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Braves head to New York for five game showdown with division-leading Mets

A rare five-game regular season series could have big implications for the NL East race

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

After dropping a 3-1 game to split a short series with the Phillies at home, the Braves head back out on the road on Thursday for an intrigue-filled five-game set with the division-leading New York Mets. At the time of writing the Braves are three games back in the division, with the Mets playing a game they are heavily favored to win in Washington. Consequently, while this series puts the NL East lead in direct reach of the Braves, they’ll need to sweep or win four out of the five games (assuming the Mets lose their contest this afternoon) to grab it.

That’s a feat much easier said than done, however. Sweeping a series is tough, a four-game set tougher, and a five-game set that includes a doubleheader? Oh boy. This is also all coming on the road, and the Braves aren’t favored in any game in the series, the first time that’s happened for any series since the end of June (where the Braves won two of three in Philadelphia anyway).

We’ve all had fun making light of the Mets’ soft contact adventures this season, but there’s no reason to take this squad lightly. They’ll come into this series fifth in position player fWAR (Braves are seventh) and eighth in pitching fWAR (Braves are second). That the Braves have something like three more total team fWAR but trail the Mets by around three games in the standings is just part of the wackiness of baseball, and something that we’re hoping evens itself out in the last two months of play. Oh, and about that soft contact? Through the end of May, the Mets had a .328 team wOBA on a .316 team xwOBA, the second-biggest positive gap in MLB that gave them the second-best team batting line despite middling inputs. Since then, the Mets have a .313 wOBA on a .318 xwOBA, the eighth biggest underperformance in the majors, giving them middling offensive performance despite top 10-y inputs.

This will be the third series this year in which the Braves try to flag down the Mets, and the other two haven’t gone that great. In early May, the Braves split a four-game set in New York, dropping both parts of a doubleheader but winning the two games around that. In July, the Mets came to Atlanta and took two of three. Now, the five-game series that includes a doubleheader looms, and what’s more, after a six-game break, these two teams will tango again for another four games in Atlanta.

So, it’s a big opportunity for the Braves to make strides in the division race, but not a slam-dunk one. There’s work to be done, and the Braves have to do it. But, fret not if they falter in this series — sometimes the most impactful baseball happens outside of the big matchups. Last year, the Braves also had a big five-game summer series in New York at the end of July. They went 3-2, going from a six-game division deficit to a five-game one. They then went 17-4, taking over the division for good partway through that run. This Mets team doesn’t seem as primed to collapse as that one did... but you never know.

Thursday, August 4, 7:10 pm EDT

Kyle Wright (20 GS, 122 23 IP, 70 ERA-, 86 FIP-, 85 xFIP-, 93ish xERA-)

Already up to 2.3 fWAR on the year, Wright will make his second start of the year against the Mets in the series opener. His first one went just okay — it was his first mediocre start of the year after blasting out of the gates by dominating opposing teams four times — a 3/1 K/BB ratio with a homer allowed in seven innings of work. The Braves fell 3-0 in a game that was Round 1 of the matchup of these pitches.

Overall, Wright’s had a couple of decent starts since the All-Star Break after limping into it with five relatively weak-slash-inconsistent outings. One thing to watch will be his homer rate, as he’s allowed seven homers in his last seven starts, including just one no-homer game in that stretch, after allowing just four homers in his first 13 starts of the year.

Carlos Carrasco (20 GS, 111 23 IP, 99 ERA-, 89 FIP-, 89 xFIP-, 103ish xERA-)

At age 35, Carrasco is having a meaningful bounceback for the Mets, as his 2.0 fWAR is already his highest total since his streak of elite performances ended in 2018. This will be his second start against the Braves this season; he threw six shutout frames with a 5/2 K/BB ratio against them in that 3-0 win the Mets garnered over Wright.

After a five-start stretch in which Carrasco had a dreadful FIP due to eight homers allowed, he’s kept both homers and runs off the board in his last four starts. In fact, no runs have been charged to him in his last three tries altogether, including a game in which he somehow wended his way through five innings with a 1/2 K/BB ratio. Carrasco no longer throws hard, and he doesn’t generally manage contact well, but he does have a knack for getting guys to chase and miss his wide array of secondaries, especially his slider and changeup.

Friday, August 5, 7:10 pm EDT

Ian Anderson (20 GS, 101 IP, 119 ERA-, 107 FIP-, 104 xFIP-, 102ish xERA-)

The saga of Ian Anderson’s 2022 season will make its way to New York along with the rest of the team, rest assured. Anderson’s had a disappointing campaign overall, with just 0.9 fWAR amassed to date, and has seemingly pitched poorly enough to warrant a reconsideration of his role as a regular starter before bouncing back with renewed verve, multiple times at this point. In his most recent outing, which came a start after the Angels thrashed him and batted around in the first inning alone, he somehow yoinked a career-best performance out of nowhere — a 9/1 K/BB ratio over six frames against the Diamondbacks.

Speaking of yoinking, that’s kind of what Anderson did against the Mets in New York in May, as he somehow got a single run charged to him while running a 1/4 K/BB ratio over 5 13 innings in a blowout Braves win. It’s really hard to know what to expect out of Anderson at this point, and it remains to be seen how aggressive the Braves will be with managing his early exit, if warranted, given the doubleheader happening on Saturday.

