On the surface, the five-game series with the Mets was tremendously unusual. First, there were five games (obviously), but with weather throwing a wrinkle into the series opener, the schedule was even more rigorous. Let’s take a look at what took place.
Monday, June 17th – Win (2-1)
After a nearly four-hour rain delay, the Braves didn’t score a run for the first 8 innings on Monday night. Fortunately, the team trailed by only a 1-0 margin when their final at-bat took place, and it wasn’t enough cushion for the Mets. Freddie Freeman blasted a walk-off home run to right that scored Justin Upton, and with one swing, he sent the faithful thousands (read: hundreds) of fans who hung around until 1:22 am with a victory. Freeman’s play was the story of the night, as he put up 3 of the 5 total hits for the Braves, but the big swing was the difference. On the mound, Tim Hudson threw a gem with 7 innings of 1-run ball, but he took the no-decision thanks to a great effort from Mets pitcher Dillon Gee (8.1 innings, 6 K’s, 2 ER). Monday night’s action certainly qualified for the craziest night of the young season, and the next time that the Braves complete a 9-inning home game at 1:22 am will be too soon.
Tuesday, June 18th (Game 1) – Loss (4-3)
Matt Harvey. Matt Harvey. Matt Harvey. The Braves’ bats had to be grumbling the name of the Mets hot-shot starting pitcher, as Harvey took a no-hitter into the 7th inning to lead the Mets to victory. The young right-hander struck out a staggering 13 Braves in the effort, and while he did allow 3 earned runs late, he completely baffled the Atlanta lineup for the majority of the night. Alex Wood made his first MLB start for Atlanta, but only managed to wade through 3 innings as a result of a high pitch count and a blister on his pitching hand. He was fairly effective despite issuing 3 free passes, and frankly, the bullpen was tremendous, covering 6 innings while allowing only 2 runs. The Braves did mount a comeback with 3 runs in the 8th, thanks to a Jordan Schafer RBI single and a Jason Heyward 2-run double, but when Chris Johnson struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat, the Braves would never strike again. Sometimes during a long, winding season, the opposing pitcher is just better, and that was certainly the microcosm of Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday, June 18th (Game 2) – Loss (6-1)
Remember when I said that the opposing pitcher is sometimes just better? Well, that theme ran all the way through Tuesday. Mets hurler Zack Wheeler made his MLB debut and was tremendous, throwing 6 shutout innings with 7 strikeouts against the Atlanta lineup. The patient approach from the home team did yield 5 walks, but the Braves couldn’t seem to summon a clutch hit, and Atlanta left 12 men on-base in addition to hitting into 2 double plays. Paul Maholm deserved a better fate as he tossed 7 innings while allowing just 2 ER and striking out 7, but the offense struggled mightily, and Anthony Varvaro imploded in the 8th inning. Varvaro’s destruction was aided by questionable defense (a big error by BJ Upton, namely), but unfortunately, the Braves deficit was already large enough, and the bats never awakened. Andrelton Simmons was the lone offensive bright spot, as he went 2-for-3 with an extremely encouraging 2 walks on the day.
Wednesday, June 19th – Win (5-3)
Hey look, a win! The Braves were led to Wednesday’s victory by the duo of Kris Medlen and Chris Johnson (see what I did there?). Medlen, despite a 5th-inning fielding gaffe that nearly allowed the floodgates to open, pitched a tremendous game, going 7 innings while allowing 6 hits and 0 walks, and while he did let 3 runs score, only 1 of them was earned. His pinpoint control was very encouraging, and he looked, for most of the night, like the pitcher from late in 2012. Johnson’s biggest contribution was his 391-foot blast in the 4th inning, and the 3-run bomb was enough to stake the Braves to a lead that they would never relinquish. It wasn’t his only positive effort, however, as Johnson finished the day having gone 2-for-4. After Craig Kimbrel arrived with authority (a 12-pitch, 2-strikeout save), the Braves had evened the series at 2-2.
Thursday, June 20th – Loss (4-3)
The pivotal fifth (yes, fifth) game of the series didn’t go as planned for the home team. Staff ace Mike Minor struggled mightily at times, allowing 4 runs, 9 hits, and 2 walks over 6 innings, and the Braves couldn’t muster the offensive to bail him out. David Wright blasted 2 home runs off of Minor, but the “clinching” damage was done by the far-less-expected sources of a 5th-inning Andrew Brown home run, and someone named Josh Satin (and his career .294 slugging percentage) placing an RBI double in the 7th. Minor wasn’t a trainwreck, as he showed by his very nice bases-loaded, no-out escape early in the game, but he didn’t have “it” on Thursday. At the dish, the Braves generated an impressive 13 hits, but their timing wasn’t particularly good, as they left 11 men on-base in route to just the 3 runs. Gerald Laird and Tyler Pastornicky (not the most likely of offensive sources) had 3 hits a piece to lead the way for the Braves. Finally, it goes without saying that 3 errors is unacceptable for the team, but when all 3 are committed by one player? That qualifies as a calamity. We all know that Chris Johnson can’t play defense, but he seems to be falling apart before our eyes with the glove on his hand. Keep an eye on this.
Before the series with the Mets, I openly discussed five-game sweeps and 4-1 series wins. I’ll make sure not to do that again. Alas, this series loss is the first home loss of the year, and that, for now, qualifies simply as a speed bump. Stay tuned for the series preview as the Braves travel to Milwaukee for the weekend.