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Mets try to stay hot in Hotlanta

The Braves still lead the division by a healthy margin, but the Mets are in the thick of the wild card race.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, the Mets’ visit to Atlanta this week wouldn’t have been a noteworthy occasion. But following one of the best stretches in franchise history, the Mets are now firmly contending for a Wild Card spot. They’re still 8.0 games back of the Braves in the division, making that title a bit of a pipedream right now. But if the Mets were to pull off a sweep in Atlanta, it wouldn’t be crazy to start talking about that.

That’s not to say that a sweep will be easy. The Braves’ offense has averaged 5.39 runs per game, the sixth-best mark in baseball, trailing only the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Astros, and Dodgers. While the Mets’ offense has been pretty good, it has averaged 4.82 runs per game, considerably less than Atlanta.

Adjusting for parks and measuring relative to the league average, though, the teams aren’t all that far apart at the plate. The Braves rank 7th in baseball with a 104 wRC+, while the Mets rank 12th with a 102 wRC+. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Freddie Freeman have led the way offensively. Starting shortstop Dansby Swanson is currently on the injured list, and the Braves recently signed Lucas Duda to a minor league deal.

The Mets’ rotation has been the better of the two by ERA, with the Mets’ rotation owning a 4.00 ERA that ranks 8th in baseball and the Braves’ rotation at a 4.47 ERA that ranks 15th. But again, adjusting for parks, the Mets’ rotation has a 96 ERA- that ranks 11th, while the Braves’ rotation has a 100 ERA- that ranks 13th.

And while the Braves’ bullpen hasn’t been as bad as the Mets’ bullpen—Atlanta’s 4.36 ERA ranks 12th, while the Mets’ 5.13 ERA ranks 26th—it has been a concern lately. Since the All-Star break, Atlanta relievers have a 6.90 ERA that is the second-worst in bullpen over that span. They traded for three relievers at the deadline—Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon—but Braves relievers still have a collective 6.55 ERA since the deadline, the fifth-worst mark in baseball since then. With the Braves thus far, Melancon has a 9.82 ERA, Martin has a 10.38 ERA, and Greene has an 11.25 ERA.

Former Mets Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak are part of the bullpen, too, after Atlanta picked them up from the A’s and Mariners, respectively, earlier in the season. Both have been effective with Atlanta, as Blevins has a 3.42 ERA and Swarzak a 3.00 ERA.

Tuesday, August 13: Zack Wheeler vs. Max Fried, 7:20 PM

Wheeler (2019): 139.1 IP, 149 K, 35 BB, 4.20 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 1.22 WHIP
Wheeler’s season has been so-so overall, as he often struggled in the first half. But since his return from the injured list in late July—shortly after which the Mets kept him at the trade deadline—he’s been fantastic. Granted, it’s only been three starts, but he has a 1.33 ERA in them, and he went seven and eight innings in his last two, respectively. Like a bunch of Mets players on the team’s home stand, he’ll be playing pretty close to where he grew up.

Fried (2019): 120.1 IP, 122 K, 35 BB, 4.11 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 1.37 WHIP
The left-handed Fried is 25 years old and in his third season in the big leagues, though this is his first full one after making just 23 appearances with the Braves between 2017 and 2018. The stats aren’t all that different from Wheeler’s when comparing the two lines above, though you could argue Wheeler has been the better of the two. Fried’s fastball averages about 94 miles per hour, and he’s thrown a changeup, slider, and curve, per Brooks Baseball. He throws his four-seam fastball the majority of the time, and his curve comes in next at 26 percent, while he’s thrown the slider 14 percent of the time and the changeup just 3 percent of the time. He’s been particularlty effective against lefties, as he has a 2.41 FIP against them this year.

Wednesday, August 14: Steven Matz vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:20 PM

Matz (2019): 110.1 IP, 104 K, 34 BB, 4.49 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 1.40 WHIP
Matz has had an up-and-down season that has seen him pitch the best game of his career—a complete game shutout on fewer than 100 pitches—and some of the worst. Home/road splits are often overemphasized in sports, but it’s worth noting that Matz has extreme ones this year—with a 2.14 ERA at Citi Field and a 6.79 ERA on the road. The Braves’ formidable offense doens’t make for the easiest opponent to improve upon that road ERA.

Keuchel (2019): 59.2 IP, 46 K, 20 BB, 4.83 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
The 31-year-old lefty went unsigned until after the amateur draft, and he hasn’t been nearly as good as his usual self so in his ten starts. He had a 3.86 ERA through the first nine, though, and his disastrous outing against the Marlins last week saw him pitch just 3.2 innings while giving up eight runs on ten hits, including three home runs.

Thursday, August 15: Marcus Stroman vs. Julio Teheran, 7:20 PM

Stroman (2019): 135.0 IP, 111 K, 40 BB, 3.20 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.29 WHIP
Although he hasn’t put up great numbers overall in his two starts for the Mets—he has a 6.10 ERA in them—Stroman has been fun to watch and has still put up very good numbers overall this year. His tendency to keep the ball on the ground should be useful in the launching pad that is the Braves’ ballpark, and he struck out nine in his start against the Nationals on Friday night.

Teheran (2019): 137.0 IP, 126 K, 63 BB, 3.35 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 1.28 WHIP
Teheran made a name for himself among Mets fans early in his career by dominating them. This year, he’s quietly had a strong season, bouncing back from the 4.49 ERA he put up in 2017 and the 3.94 ERA he had last year. But those Mets-killing days seem like a distant memory, as Teheran has a 6.08 ERA in his three starts against them so far this year.

Prediction: Mets sweep because why the hell not?