Once the Mets are done playing four games in three days in Atlanta, they’ll play 11 straight games against the Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers. That’s one team with a hefty lead in its division and two more who are lurking but have more than enough talent to turn on the jets at any given moment. In other words, the Mets probably have to make a good impression against the Braves if they hope to stay relevant in a pennant race that has slowly been creeping away from them since the season began.
Whether or not it’s good for the club to be playing competitive baseball instead of rebuilding for a healthier future is a story for another day. For now, there’s still plenty of time for the Mets to turn their campaign in the right direction, especially considering the reinforcements that we’ve been waiting for are finally slated to arrive this weekend.
Given their short track records, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo — who have both been simultaneously recovering from elbow injuries since early April — aren’t guaranteed to bring peace and happiness to the beleaguered pitching rotation. On the other hand, they don’t need to be outstanding to make a big impact and give the team a little stability.
What about these Braves, though? They have their own problems, right? Well, Bartolo Colon is now on the disabled list with an oblique injury, and Freddie Freeman is still two months away from returning to action due to a fractured wrist. That deprives Mets fans of getting to see their favorite and least favorite Atlanta stars. Plus, R.A. Dickey won’t show up on the mound since he just spun a gem against Philadelphia on Thursday.
One guy who will be on the field for Atlanta is Matt Adams, the first baseman who has turned into a key player after being jettisoned by St. Louis in late May. Now a full-time player for the Braves, Adams is taking advantage of the situation with six home runs in just 17 games. The offense is also getting a lift from Dansby Swanson, who has hit .375/.423/.625 so far in June and is starting to look like the shortstop of the future again.
Braves manager Brian Snitker would probably like to move Swanson back near the top of the order where he started the year, but veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips is doing too good of a job in the No. 2 spot with multiple hits in four of his last five games. Up in the leadoff spot, Ender Inciarte is also swinging a hot bat with 11 hits, five walks, and zero strikeouts in his last five games. That includes an incredible 5-for-5 performance on June 4 in which he also homered and drove in five runs.
The Mets will counter with a resurgent Jay Bruce who appeared to slow down in May before striking back with three home runs in the first week of June. There are also whispers of Yoenis Cespedes finally being able to return soon, but that probably won’t happen until next week at the earliest. Instead, Curtis Granderson will get an extended chance to prove that he belongs in the lineup when everyone is healthy. Since the start of May, the veteran outfielder is hitting .260/.371/.490 with better defense than Bruce can provide.
Friday, June 9: Matt Harvey vs. Julio Teheran, 7:35 p.m., SNY
Harvey: 61.1 IP, 46 K, 32 BB, 13 HR, 5.43 ERA, 6.03 FIP, 1.48 WHIP
The series opener could prove to be a slugfest if neither of these starters can get back on track. Harvey’s last two outings were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with an encouraging performance in Pittsburgh followed by a sloppy one against the same team at home. It doesn’t seem as though he’s getting his big strikeout stuff back, so it would be nice if he would stop walking so many batters. It’s been almost two months since Harvey pitched a game without multiple walks on the ledger.
Teheran: 66.2 IP, 51 K, 28 BB, 14 HR, 5.40 ERA, 5.70 FIP, 1.52 WHIP
Walks aren’t as big an issue for Teheran nowadays as they were in the beginning of the year, but the Colombian right-hander is giving up a lot of hard contact with nine home runs allowed in his last four starts. Although he performed well against the Mets in his first two outings against them this year, the Amazins finally got some revenge with six runs in six innings during a 7-5 win on May 1. During Teheran’s last trip to the hill, he was lit up by Cincinnati for seven runs and two home runs in five frames.
Saturday, June 10, Game 1: Robert Gsellman vs. Sean Newcomb, 1:00 p.m., SNY & MLBN
Gsellman: 57.0 IP, 44 K, 19 BB, 7 HR, 5.53 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.54 WHIP
The doubleheader means that Gsellman won’t be headed to the bullpen just yet, but he still has a chance to end up there if he doesn’t give the Mets a reason to continue with the six-man rotation. Compared to last year, when he had a 2.63 FIP in 44.2 innings, Gsellman is striking out fewer batters and allowing a lot more home runs. Even with a 54-percent ground ball rate, the one home run he let up in 2016 was fluky low, so he’s got to improve in other areas to get that ERA to shrink. It would certainly help if New York’s defense could turn more of his worm-burners into outs. Instead, Gsellman is stuck with a .333 BABIP that might not go down anytime soon.
