No matter how badly the Mets lost to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon (and it was quite the drubbing), it’s important to remember that Terry Collins’s team got back on the right track with two out of three wins in Washington. Not even the most optimistic fans were predicting a series victory after the way New York played during the previous 11 games.
However, with the pair of wins come more issues. Noah Syndergaard has been added to the long list of injured players, and the bullpen did such a bad job cleaning up on Sunday that Collins had to turn to Kevin Plawecki in the seventh inning. For the talented group of guys who are still fit for action, this week is a chance to prove that the real Mets were the team that won two games on the road against the hottest team in baseball and not the motley crew that was clobbered in the finale.
The latest four-game test will come against the same Braves squad that swept a shortened two-game series from the Mets last week. Atlanta used that momentum to win the first two games of its series in Milwaukee before falling short on Sunday. Despite their rebuilding status, the Braves have been lighting up the scoreboard lately thanks to the potent combination of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp in the middle of their lineup. If they Mets haven’t learned not to take them lightly yet, they could probably use an attitude adjustment.
Even with Yoenis Cespedes on the shelf, New York scored at least five runs in each of the three games in Washington. A big part of that was Michael Conforto, who continued his extraordinary play with a pair of home runs on Saturday. With Jose Reyes lifting himself out of zombie mode and riding a six-game hitting streak, it might be time for Collins to insert his fastest player back into the leadoff spot and place Conforto in a role where he can drive in more runs. The same goes for Travis d’Arnaud, who put his recent wrist injury behind him with two home runs on Friday night. Considering his .305 on-base percentage so far, the 28-year-old backstop isn’t top-of-the-order material, but he shouldn’t be hitting behind T.J. Rivera, either.
Speaking of Rivera, the fill-in first baseman could find himself back on the bench this week, as Luca Duda is expected to return from the disabled list soon. The powerful first baseman was hitting .238/.360/.571 before suffering a hyperextended elbow, and he was supposed to be ready for the series opener on Monday, but a recent setback could mean that Duda remains on the DL until Tuesday or later.
If there was a silver lining to New York’s pair of losses to Atlanta last week, it was that Kemp didn’t unload again like he did during the first series of the season. That wasn’t the case during the Braves’ three-game set in Milwaukee, though. The veteran outfielder knocked in nine of his team’s 24 runs, including five on Saturday when he hit three home runs. Kemp’s only other games with multiple extra-base hits this year came on April 5 and April 6 against the Mets.
Kemp and the eternally hot Freeman could be even more dangerous now due to the recent improvement by the hitters in front of them. Leadoff man Ender Inciarte got off to a slow start this year, but he’s hitting .270/.313/.524 since April 12. Likewise, Adonis Garcia has picked up his game lately with three multiple-hit games in his last five, but manager Brian Snitker would be better off sliding Nick Markakis up to the two hole since Garcia consistently struggles to get on base. Markakis has been batting fifth behind Matt Kemp lately, and he’s failed to reach base in only three games in 2017.
Monday, May 1: Julio Teheran
Important stats: 29.1 IP, 22 K, 15 BB, 2 HR, 3.38 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.40 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), slider (80 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (80 mph)
Teheran’s ERA is looking healthy nowadays, but his walk rate has more than doubled over last year’s figure and he’s missing fewer bats as well. However, those warning signs really only hurt the Colombian right-hander in his start on April 19 when he was blown up by Washington for seven runs in four innings. Despite walking seven batters in 12.1 innings against the Mets this year, Teheran has only allowed two runs to be scored by New York.
Mets starter, Robert Gsellman: During his last start, Gsellman was crushed by these same Braves and gave up six runs in four innings. His 6.23 ERA might look ugly right now, but the 23-year-old continues to get ground balls at a 57-percent clip. That means that even with a high home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, Gsellman has only allowed two home runs in five games. It’s only a matter of time before the Mets start to turn more of his ground balls into outs and bring his ERA closer to his 3.69 FIP.
Tuesday, May 2: R.A. Dickey
Important stats: 23.2 IP, 16 K, 9 BB, 4 HR, 3.80 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 1.39 WHIP
Favorite pitches: knuckleball (77 mph), four-seam fastball (83 mph)
One of the reasons why Dickey has lasted so long in the majors as a knuckleball-thrower is his ability to consistently induce weak contact. The career BABIP against him is .280, and it’s been even lower than that in every year since he joined the Mets. That’s what helps the cult hero outperform his FIP so consistently. He’s making it work again with the Braves, and that could turn him into the attractive trade chip that Atlanta wants him to become this summer. Dickey experienced quad spasms while running to first base last Thursday, but he’s expects to be fine for this upcoming start, and he’s been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball over the past eight years.
Mets starter, Matt Harvey: Harvey was decent but not dominant during his first four outings of 2017 before the Braves tagged him last Thursday for six runs in fewer than five innings. It certainly didn’t help that the former Tar Heel walked a season-high five batters that afternoon, and it made all too much sense when later we found out that he wasn’t prepared to work. Hopefully the Mets give him enough of a heads up this time around and he rebounds with a solid performance.
Wednesday, May 3: Bartolo Colon
Important stats: 29.0 IP, 23 K, 7 BB, 5 HR, 5.59 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.31 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (88 mph), four-seam fastball (91 mph)
Good ole Bartolo is going crazy with his walks and strikeouts this season... if you compare him to himself. He has more than two walks per nine innings so far and more than seven strikeouts per nine. The rotund right-hander hasn’t finished a campaign with numbers like that since 2011 with the Yankees. Unfortunately, the decrease of balls in play has not helped Colon’s ERA, but that 5.59 number is mostly due to a big drop in stand rate and one home run allowed per start. Four of his five outings have come on the road so far, so time will tell if SunTrust Park can contain those long balls.
Mets starter, Jacob deGrom: deGrom is turning into a monster before our eyes. His pitches thrown have increased with every start this year, and he’s now thrown double-digit strikeouts in three straight outings despite notching just nine over his first two. deGrom also leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings and hasn’t yet allowed more than three runs in a start. The only things he can really do better are to cut down on home runs and not walk six batters like he did against Washington on April 22.
Thursday, May 4: Jaime Garcia
Important stats: 29.1 IP, 17 K, 13 BB, 4 HR, 3.99 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 1.33 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (83 mph), slider (81 mph)
Garcia isn’t as old as the other pitchers that Altanta picked up as free agents this offseason, but the strategy behind his acquisition in similar. The Braves are hoping to build up his value while keeping him healthy before dangling him at the trade deadline in an attempt to add to their impressive pool of prospects. So far, Garcia is playing his role well with quality starts in each of his last three outings, but his struggling walk and ground ball rates could derail Atlanta’s plan if they don’t improve.
Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: One start removed from throwing 101 pitches in seven innings, Wheeler went out on Saturday and threw 96 pitches before leaving with two outs in the fifth. The good news is that he only allowed two runs while getting enough ground balls to boost his rate over 50 percent for the season. A big jump in ground balls helped Wheeler lower his FIP from his rookie to sophomore season, so it would be nice to see him continue to grow into that type of pitcher.
New York’s bullpen had a rough go of it this weekend. Not only was Sunday a complete disaster with Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker pitching so incompetently that Plawecki had to be brought in to mop up, but Friday was nearly as bad. The relief corps almost let a 7-2 lead slip away before Josh Edgin somewhat miraculously got Bryce Harper to ground into a double play with the bases loaded in the ninth. With Addison Reed giving up a home run in each of his last two outings and Jeurys Familia walking six batters in his first five innings back from suspension, Hansel Robles and Jerry Blevins look like the two most reliable options that Collins has right now.
Although Josh Collmenter has been on Atlanta’s major league roster since Opening Day, he’s mostly been held in reserve as the long man of the bullpen until recently. With nine strikeouts, one walk, and zero runs allowed in his last seven innings pitched, Snitker might be well served to use him in a larger role. Jose Ramirez has been great as the setup man so far with a 1.50 ERA, but he’s also walked five batters in 12 innings. Meanwhile, closer Jim Johnson has allowed multiple runs in two of his last three appearances, so it’s not as though Snitker’s regular crew can’t use a little help.
Prediction: Mets win three of four.
How will the Mets fare in Atlanta this week?
This poll is closed
Debut in SunTrust Park with a sweep!
Win three of four.
Keith’s favorite: a banana split!
Win one of four.
Put Terry on the hot seat.