It’s an NL East battle! The surging Mets meet the powerhouse Braves in Atlanta in a key divisional series that could figure significantly in the NL playoff picture. After a Braves win last night, can New York prove their METtle against a playoff contender?
Moneyline: NYM +120, ATL -140
Runline: NYM +1.5 (-150), ATL -1.5 (+140)
O/U: 10 (O -105, U -105)
First Pitch: 7:20 PM EDT, SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
New York Mets: There’s not much debate that the Mets are currently the hottest team in baseball. They’ve skyrocketed from near irrelevance to the thick of the playoff race with a record of 61-58. New York has ridden overall excellence—an ERA of 3.31 ERA and 66 runs scored in August—in their resurgence. However, last night’s loss to Atlanta raises some tough questions about the sustainability of this Mets squad. Namely, how reliable is this streak for a team whose bullpen ranks 26th in the majors with a 5.08 ERA? The ‘pen pitched three scoreless yesterday, but with Edwin Diaz dragging down the closer’s role with a 5.60 ERA and six losses, it’s not a squad that instills fear in opponents. Anyway, New York is loving the Mets’ new winning ways. A possible roadblock? The Atlanta Braves, who are 7-4 against the Mets this season and show no signs of yielding the NL East.
Starter Steven Matz (7-7, 4.49 ERA) doesn’t have shiny stats, but he’s been sharp in his last few outings. His 3.26 ERA in his last seven appearances, including a complete game shutout against the Pirates, provide hope. Inconsistency has been an issue, though, as he was blown up by those same Pirates his next start for five runs in 3.2 innings. Which Matz will we get tonight? It’s a coin flip.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves haven’t been making headlines, but they certainly deserve some attention. They’ve quietly chugged their way to a 71-50 record, six games up in the NL East, on the back of a remarkable young lineup. Ronald Acuña Jr. is on an absolute tear, smashing nine homers in twelve games this month. In the last week (excluding last night’s win) the Braves are top-five in the following categories: runs scored (44), OBP (.359), and OPS (.866). The offense certainly did its part in Atlanta’s win over the Mets last night, scoring five runs on 13 hits. When Ronald goes, the team goes, so look for the Braves to stay dangerous at the plate as the sophomore chases the elusive 40-40 season.
Despite all that great news, the lineup wasn’t the reason Braves fans loved the victory last night. If you follow the Braves at all, you know the pitching staff is a matter of grave concern for the playoff hopefuls. In the week preceding Tuesday’s game, Braves pitchers posted a nasty 6.24 ERA. The bullpen has been Atlanta’s Achilles’ heel. Along with tightrope-walking Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon have been largely ineffective. However, Tuesday was a different story; after Max Fried’s impressive six innings of one-run ball, Jackson, Greene, and Melancon all held the line (despite Greene’s two earned runs). If the bullpen can patch itself up, the Braves will make things interesting this October. But starter Dallas Keuchel (3-5, 4.83 ERA) needs to step up. He joined a Braves squad hoping to provide the ever-shifting rotation with some pleasant reliability and has been anything but. His ERA stands out, as do some of his losses: eight ER in a loss to the sorry Marlins, four runs to Washington, five runs to Milwaukee, etc. Let’s see how he does in perhaps the biggest game of his Braves career.
Analysis and Prediction: After a Braves win last night, I’ve got a good feeling about these Mets pushing back. Since his season debut, Keuchel has been, to put it politically, worse than expected. At the same time, New York hits lefties well with the eight-best OPS (.809) in the majors. Matz has been inconsistent but is trending upward. Oh, and the Mets are still one of the hottest teams in the majors. Momentum is impossible to measure, but easy to take into account, and these Amazin’ Mets won’t go down without a fight. Pick the Mets and Matz to take down the Braves in this Wednesday night clash.