We didn’t see the second half of 2018 version of Zack Wheeler in the Mets’ 6-2 victory over the Braves, but we did see a vast improvement over his last start in Washington, when he issued seven walks and was knocked out of the game before he could complete five innings. This start began in much the same fashion for Wheeler, though, inducing fears of a repeat performance.
In the bottom of the first inning, Wheeler gave up a one-out single to Josh Donaldson and then issued free passes to both Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. This time, however, he was able to limit the damage. Nick Markakis drove in Donaldson on a sacrifice fly to give the Braves an early 1-0 lead, but Wheeler struck out Dansby Swanson to end the inning.
The Mets’ offense has had a propensity for beating up on opposing bullpens so far this season, but this time they wasted no time going to work against the opposing starting pitcher. In the top of the second inning, Dominic Smith was able to reach base thanks to a lucky bounce that went over the head of Freeman and into right field. Brandon Nimmo, dropped to eighth in the order due to his early season woes at the plate, then drove a 3-1 Kyle Wright fastball over the center field wall for a two-run homer to give the Mets the lead. He flashed his patented smile all the way around the base paths, knowing he was able to lay off the pitches out of the zone and wait for his pitch to hit, certainly an encouraging sign.
Wheeler responded with a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the frame—his only of the night—and the Mets never relinquished their lead. The Mets’ big inning came in the fourth, when they tacked on four runs off Wright and chased him from the game early. Keon Broxton led off the inning with a walk—the third free pass in Wright’s previous four batters going back to the inning before.
The Mets then executed some small ball, as Broxton stole second and Nimmo dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line for a base hit, advancing Broxton to third base. Somewhat surprisingly, Zack Wheeler was not asked to bunt in this situation and popped out to shallow left field. But Jeff McNeil rendered that inconsequential with a bases clearing double, making the score 4-1. Amed Rosario struck out swinging for the second out, but Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto smacked back-to-back doubles to add two more runs and put the Mets up 6-1.
At that point, the Braves intentionally walked Wilson Ramos and removed Kyle Wright from the game in favor of the lefty Jonny Venters, tasked with facing Dominic Smith. Venters walked Smith to load the bases, bringing up Broxton for the second time in the inning. But Broxton struck out looking to end the inning.
A five-run cushion was more than what Wheeler and the Mets’ bullpen would need. Wheeler worked his way in and out of trouble the rest of the evening, but made the pitches when he needed to. The Braves’ only other run came in the fifth, when Wheeler surrendered a two-out walk to Freddie Freeman, followed by a double by Acuna Jr. to make the score 6-2. Wheeler got two quick outs in the sixth, but gave up a single to Tyler Flowers as he exceeded 100 pitches for the night. But he bore down, striking out the pinch hitter Charlie Culberson for his eight strikeout to end the inning and his night.
It was a clean sheet for the Braves bullpen, as Josh Tomlin logged two 1-2-3 frames, assisted in the sixth by a sparkling play in the hole by Dansby Swanson to deny Amed Rosario of an infield hit. Wes Parsons, Jesse Biddle, and A.J. Minter each contributed a scoreless inning apiece in relief for the Braves.
The Mets’ bullpen matched zeros with the Braves’ relief corps to secure the victory. Justin Wilson, looking fully recovered from the illness that had been ailing him, tossed a quick 1-2-3 seventh inning. Seth Lugo was then tasked with getting the final six outs of the game and looked much more like himself as well, working around a leadoff bloop single from Acuna Jr. in the eighth and working a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the win.
Bucking recent trends, things did not get dicey for the Mets in the later innings and Mickey Callaway was not forced to use Jeurys Familia—who was almost certainly unavailable anyway—or Edwin Diaz. The offense continued to produce, despite their hottest hitter Pete Alonso getting the day off and the lineup being reshuffled somewhat. Brandon Nimmo broke through with three hits on the night and Robinson Cano hit the ball hard all night, despite only having the one RBI double to show for it.
Overall, it was a night of positives for the hot-hitting Mets, who improve to 9-4 on the season. Next on the docket, Jason Vargas faces off against Sean Newcomb in the third game of this four-game set in Atlanta.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Brandon Nimmo, +27.2% WPA, Jeff McNeil, +16.2% WPA, Zack Wheeler, +11.3% WPA
Big losers: Amed Rosario, -10.4% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: +19.2% WPA
Total batter WPA: +30.8% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Brandon Nimmo’s second inning two-run homer, +20.4% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Zack Wheeler’s walk to Ronald Acuna Jr. to load the bases in the bottom of the first, -5.8% WPA