair of strikeouts over the next two games. At least Neil Walker is starting to hit a little bit, but it would be really nice if d’Arnaud was comfortable enough throwing a baseball to return to his starting role and lengthen the competent portion of the lineup a little.

Probable pitchers

Tuesday, April 25: Julio Teheran

Important stats: 23.0 IP, 18 K, 11 BB, 2 HR, 3.52 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 1.43 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), slider (80 mph), two-seam fastball (89 mph)

Teheran continued his dominance of the Mets with six scoreless innings on Opening Day, and his next two starts were pretty solid as well. However, he was lit up for seven runs in four innings last Wednesday against Washington, as the chickens that are Teheran’s elevated walk rate finally came home to roost. With at least three walks in three of his four outings this season, Teheran hasn’t controlled the ball as well as his ERA would indicate, so the Mets will try to take advantage the way the Nationals did: with multiple home runs.

Mets starter, Robert Gsellman: He’s probably considered the weak link of New York’s rotation by many, but Gsellman is like the opposite of Teheran in that he’s pitched better than his ERA makes it seem. The 23-year-old has thrown more than enough strikeouts and ground balls so far to be successful in the big leagues, and last week his efforts finally resulted in a quality start against Philadelphia. With a couple of more games like that, Gsellman’s importance to the Mets won’t be much of a secret anymore.

Wednesday, April 26: R.A. Dickey

Important stats: 18.2 IP, 13 K, 7 BB, 3 HR, 3.86 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 1.39 WHIP

Favorite pitches: knuckleball (77 mph), four-seam fastball (83 mph)

It will be interesting to see if Dickey gets the same kind of reception that Colon got in his return to Citi Field. On one hand, the knuckleball-throwing sensation has played a higher percentage of his career with the Mets and even won a Cy Young Award during his tenure. On the other, Dickey wasn’t part of a successful Mets team the way Colon was in 2015 and 2016. For the Braves, all that matters is that Dickey eats the innings that he was brought to Atlanta to eat. With at least 29 starts made in every season since 2011, it’s a good bet that he gets the job done.

Mets starter, Noah Syndergaard: Blue Jays fans should stay away from the broadcast of this game, because SNY will no doubt be reminding fans that Dickey and Syndergaard were once traded for each other in a deal that didn’t work out too well for the Canadian side. Thor hasn’t yet had a campaign as great as the one Dickey enjoyed in 2012, but 2017 is turning out to be a special one so far for the powerful right-hander. In just 26 innings pitched, he’s struck out 30 batters with nary a walk.

Thursday, April 27: Bartolo Colon

Important stats: 24.0 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, 3 HR, 4.50 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.08 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (88 mph), four-seam fastball (91 mph)

If Colon keeps acing the Mets like he did with six innings of one-run ball back on April 5, the Citi Field cheers for him will quickly turn to boos. I’m not sure that will bother the durable veteran very much as he continues to be a baseball miracle of biblical proportions. For a team like the Mets that relies on walks and home runs to score, Colon’s contact-based approach can prove especially frustrating.

Mets starter, Matt Harvey: Harvey did a great job pitching through the seventh inning and giving the Mets a chance to win last Friday night, but he also continued to struggle with strikeouts and the home run ball. With a lower-than-expected walk rate so far, it’s possible that Harvey is working inside the strike zone a little too much and trusting that he can still blow away batters with his fastball. At 94 miles per hour, the Connecticut native still has the oomph he needs to be a power pitcher, but he could also stand to rely on his secondary stuff a little more.

Bullpens

The Atlanta bullpen allowed the Mets to score six runs on Opening Day, and it hasn’t gotten that much better since. Lefties Ian Krol and Eric O’Flaherty have been so bad that it’s going to be tough for the Braves turn to them against Conforto and Bruce if the games are late and close. Fortunately for Snitker, he has Jose Ramirez (same name as the Cleveland third baseman) pitching well with just two runs allowed in 10.1 innings so far and a 0.87 WHIP. The former Yankees farmhand could be a future closer for Atlanta if he’s able to get his fastball/slider combo under control.

Jeurys Familia was looking a little rusty with two walks in each of his first two outings, but he bounced back with a perfect inning on Sunday. With both Jerry Blevins and Hansel Robles among the league leaders in pitching appearances at this early stage, the Mets need Familia to step into a major role right away, so hopefully his latest performance wasn’t a fluke. There’s a good chance that he’s on the mound in the ninth inning the next time there’s a save opportunity.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare against the Braves this week?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Back to .500 with a sweep!
    (65 votes)
  • 29%
    Win two of three.
    (46 votes)
  • 10%
    Win one of three.
    (17 votes)
  • 5%
    Back-to-back sweeps is no bueno.
    (9 votes)
  • 11%
    Pizza!
    (18 votes)
155 votes total Vote Now