Newcomb (Triple-A Gwinnett): 57.2 IP, 74 K, 33 BB, 3 HR, 2.97 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 1.35 WHIP
The Braves will be calling up Newcomb to make his first big league start during this Saturday doubleheader. The big lefty out of the University of Hartford has posted sexy strikeout numbers but also appalling walk rates during his professional career, so this debut should be interesting. Even if the Mets don’t have much success against him, Newcomb should be out of the game after five innings or so due to lack of contact.
Saturday, June 10, Game 2: Steven Matz vs. Matt Wisler, 6:00 p.m., PIX11
Matz (2016): 132.1 IP, 129 K, 31 BB, 14 HR, 3.40 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 1.21 WHIP
Matz will be making his 2017 debut this weekend after missing the first two months with an elbow injury. His three rehab outings with Las Vegas went pretty well, as he struck out 17 batters and walked a pair in 13.1 innings. Although Matz also allowed 10 runs in the process, the Mets are glad to have him back no matter what. If he’s able to match last year’s performance, it will mean a major boost to one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.
Wisler: 9.0 IP, 3 K, 3 BB, 1 HR, 7.00 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 1.33 WHIP
After starting 26 games for Atlanta in 2016, Wisler has gone back and forth between starting at Triple-A and relieving in the big leagues this year. He hasn’t been great at either role, so Saturday will give the Mets a pair of opportunities to tee off on less-than-ideal starters. It’s worth noting that Wisler’s last two relief outings have each gone for two perfect innings and that he only allowed three runs in 14.2 innings against the Mets last season. However, in 2017 against New York, the 24-year-old has allowed seven runs in just four frames.
Sunday, June 11: Seth Lugo vs. Jaime Garcia, 1:35 p.m., SNY
Lugo (2016): 64.0 IP, 45 K, 21 BB, 7 HR, 2.67 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 1.09 WHIP
Like Matz, Lugo injured his elbow before the start of the regular season and will be making his first start for the Mets against the Braves. Unlike Matz, Lugo worked during the World Baseball Classic in March and therefore has a little more recent pitching experience. Although he didn’t perform well in the final game against a stacked USA lineup, Lugo finished the tournament with a 4.20 ERA, 12 strikeouts, and five walks in 15 innings. It will be fun to see if the master of spin rate can continue to help the Mets after a pleasantly surprising debut in 2016.
Garcia: 70.0 IP, 44 K, 27 BB, 7 HR, 3.21 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 1.23 WHIP
Garcia got off to a slow start in 2017, but the oft-injured southpaw has been brilliant lately, making him a strong candidate to be traded over the next two months. During his last four starts, Garcia has allowed just four earned runs by doing a great job working deep into games, getting loads of ground balls, and limiting walks. Based on what the longtime former Cardinals hurler has done throughout his career, he was a smart acquisition by Atlanta and will be the toughest pitching challenge the Mets face in this series.
With Lugo coming off the 60-day disabled list on Saturday, the Mets will need to remove a player from the 40-man roster, and that could mean the end of Neil Ramirez’s Mets tenure. Tapping Ramirez for bullpen help made sense earlier in the year, but with eight walks in nine innings with New York, he hasn’t proven reliable enough to hold onto. We could also see Tyler Pill sent back to Las Vegas to make room for Matz (who is only on the 10-day DL) if the Mets are okay with a temporary six-man bullpen. If not, it could be T.J. Rivera or Matt Reynolds getting the demotion assuming that Neil Walker doesn’t need some extra time to rest his knee stiffness.
Luke Jackson has emerged as a surprisingly decent option in Atlanta’s pen after starting the season with Triple-A Gwinnett. Although he’s struggled with walks throughout his professional career — which started in the Texas system back in 2011 — Jackson only has two of those in 12.2 innings with the Braves this year. Thanks to the increase in control, the 25-year-old has allowed three runs all season and only one since his most recent call-up in May.
Prediction: Mets win three of four.
How will the Mets fare in Atlanta this weekend?
This poll is closed
Sweep in the South!
Win three of four.
Keith’s favorite: a banana split!
Win one of four.
Wow. It really is this bad.