June 15, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) celebrates scoring the winning run after a first baseman Freddie Freeman (not pictured) walk-off single in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field. The Braves won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
On the scale of “craziest things to expect” during an MLB season, a five-game series with the Mets ranks pretty high on the list, but that’s where we are as the team from Queens enters town. Due to a rainout earlier in the year, a four-game set has turned into a five-gamer as Tuesday will be a day/night double-header. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Monday, June 17th – 7:10 PM ET – Tim Hudson vs. Dillon Gee
Monday night kicks things off with an interesting pitching match-up. Tim Hudson had a rough beginning to his last start, but in the end, he managed to give Atlanta a chance to win with 7.1 innings of 3-run ball. Huddy has lowered his season ERA to 4.41 (his lowest since early May), and is throwing fairly well in recent days. On the positive side for Hudson, his K-rate (6.56 per 9) and walk rate (2.04 per 9) are improved from last year, but he’s been fairly unlucky on home run to fly ball rate (a three-year high of 12%). In short, Hudson is probably better than the numbers indicate this year, and I believe he’s turned the corner. He’ll square off with Dillon Gee, who had been an abject disaster for the Mets this year until recently, but he’s righted the ship in his last 3 outings. Gee has allowed exactly 1 run in each of his past 3 starts, and he is looking more like the high-strikeout, quality arm that he showed last season. It’s probably close to an “even” battle here, with a slight edge toward Hudson and the Braves.
Tuesday, June 18th – 1:10 PM ET – Alex Wood vs. Matt Harvey
Hello, Alex Wood! The rookie hurler gets his first MLB start, and for his efforts, he gets to face-off against the Mets’ stud in Matt Harvey. Wood has appeared in 6 games out of the bullpen for the Braves, and has been stellar, posting a 2.28 FIP, 2.83 xFIP, and a 10.57 K/9 in 7.2 innings. Granted, this is an extremely small sample size, but given what Wood looked like the minors (sub-3.00 ERA with very good peripherals) and his top-flight pedigree, it isn’t shocking to see him succeed. The issue here is that Wood isn’t stretched out to go deep into a game at this stage, and because of the fact that it is a double-header day, the bullpen will be taxed regardless of how Wood performs. Even with that, however, anticipation is high for one of the best young arms in the Braves system. He’ll square off with Harvey, and he’s unquestionably the best pitcher on the Mets’ staff. Though he’s cooled off a touch since his early-season ridiculousness, Harvey still has a 2.04 ERA (2.14 FIP) in 97 innings, and a phenomenal 9.46 Ks per 9 on the year. In short, he’s an absolute “ace”, and this is the toughest test of the week for the Atlanta lineup.
Tuesday, June 18th – 7:10 PM ET – Paul Maholm vs. Zack Wheeler
The headline of this game is actually Mets-related. They will trot out Zack Wheeler (their #1 pitching prospect now that Matt Harvey has arrived) for his first MLB appearance, and that’ll be interesting for the Braves. Traditionally, Atlanta struggles mightily against pitchers they haven’t seen, but there is one factor that could help out in the Braves. Patience is one of the virtues of this lineup, and Wheeler’s control is traditionally ugly in the Minor leagues. He has a BB/9 of over 3.5 in each of his past two seasons in the minors, and ZIPS projections have that number rising over 4.50 in the Majors this season. It will be critical for the normally-patient Braves lineup to take some pitches early in the game. Paul Maholm gets the ball for Atlanta, and as we discussed above, it will be critical for him to go deep into the game in the second leg of the double-header. I would expect the bullpen to have to throw 4+ innings in the early game, so Fredi Gonzalez may be eager to leave Maholm out there for a while barring disaster. Either way, this one will be entertaining.
Wednesday, June 19th – 7:10 PM ET – Kris Medlen vs. Shaun Marcum
Is Kris Medlen pitching for his job here? With the Brandon Beachy injury setback (and the reason Alex Wood is actually making that Tuesday start), Medlen may have bought himself some time. Medlen still has a nice ERA of 3.09 on the year, but his strikeout rate has plummeted to a less-than-stellar 6.83 per 9, and his pinpoint control has normalized a bit. I’m still not in favor of jettisoning Medlen to the ‘pen, but he’ll need to beat up on an underwhelming Mets lineup here to improve his safety. Marcum dominated the Braves on May 26th, throwing 7 innings of 2-run ball, but that was one of the best starts of his season, and he’ll enter Wednesday night with a 5.43 ERA in 10 appearances. Advantage, Braves.
Thursday, June 20th – 7:10 PM ET – Mike Minor vs. Jon Niese
Finally (and mercifully), the series comes to a close with Mike Minor on the hill for Atlanta. Minor hasn’t been quite as spectacular in recent days (coming off of a 4-run outing on Saturday), but he’s still the best pitcher on the staff, and it’s never a bad thing to see him on the bump. With the Mets lineup having many, many holes in it, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Minor go deep into the game with great numbers, and his 1.79 season walk-rate is a great indication of the type of groove that he is in. Jon Niese was supposed to make “the leap” for New York this year, but he’s fallen off, instead. After posting a 3.40 ERA with 7.33 K/9 and 2.32 BB/9 in 2012, Niese’s numbers have fallen across the board to the tune of a 4.15 ERA (4.17 FIP), 5.38 K/9, and 4.03 BB/9. The most troubling issue there (for Mets fans) is Niese’s lack of control, and as previously mentioned, the Braves notoriously take advantages of pitchers who can’t seem to locate. I like the match-up a lot.
There you have it. The 5-game format makes this series “more important” than some simply due to the quantity of games, but I’d be surprised to see New York leave with more than 2 victories. In fact, if I had to project (and I will), I would say that the most likely outcome would be the Braves taking 4 of 5 games to add on to their MLB-leading home record. Stay tuned.