Taijuan Walker (18 GS, 103 13 IP, 73 ERA-, 87 FIP-, 97 xFIP-, 104ish xERA-)

With Walker making the start for the Mets in this game, three of the four starters for the first two games of this series will basically be of the same above-average-but-not-elite mold. Walker’s done a great job not being hurt by homers and benefiting from an elevated strand rate so far, and though you might be surprised by this, he’s actually been pretty blah at contact management despite that big ERA-FIP gap. Some of those chickens have come home to roost in his last two starts, which have been pretty terrible — but he was dominant for the seven starts before this little hiccup.

The Braves haven’t yet faced Walker this year, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they can lay off the splitter and punish his fastball.

Saturday, August 6, 1:10 pm EDT (Game 1); 7:10 pm EDT (Game 2)

We have a decent idea of who’s pitching this doubleheader, but not in what order.

Max Fried (21 GS, 132 13 IP, 62 ERA-, 64 FIP-, 79 xFIP-, 68ish xERA-)

Jake Odorizzi (12 GS, 60 IP, 99 ERA-, 91 FIP-, 116 xFIP-, 98ish xERA-)

Max Fried has already set a career high with 4.1 fWAR, which currently ranks third in MLB, where the two leaders are tied with 4.2. After a small two-start hiccup in early July, he’s gone right back to dominating opposing lineups. The only concern? One start of that hiccup was a bizarre 5/5 K/BB ratio outing against the Mets, an aberration of an outing that’s like nothing else Fried has really experienced in years. Fried also faced the Mets earlier in 2022, when he beat them with a much more conventional 6/0 K/BB ratio, though he did allow a longball in the process.

Acquired in the wondrous deal that sent Will Smith packing, Jake Odorizzi will likely make his Braves debut in one of the two games of this doubleheader. The 32-year-old right-hander had a more than solid FIP across 12 starts with the Astros, but it’s derived from a very low HR/FB ratio, and one wonders how a right-hander that pitchers to fly ball contact will fare in the near-term at Truist Park. Still, this game isn’t at Truist Park, so it might be okay — or perhaps the Braves will find a way to limit or change Odorizzi’s usage in a way that forestalls the HR/FB regression. Odorizzi’s season has been incredibly hit-or-miss so far, with six starts with an FIP- of 66 or below, and another six at 107 or higher, with literally nothing in between. His xFIPs tend to be more modulated, with a lot more downside (five at 126 xFIP- or higher) than upside (seven ranging from 80 to 118).

Max Scherzer (14 GS, 88 23 IP, 56 ERA-, 69 FIP-, 82 xFIP-, 68ish xERA-)

David Peterson (17 G, 14 GS, 73 23 IP, 93 ERA-, 104 FIP-, 88 xFIP-, 102ish xERA-)

It remains to be seen whether this doubleheader will be a battle of the Maxes again, or whether the teams will flip-flop their starters to try and each set up a favorable matchup. Having turned 38 a few days ago, Scherzer is still his dominant self, and he’s running his lowest HR/FB ever at this point. He led the Mets to a win in the first battle of the Maxes this season, and hasn’t really suffered any decline in performance after missing about a month and a half with injury.

Currently the odd man out in a back-to-intended-strength Mets rotation, Peterson did fine as a starter for the Mets earlier in the season and would probably have a dedicated rotation spot on most MLB teams. He continues to have kind of an odd approach that consists of throwing tons and tons of balls and surviving due to getting enough whiffs when hitters do chase, but it’s worked so far, and unprepared teams can get carved up if they don’t know to wait him out. This is what happened when he faced the Braves on July 12, as he racked up a 9/3 K/BB ratio, but fortunately for Atlanta, they pulled out a win anyway as Spencer Strider and the bullpen dominated. On the flip side, the Braves had a better approach (6/3 K/BB ratio) when facing Peterson in New York in May, but couldn’t grab the win as the Mets beat up on Charlie Morton.

Sunday, August 6, 4:10 pm EDT

Spencer Strider (23 G, 12 GS, 87 IP, 67 ERA-, 51 FIP-, 61 xFIP-, 63ish xERA-)

Spencer Strider has basically done his Jacob deGrom imitation since ascending to the rotation this season, so it makes sense that he’ll be facing deGrom in this game. Strider’s 3.0 fWAR puts him in the top 30 of MLB hurlers at this point, even though he’s spent about half of the 2022 season to date pitching out of the bullpen. If there’s one knock on Strider (and it’s a small knock indeed), it’s that his starts really spiral when he’s off. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when he faced the Mets in July, as he punched out eight of them while walking just three in 4 23 innings in the Braves’ only win of that series.

Jacob deGrom (1 GS, 5 IP, 47 ERA-, 21 FIP-, 35 xFIP-, 29ish xERA-)

Okay, it was his first start in over a year, and it came against the barely-there Nationals, but still, deGrom dominated for five innings in the way you’d expect (yet the Mets still lost...). The incredibly dominant but oft-injured righty is pretty much the premier pitcher, when healthy, of this current generation... so have fun with that, Braves.

The Braves faced deGrom twice last year, losing once and winning once. In true Mets/deGrom fashion, the game the Braves took from them was one where deGrom had a 14/0 K/BB ratio and a negative xFIP... the Braves won thanks to three in the first, including an Austin Riley homer, and Freddie Freeman’s walkoff infield hit.

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