Raise your hand if you thought that when the Braves and Mets first met this season, they’d be battling for first place in the division. Now raise your other hand if you had Matt Wisler making a start for the Braves in April, much less dominating the Mets en route to a blowout win in the series opener. If your hands are both raised, I don’t know what to tell you: you look a little silly, following the instructions you read in a game preview post on the internet, and you’re a wizard, I guess. Good for you.
The Braves will need to pull another rabbit out of their rally caps tonight if they want to come away with a win, as before them stands Noah Syndergaard, getting a tune-up before his latest film opens in theaters next week. Syndergaard has been beyond monstrous in four starts this season: he has struck out 37.9 percent of the batters he’s faced... as a starter. To truly understand how ridiculous that number is, that’s essentially top five reliever territory. Chris Sale’s 36.2 percent mark last year was the highest we’ve seen, and Syndergaard has blown past that. It might regress... but it’s scary to think that it also might not.
Despite the strikeouts, Syndergaard’s first three starts of the year were only okay. He allowed four runs in six innings on Opening Day, completed only four innings (two runs allowed) the next time out, and only lasted six innings with a pedestrian 5/2 K/BB ratio against the woeful Marlins, allowing two runs (one earned) in the process. But, he showcased his deity-tier results on Sunday against the Brewers, limiting them to three baserunners and one run (zero earned) while punching out 11, though he only pitched into the sixth. If there’s one likely hope, it’s that Syndergaard might force his own exit relatively early, giving the Braves some extended hacks against a Mets bullpen that’s likely less tough to face than he is.
Overall, Syndergaard’s current line is a redonkulous 2.95 / 2.10 / 1.68. He already has 0.7 fWAR accrued in those four starts.
The Braves will counter Syndergaard with a strikeout artist of their own: Sean Newcomb. While Newcomb’s strikeout rates aren’t quite as high as Syndergaard’s, he’s still above 30 percent, having struck out 31 percent of the batters he’s faced across three starts so far. The crown jewel was his second start of the year at Coors, where he mauled the Rockies to the tune of six scoreless frames with nine strikeouts and no walks (!). His other two starts have been much more of a mixed bag, including getting swatted around for six runs by the Nationals and a three-run effort while pitching into the sixth in those horrible conditions in Chicago last weekend. Newcomb’s pitching triple-slash is 4.02 / 3.52 / 2.98 in aggregate this season. He’s kept the ball on the ground, which will bode very well for him if he can rein in the walks.
Watch for continued use of Newcomb’s changeup in this one: while it’s been hit hard at times, it empowers his fastball in a way that wasn’t seen last season, where the fastball was really the setup pitch for Newcomb to finish batters off with his slider.
Syndergaard hasn’t quite dominated the Braves historically as he has the rest of the league: he’s had two dominant starts (2017, 2015) against them, and two fairly poor starts (2016, 2015). Despite 65 career starts to his name and playing in the same division as Atlanta, those are the only four starts he’s made against them. (He’s faced the Marlins six times, the Phillies seven times, and the Nationals 10 times.) Meanwhile, Newcomb has had pretty good success against the Mets, whom he faced thrice last season. In his major league debut, he held them to one run (zero earned) in six-and-a-third. Then, in September of last year, he held them to five runs in 10 and 1⁄3 innings, with 15 combined strikeouts across two starts.
New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves
Friday, April 20, 2018, 7:35 pm EDT
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports South (and MLB.tv)
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM, Braves Radio Network, WYAY 106.7, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM.