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Braves vs. Mets: Amazins look to start season victoriously in three-game series

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Can the Mets get their 2017 campaign off to a good start against a familiar rival?

Milwaukee Brewers v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Let me start by saying I hope everyone has a happy Opening Day! Stay safe out there, and do not consume too much baseball at once. Remember that there are still 161 games to go. Even if the Mets lose at home on Monday in front of a sellout crowd, they will still be eligible for postseason play on Tuesday. But they won’t play again until Wednesday because baseball is cruel like that.

Also, for those of you holdouts still in favor of the unbalanced schedule, this is a reminder that the Mets don’t play an opponent outside of the National League East until May 8! That’s more than a month of the same four opponents to start the campaign.

It all starts with the Braves during a Monday matinee. For the past couple of years we’ve heard about how Atlanta was rebuilding in order to have a stacked roster by the time its shiny new ballpark opened in 2017. Well, SunTrust Park has opened its gates, and it turns out the Braves are still rebuilding. They’re rebuilding so hard that they’ve signed two pitchers who are greater than 40 years old just to spare the future members of the starting rotation from throwing too many innings. The fact that those two old guys — Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey — are too of the most beloved figures in recent Mets history should add some juice to this stumbling rivalry.

Braves offense

Atlanta’s pitching staff is a work in progress for sure, but the lineup is a solid mix of veterans and young guys that you might see take the field for a postseason contender. Matt Kemp looked more like his old MVP-worthy self since being traded by San Diego last year, mashing 12 home runs in the last third of the season and finishing with 35 overall, his highest total since 2011. The 32-year-old has seen his walk rate drop since his glory days, but after last year’s performance, Kemp doesn’t seem out of place in the middle of the order.

Kemp makes the Braves more respectable in the present, but the guy Mets fans should really be afraid of is Dansby Swanson, the 23-year-old shortstop who was inexplicably dealt to Atlanta by Arizona following the 2015 campaign. Still considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Swanson hit .302/.361/.442 during his 38-game big league debut last year and has five-tool potential. Hopefully we won’t get to see too much of that potential in this opening set, but if the Braves are to return to prominence on the national scene, Swanson will likely be the cornerstone of the resurgence.

Mets offense

One guy who looked like he could become the cornerstone of New York’s offense last year was Michael Conforto. Remember back in April when he made baseball look easy for a month and was on pace to break all of David Wright’s career records? Yeah, that was fun. The Oregon State alum may have struggled at the plate over the next two months before being sent to the minors, but at 24 years old, he still has as much potential as ever. The prevailing wisdom was that Conforto would begin the 2017 season at Triple-A Las Vegas in order to get consistent at-bats, but the recent injury to Juan Lagares has opened up a spot on the 25-man roster. It will be interesting to see how often the Mets use Conforto off the bench with Jay Bruce occupying right field for now.

No matter what the regular outfield configuration turns out to be, the Mets are likely to be a station-to-station offense, just like they were in 2016. Last year, New York finished 11th in the National League in runs per game despite being second in home runs. The team’s biggest problems were a lack of stolen bases and a lack of contact leading to poor on-base percentage. Even with Jose Reyes on the team from the start, the stolen bases aren’t likely to improve much in 2017. Instead, the pressure will be on guys like Bruce, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud to cut down on their strikeouts, or at least walk enough to make up for all the swings and misses. If those three players get off to a good start this week, it will do a lot to separate this roster from the very similar 2016 version.

Probable pitchers

Monday, April 3: Julio Teheran

Important stats (2016): 188 IP, 167 K, 41 BB, 22 HR, 3.21 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.05 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (81 mph), curveball (72 mph)

Teheran was extremely tough against the Mets last year with just three runs allowed in 30 innings. He obviously didn’t throw a 0.90 ERA against everyone else, but he wasn’t bad, either. The 26-year-old finished 2016 with the best WHIP of his career and a three-percent improvement in walk rate compared to 2015. Although many pundits thought the Braves ought to have traded him away as part of their rebuild, the franchise appears to think he can play a big role on its next competitive team.

Mets starter, Noah Syndergaard: With the comic-book nickname and sexy hair, Syndergaard is like a combination of his rotation buddies Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Thor appears to have it all at this point in his career: the power to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings and the movement to produce a 51-percent ground ball rate. The only question now is whether or not he can pitch this well for 200 innings per season. He’s on pace to reach that plateau for the first time in 2017, and the Mets are counting on him to lead a rotation that is already short one Steven Matz.

Wednesday, April 5: Bartolo Colon

Important stats (2016): 191.2 IP, 128 K, 32 BB, 24 HR, 3.43 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1.21 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (87 mph), four-seam fastball (90 mph)

Oh, Bartolo! Why did you have to leave us? If Colon gets off to a good start this year and at least one of New York’s starters does not, we’ll start to hear moans and groans from Twitter about how the Mets did not do enough to retain Big Sexy’s services. The fact remains that even with Matz getting hurt this early, Colon has a better chance to get a full-time starter’s workload while pitching for the Braves. That’s probably why he signed with the rebuilding club. That and the fact that he still gets to swing the bat two or three times a game.

Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: Compared to his first two years in the big leagues, deGrom featured a lower strikeout rate and higher ERA in 2017, but Mets fans shouldn’t worry too much about the would-be ace. That’s because 16 of the 53 runs he allowed all season occurred in the three starts he made before hitting the disabled list with a minor elbow injury. He’s as healthy as ever to start this season, so we should expect to see the same reliable deGrom in this series that we saw in the first four months of 2016.

Thursday, April 6: Jaime Garcia

Important stats (2016): 171.2 IP, 150 K, 57 BB, 26 HR, 4.67 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 1.28 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (90 mph), four-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (82 mph), slider (82 mph)

Garcia will always be that guy who’s always injured, but at the same time, you have to give the longtime St. Louis hurler credit for continuing to bounce back and find work in the big leagues. In his last two years with the Cardinals, he threw around 300 combined innings, which is great for a guy who totaled fewer than 100 between 2013 and 2014. After struggling mightily in the second half of last season, Garcia is moving on to Atlanta, where he still has a chance to be a diamond in the rough at 30 years old. With his combination of left-handedness and ground ball ability, this guy could cause problems for a Mets lineup that relies on left-handed power hitters.

Mets starter, Matt Harvey: By judging him solely on his number of naked magazine appearances, Harvey has to be the most vain member of the Mets’ pitching staff. That inference may or may not be true in real life, but it will still be interesting to see how he handles being the third guy in the rotation after being such a big star during his first two full major league seasons. Of course, a bigger factor in Harvey’s 2017 success will be how well he recovers from the thoracic outlet syndrome that cut short his 2016 campaign. Before going under the knife, the North Carolina product appeared to be hitting his stride with a 2.83 ERA in June, but questions remain about if his strikeout and walk rates will return to how they were before 2016.

Bullpens

It’s not often that the same relief pitcher leads his team in both appearances and saves, but that was the case for Jim Johnson last year, as the veteran saved 20 games for Atlanta while pitching in 65. His name doesn’t explode of the page, but Johnson was an adequate closer in 2016 and should be again this year. The next most used guy in Atlanta’s pen was Ian Krol, and the southpaw set career-bests in innings, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP despite pitching to a pretty even mix of left- and right-handed batters. Unless New York’s lineup changes drastically during the year, we should be seeing plenty of Krol when the Braves are in town.

With Jeurys Familia facing a 15-game suspension, Addison Reed will assume the ninth-inning duties for the Mets, at least to start the campaign. That leaves Fernando Salas as the primary setup man thanks to his great performance down the stretch in 2016. The Mexican right-hander wasn’t having an amazing season with the Angels when New York traded for him in August, but over those final two months, he struck out 19 batters and walked none in 17.1 innings. Salas can become a pretty popular guy in Queens if he even comes close to replicating that performance to start 2017.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

Poll

How will the Mets fare this week against Atlanta?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Opening sweep!
    (51 votes)
  • 32%
    Win two of three.
    (33 votes)
  • 0%
    Win one of three.
    (1 vote)
  • 5%
    Just remember, it’s only three games.
    (6 votes)
  • 10%
    Pizza!
    (11 votes)
102 votes total Vote Now