The New York Mets (18-16) will try to maintain their slim hold of first place as they take on the reigning National League East champion Atlanta Braves (19-21). The Mets lost seven of the ten games they played with the Braves last year, and have not put together a winning season against their rivals since the 2017 campaign—go figure—when they won 12 of 19 against Atlanta.
It was a lost weekend for the Mets down in St. Petersburg, who were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays. Friday night featured a pitcher’s duel between David Peterson and Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who was dealing over four perfect innings until Kevin Pillar singled and Jonathan Villar homered in the fifth. For a while, that looked to be enough for Peterson, who settled down after a bumpy second to retire 17 straight Rays hitters through the seventh. Luis Rojas entrusted him to start the eighth, and he immediately served up a homer to Mike Zunino. With nobody warming up, he stayed in for two more batters, allowing a double in the process before being lifted for Trevor May, who gave up a game-tying double to Manuel Margot. Miguel Castro came in for the ninth, and loaded the bases with one out before Rojas went to Aaron Loup. The left-hander struck out Joey Wendle but gave up a game-ending two-out single to World Series Game 4 Brett Phillips.
On Saturday, the Mets went with a bullpen game in Jacob deGrom’s absence. Drew Smith opened and allowed one unearned run over two solid innings, and the Mets grabbed the lead back with a three-run homer off the bat of José Peraza—it was the team’s first three-run homer of the year—in the second and a solo shot from Pete Alonso in the third. Once the rest of the bullpen came in, the game unraveled, as Joey Lucchesi was tagged for four earned runs over 1.2 innings, and Sean Read-Foley gave up his first earned run as a Met over his 1.1 innings of work. Tommy Hunter provided two shutout innings, and Francisco Lindor’s eighth inning homer brought the Mets to within a run. The bottom half of the frame was a mess, however, as Jacob Barnes was charged with three earned runs without recording an out, and Jeurys Familia was charged with three earned runs before finishing the inning. All of that amounted to a 12-5 loss.
Sunday got off to a bad start, as the Mets lost both Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto to hamstring injuries in the first inning. From there, it was all downhill, as Michael Stroman served up homers to Manuel Margot—who else?—in the fourth, Willy Adames in the fifth, and Brandon Lowe in the sixth. The lone positive for New York was Patrick Mazeika, in for the injured Jeff McNeil, hitting his first career home run in the sixth. Otherwise, it was another dreadful game and a 7-1 loss to finish off the sweep.
Aside from the long ball, which contributed to every run the team scored over the weekend, the offense was non-existent against Tampa Bay. Now, the club will need to make some roster moves, and will likely be without four lineup regulars—Conforto, McNeil, J.D. Davis, and Brandon Nimmo—at least through the next series, and for some of those players, a lot longer than that. Both Conforto and McNeil are expected to get MRIs today, which should hopefully provide some insight into how much time they will miss. Nimmo recently returned to New York, and will not be rehabbing until he is pain-free. Davis appears the closest to returning.
The bullpen, which had been such a bright spot for New York in the early juncture of this season, imploded in Florida. Not counting Smith, who technically qualifies as Saturday’s starting pitcher, the bullpen logged 10.1 innings and was charged with 14 earned runs on 20 hits, with seven walks and 12 strikeouts during the weekend. Until Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard are back—neither will return until early June, if nothing goes awry—the Mets will likely be running at least one bullpen game/opener per rotation turn, which could present a problem if they can’t maintain their early-season success.
The Braves barely missed pulling off an unbelievable comeback yesterday afternoon, and had to settle for taking two out of three from the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend. After taking the first two games 6-3 and 5-1, Atlanta found themselves down 8-0 at one point before putting up a seven-spot in the seventh. The Brewers countered with two more runs in the seventh, and the Braves tacked on one in the eighth and one in the ninth before falling short. Prior to that, the Braves were swept at home by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Braves have been kept afloat by their offense, which is fifth in the NL with 4.67 runs-per-game, fourth in the NL with a 98 wRC+, and third with a .730 team OPS. Their rotation, on the other hand, has been their greatest weakness, with their 4.43 ERA ranking tenth in the NL and their 4.65 FIP ranking 13th in the league. Their bullpen hasn’t been much better, with their 4.95 ERA ranking 12th in the NL.
It remains unclear if Ronald Acuña Jr. will play in this series after suffering an ankle injury on Thursday. Acuña Jr., who has been putting up an MVP-caliber season with an NL-leading 12 home runs, a .300/.396/.646 slash line, a 174 wRC+, and a 2.1 fWAR, has not played since Thursday. Austin Riley, once a prized prospect for Atlanta who has struggled overall at the major league level after a hot start, is having his best season to date so far, slashing .291/.405/.394 with a 123 wRC+ and a 0.5 fWAR. Freddie Freeman, who finished second to Juan Soto in the NL batting title race last year, is only hitting .222, but he’s second on the club with 11 home runs to go along with a 117 wRC+ and a 0.5 fWAR. Marcel Ozuna, who netted a lucrative four-year contract after his terrific 2020, has been a disappointment so far, hitting .217/.297/.350 with six homers, an 80 wRC+, and a -0.1 fWAR.
