The Mets (52-44) will begin their biggest series of the 2021 season tonight as they welcome the Atlanta Braves (48-50) to Citi Field for a five-game set. The Mets have won six of their 11 games against the Braves this year, including three out of five at home. New York have a tremendous opportunity to potentially bury their longtime division foe and, at the same time, Atlanta has the opportunity to make things very interesting, very quickly. Heading into Monday’s doubleheader, the Mets hold a four-game lead over the second-place Philadelphia Phillies while enjoying a five-game cushion over Atlanta.
The Mets won two out of three against the very talented Blue Jays over the weekend. They shut out their opponent 3-0 on Friday night behind Tylor Megill’s second consecutive strong performance post-All Star break. The rookie right-hander hurled six shutout innings, picking up his first career win and his first career hit for good measure. Steven Matz made his return to the Citi Field mound in a road jersey, and he was solid over 5.2 innings. Pete Alonso’s first inning two-run homer was really the only blemish against him, and he left with a nice ovation after receiving a heartwarming tribute video prior to his first pitch. Alonso added a second homer later in the game, and the bullpen shut the door over the final three innings.
Saturday night’s game was a much different story, as the Blue Jays bombarded Mets’ pitchers in a 10-3 shellacking. Toronto’s lineup clubbed five homers, included three against Mets starter Taijuan Walker. After falling behind 6-0 through five, the Mets mounted a mini-rally in the bottom half of that frame by plating three runs against Hyun-Jin Ryu, who couldn’t complete the inning to earn a win. Despite 14 hits and going 5-for-11 with RISP, the Mets only managed the three runs, and the Blue Jays poured it on late against Drew Smith and Anthony Banda to make the game a laugher.
The Mets earned the series win with a 5-4 victory on Sunday. Rich Hill made his Mets debut and, despite allowing the leadoff runner to reach in four of the first five innings, kept Toronto off the board through five. At 49 pitches, and with his team up 1-0, Luis Rojas elected to let Hill hit in the fifth with runners on base and, after he made an out, he immediately loaded the bases to start the sixth before Seth Lugo replaced him. Lugo allowed all three inherited runners to score, but Alonso got those runs back with a two-run homer in the sixth to tie the game up. Later in that inning, Jeff McNeil provided a pinch hit, two-run double against old friend Jacob Barnes to give the Mets the lead for good.
The Mets have been a better offensive team as of late, and so much of that is due to Alonso’s play. Over the past 12 games, the first baseman leads the club with six homers and a 184 wRC+ while slashing .306/.370/.694 with a .388 ISO and a 0.6 fWAR. With Francisco Lindor out, Polar Bear has stepped up to take over the leadership role, and has even debuted a new equine friend in the dugout for team home runs.
The Braves come into this series after splitting four games against the Phillies over the weekend. They lost the games started by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and won the games starter by the lesser Philadelphia starters.
The Braves will unfortunately be without Ronald Acuña Jr., who suffered a torn ACL chasing down a ball in the outfield and will miss the rest of the year and, likely, part of next year. It is a severe blow for the team, and an even worse blow for the sport to not have such a talented and fun player out there every day. In his absence, Freddie Freeman has stepped up and gone on a tear. During the month of July, the first baseman and noted Met Killer is slashing .426/.518/.735 with six homers, 17 runs scored, a .309 ISO, a 227 wRC+, and a 1.7 fWAR over 19 games.
Monday, July 28: Kyle Muller vs. Marcus Stroman, 5:10 p.m. on SNY
Muller (2021): 19.2 IP, 23 K, 11 BB, 1 HR, 3.20 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 1.12 WHIP, 0.6 bWAR
As it turns out, Atlanta had a doubleheader five days ago against the San Diego Padres, which allows them to go with the same setup for this one against the Mets. After a rough relief outing in his major league debut, in which he allowed two earned runs on four hits in one inning against the Boston Red Sox, Muller has been superb as a starter so far. In four starts, he has pitched to a 2.41 ERA, a 3.27 FIP, and a 0.96 WHIP in 18.2 innings. In his first start was against the Mets, he held New York hitless, but gave up an earned run and picked up the loss. While he has only allowed seven hits in his starts, the big issue so far has been walks. He has issued 11 free passes in his four starts, so the Mets should look to remain patient against him.
Stroman (2021): 111.1 IP, 93 K, 26 BB, 10 HR, 2.59 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.08 WHIP, 2.0 bWAR
Stroman turned in not only his best start of the year (and as a Met) last Wednesday, but arguably the most important start by a Mets pitcher all season. After a string of games that taxed the team’s bullpen, Stroman gave his club eight scoreless innings to save the relievers from any further work. In the outing, he allowed just one hit and walked one while striking out seven. He generated a lot of ground ball outs, which is how you know things are going well for the Long Island right-hander. It was his second start of the year in which he went eight innings, and his first since April. With no clear starter for the second game of the doubleheader or for Tuesday, another start along those lines would be much appreciated.
