Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves
It was a very productive opening series for the New York Mets as they took two of three from the Washington Nationals to start off the season. Bartolo Colon was impressive on Monday, pitching six innings of three-hit ball in a 3-1 victory. Matt Harvey stole the show on Wednesday, pitching six shutout innings and striking out nine Nationals.
So the Mets are sitting at 2-1 and travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves at Turner Field. The Braves opened the season with a sweep over the Marlins in Miami, outscoring them 16-3. Fredi Gonzalez’s team is one of three undefeated teams in the National league, along with Cincinnati and Colorado.
Friday: LHP Jon Niese (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Eric Stults (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Niese makes his 2015 debut on Friday after posting solid numbers last season. In 30 starts in 2014, Niese posted a 3.40 ERA and a 9-11 record — though his ERA predictors say he over-performed slightly with a FIP of 3.67.
Niese didn’t blow anyone away with a fastball that averaged 88.5 MPH in 2014, but ranked in the top 20 in the NL in keeping the ball in the yard, allowing only 0.82 HR per nine innings.
However, home runs were a major weakness for Stults, who allowed more HR per nine innings than any other qualified starter — despite making 13 starts at spacious Petco Park for the Padres last season. Stults was able to earn a spot in the Braves rotation based on a strong spring training.
Stults is another soft-tossing left-hander who will struggle to record strikeouts as he averages less than six per nine innings in his eight-year major league career.
Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA)
It was anticipated that Gee would be headed to the bullpen or possibly to a different team for the 2015 season until RHP Zack Wheeler was lost for the season with an arm injury. Gee only pitched 137.1 innings in 2014, posting a 4.00 ERA. As a student, a 4.0 is excellent, but as a pitcher that is the equivalent of a “C” average.
Gee saw his changeup improve drastically, a pitch that was only 0.7 runs above average in 2013, but improved to 9.9 runs above average in 2014. At only 28 years-old, Gee is still developing as a pitcher, but if he can keep having success with his changeup in 2015, then it will not be a stretch for him to keep his rotation spot for the whole season.
On the other hand, Teheran was the Braves Opening Day starter. He pitched well, allowing only one run over six innings and striking out six Marlins on Monday. Teheran was once a top prospect in the Braves system, but it took him longer than anticipated to develop into a No. 1 starter. However, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success in the last two seasons, recording a 3.20 ERA in 2013 and then improving on that with a 2.89 ERA last season.
Teheran was one of the few major pieces that Braves Interim GM John Hart did not trade this offseason, or right before Opening Day in Craig Kimbrel’s case. The right-hander ranks ninth in the NL in wins over the last two seasons with 28. Teheran has flashed some of his potential, but he could be due for a breakout season that puts him up there with Matt Harvey, deGrom and the whole Nationals rotation for the best young arms in the division.
Sunday: TBD vs. Alex Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA)
The Mets have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday’s contest, but we can assume it will be opening-day starter Bartolo Colon. Colon was impressive in the win over Washington, pitching six innings and surrendering only three hits and one run. In a game in which he became the oldest Mets pitcher to start on Opening Day (40), Colon looked like he 15 years younger (well, maybe five).
Colon’s effectiveness at his ripe old age is due to pinpoint control his fastball, spotting it on both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone. Surprisingly, Colon has won 43 games in the last three seasons, including a team-leading 15 in 2014 for the Mets. Location doesn’t necessarily go away with age, so we could see Colon putting together more solid outings as the year progresses.
Wood pitched five innings in a win over the Marlins in 2015 debut, allowing four hits and one run. He made 35 appearances last year, including 24 starts. Wood had great success in his 171.2 innings pitched and showed that he can strike hitters out at the major league level with 170 in 2014. Wood will get better as he continues to gain experience and has a secure spot in the Braves rotation.
Players to watch
I don’t know if Travis d’Arnaud could have asked for a better start to the season. He is 5-11 (.455 AVG) with 4 RBI to begin the 2015 campaign. According to Mark Simon of ESPN, d’Arnaud could become the first Mets catcher ever to have an RBI in each of the first four games of season. We’ll see if he can get it done against Stults on Friday.
Michael Cuddyer is your early clubhouse leader in strikeouts with five through three games. I know it’s early, but the 21-million-dollar-man might want to improve his .231 average before Mets fans jump to conclusions and assume that signing him wasn’t worth giving up a first-round pick; maybe some have already made the assumption.
With Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers and now Kimbrel gone, Freddie Freeman is the new face of the franchise. He was also unsurprisingly one of the top performers in the Miami series with five hits, including two doubles, in 13 at-bats (.385 avg.). If the Braves do any damage on offense this series it will be because of Freeman.
Eric Young Jr. will need to be more productive out of the leadoff spot for the Braves. The 2-10 he went in the opening series is not going to get the job done. Gonzalez has already used Jace Peterson to hit leadoff once and he could do it a whole lot more if EYJ continues to hover around the Mendoza line.
Though Mets fans are familiar with ex-Met EYJr, there are a number of other new faces on the Braves. The previously mentioned Peterson and Phil Gosselin platoon at second base; Jonny Gomes, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis, and Young, Jr., comprise the completely overhauled outfield; Christian Bethancourt, who was promoted from the minors at the tail end of last year, starts behind the plate — backed up by A.J. Pierzynski; Kelly Johnson returns to beef up the bench, along with Alberto Callaspo; and Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Cody Martin, and Brandon Cunniff are new arms in the bullpen. Oh, and Wandy Rodriguez, Trevor Cahill, and the aforementioned Stults make up the back of the starting rotation. Not exactly the Atlanta team you remember from 2014, eh? If nothing else, the 2015 Braves are … different.