Monday, May 17: Taijuan Walker vs. Max Fried, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Walker (2021): 41.0 IP, 39 K, 18 BB, 1 HR, 2.20 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, 0.8 bWAR
Signed early in spring training to round out the rotation and serve as a fourth or fifth starter, Walker has pitched more like a second ace. He’s in the top 10 among NL starters in ERA, and has pitched at least six innings in five of his seven starts, including in each of his last four. In his last two outings, he’s allowed two runs (one earned) over 14 innings, picking up wins in each game, and the Mets have won six of his seven starts overall. In his last appearance against the Baltimore Orioles, he set down 11 straight at one point and was charged with one earned run on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts over seven innings. He’s only made two starts against the Braves in his career, and has a 2.25 ERA in those games.
Fried (2021): 22.0 IP, 24 K, 9 BB, 4 HR, 6.55 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 1.73 WHIP, 0.0 bWAR
Since coming back from a stint on the IL with a strained right hamstring, Fried has been much better after a brutal start to his 2021 campaign. Fried, who had his best major league season last year and finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting, has allowed two earned runs on six hits with ten strikeouts over 11 outings since returning from his injury on May 5. His last time out, he went six for the first time this season and held the Blue Jays to one earned run on two hits with three walks and four strikeouts in the no decision. The left-hander has typically found success against the Mets, pitching to a 2.88 ERA against them in 50.0 innings.
Tuesday, May 18: TBD vs. Charlie Morton, 7:20 p.m. on SNY
The Mets have not yet named a starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game. The club could go with a bullpen game, but Rojas mentioned prior to Sunday’s game that the team could go with Jordan Yamamoto or Thomas Szapucki.
Morton (2021): 39.0 IP, 44 K, 16 BB, 5 HR, 5.08 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, -0.1 bWAR
Morton hasn’t quite lived up to the Braves’ expectations so far this season. After signing a one-year deal worth $15 million, the right-hander has pitched to a 5.08 ERA over his first eight starts. He hasn’t given the team length over his last three outings, going just 10.2 innings combined, with Atlanta losing all three games. In general, the Braves have lost six of his eight starts so far this year. His last time out against the Blue Jays, he went 4.2 innings and was charged with three earned runs on a season-high seven hits. In his prior start, he lasted just two-thirds of an inning while allowing six unearned runs. While the outing didn’t hurt his ERA, that was hardly of any solace to Morton or his team. The 14-year veteran has only faced the Mets nine times in his career, posting a 3.78 ERA in 47.2 innings. He last faced the Mets in 2017 as a member of the Houston Astros.
Wednesday, May 19: David Peterson vs. Drew Smyly, 7:20 p.m. on SNY
Peterson (2021): 33.1 IP, 41 K, 13 BB, 6 HR, 4.86 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, -0.4 bWAR
It’s a shame Peterson doesn’t have more to show for his last start, which is the finest in his young major league career. The left-hander set down 17 straight Rays batters at one point before tiring out in the eighth, and his manager left him in for far too long. Pitching into the eighth, he allowed a leadoff home run, and Rojas didn’t have anyone ready to replace the clearly gassed Peterson. His overall numbers were still great: 7.1 innings, two earned runs, four hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. The most encouraging part of his start was how he side-stepped potential disaster in the second, when he lost the strike zone but rebounded to keep the Rays off the board, which was something he couldn’t do in his previous start against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Smyly (2021): 31.0 IP, 26 K, 12 BB, 0 HR, 5.23 ERA, 6.48 FIP, 1.36 WHIP, -0.5 bWAR
Smyly has finally started to pay dividends for Atlanta after a tough month of April. Over his first four starts, he pitched to an 8.05 ERA, an 8.49 FIP, and a 1.53 WHIP, with opponents posting a 1.016 OPS against him in 19.0 innings. Since May began, he has a 0.85 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and a 1.08 WHIP, with opponents posting a .548 OPS against him in 12.0 innings. He’s earned his first two wins as a member of the Braves in his two May starts, allowing one unearned run on four hits with four strikeouts in six innings against the Washington Nationals on May 6, and allowing one earned run on four hits with four strikeouts in six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 13. He has only faced the Mets twice in his career, and has not allowed an earned run over 7.2 innings pitched against them.
Prediction: The Mets drop two out of three to continue their tough road trip.
How will the Mets fare in their three game series against the Braves?
This poll is closed
The Mets sweep the Braves to even out their road trip!
The Mets get back on track by winning two of three.
The Mets manage one win but drop their second straight series.
The Mets’ misfortunes in Atlanta continue as they’re swept.