Monday, July 28: Bryse Wilson vs. TBD, ~30-45 minutes after Game 1 ends on SNY
Wilson (2021): 28.2 IP, 19 K, 7 BB, 7 HR, 5.34 ERA, 5.74 FIP, 1.54 WHIP, 0.1 bWAR
Wilson started the second game of Atlanta’s July 21 doubleheader against the Padres, and it was so bad they suspended the game in the fifth inning (okay, that was because of the rain, but it was still an ugly start). The right-hander gave up five earned runs on four hits with four walks and two strikeouts over his two innings pitched, and was/is in line for the loss whenever they decide to resume play. Prior to that, he pitched in a doubleheader game on June 20 against the St. Louis Cardinals and was tagged for five earned runs on a season-high eight hits, with four strikeouts in four innings. Aside from two really good starts in May, he has not had a good season, but with the Braves not having many other options, he’ll get another crack at it.
The Mets have not yet named a starting pitcher for the second game of Monday’s doubleheader.
Tuesday, July 27: Charlie Morton vs. TBD, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Morton (2021): 111.0 IP, 130 K, 40 BB, 10 HR, 3.65 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 2.3 bWAR
Morton has registered a quality start in three straight outings, and in six of his last seven appearances for the Braves. In that stretch, the veteran right-hander owns a 2.40 ERA, a 2.92 FIP, a 0.89 WHIP, and a 30.7% K% over 45.0 innings. In his last start, Morton earned his ninth win of the year by holding Philadelphia to two earned runs on four hits over six innings. He did walk a season-high four in the win, but he also struck out eight. Morton has handled the Mets so far this season, limiting New York to four earned runs on eight hits over 19.0 innings in three starts against them.
The Mets have not yet named a starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game, and unless they swing a quick trade, it’s anybody’s guess as to who it could be.
Wednesday, July 28: Max Fried vs. Tylor Megill, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Fried (2021): 84.2 IP, 85 K, 30 BB, 10 HR, 4.46 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 1.9 bWAR
Fried continued his trend of alternating good and bad starts in his last outing, which has been a pattern for much of the past few weeks. He has yet to truly break through this year after a really strong stretch in May, and his July has left a lot to be desired. In his last start on Friday against the Phillies, he went five innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits to pick up the loss. In the outing, he walked a season-high four while striking out six batters. Prior to that, he shut out the Tampa Bay Rays over seven innings while scattering four hits. So far this month, he has a 5.32 ERA and a 3.93 FIP, with 23 strikeouts in 22.0 innings. In his last outing against the Mets, he was the beneficiary of a 20-run outburst, which was enough to get him a win after he threw five innings and allowed two earned runs.
Megill (2021): 30.0 IP, 33 K, 10 BB, 3 HR, 2.10 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 1.10 WHIP, 0.9 bWAR
Where would the Mets be without Tylor Megill? This is a sentence that nobody, not even Megill himself, could have envisioned people saying with a straight face in the year 2021. And yet, with the rotation ravaged by injuries, he has stepped in and become a stabilizing force every fifth day. The rookie right-hander turned in a second straight outing in which he pitched six scoreless innings. In doing so, he became just the second Met to post two starts of six-plus shutout frames in their first six career games, joining Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. In his last start, he limited Toronto’s balanced lineup over the six frames, with one walk and five strikeouts. to two hits. He has been a big boost to the team’s rotation, and should continue to get chances to start until everyone returns healthy.
Thursday, July 29: Drew Smyly vs. Taijuan Walker, 12:10 p.m. on SNY
Smyly (2021): 88.0 IP, 77 K, 33 BB, 17 HR, 4.30 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, 0.8 bWAR
Smyly continued his solid stretch of starts for Atlanta in his last outing, going four scoreless innings against the Phillies before departing due to left knee pain. It remains to be seen if he can make this start, but Atlanta will have to hope so, because the alternative options aren’t as enticing. After getting off to a rough start this season, the left-hander has picked it up since the calendar turned to the month of June. Over his last nine appearances, he owns a 2.76 ERA and a 3.80 FIP with 40 strikeouts over 45.2 innings. This will be Smyly’s first outing against the Mets in 2021.
Walker (2021): 94.1 IP, 90 K, 36 BB, 9 HR, 3.43 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 0.9 bWAR
Things have not gone Walker’s way since he earned his first All Star game nod. In two starts, he’s only lasted a combined 4.1 innings while giving up 12 runs (11 earned) on 12 hits, with six walks and one strikeout. In his most recent outing against the Blue Jays, he also gave up a season-high three homers over four-plus frames after giving up just six total in his previous 17. All that has resulted in his ERA jumping almost a full run post-break. Fatigue could be a factor, as the right-hander has tossed 94.1 innings after throwing just 67.1 total since the start of the 2018 season. Still, given the state of the team’s rotation, the Mets could ill afford to give Walker a break or rest him at this point. To make matters worse, Luis Rojas mentioned that the pitcher felt a pinch in his non-throwing shoulder after a third inning swing in his last outing, though it seems like that should not preclude him from making his scheduled start.
Prediction: The Mets will take three of five to add an extra game to their division lead!
How will the Mets fare in their five game series against the Braves?
This poll is closed
The Mets win all five to bury Atlanta!
The Mets take four to grow their division lead!
The Mets win three out of the five.
The Mets take two but drop three as they lose a game of their lead.
The Mets steal one but drop four as the Braves close the gap.
The Mets suffer a disastrous sweep as Atlanta draws even in the division.
Five games? I’m tired just thinking about that.