On a night where Bryce Elder had an uneven start (but also set a season high in strikeouts, go figure) and Sean Murphy blew two big chances early with men on base, the Braves nonetheless rallied to once again clip the Mets in Atlanta. Here are some thoughts about the goings-on.
The Braves flipped a script that is no longer being written
The race for the divisional crown in 2022 featured clearly-contrasting offenses. The 2022 Mets objectively had better hitting outputs after adjusting for their unforgiving home ballpark (116 wRC+ to the Braves’ 111), but the ways in which each team succeeded were very different.
The Mets rarely struck out (87 K%+, second-lowest in baseball) and had a 107/106/104/99 AVG+/OBP+/SLG+/ISO+. They finished 15th in MLB in homers. This sort of hit-over-OBP (kinda)-over-power made some sense for their park, and with a de-juiced ball.
The Braves, meanwhile, were all about sketchy plate discipline and dingers. They had a 92 BB%+ (bottom 10 in MLB), a 109 K%+ (third-highest strikeout rate in MLB), and a 104/101/111/123 line. When the Braves swept the Mets in that apotheosis series to all but win the division, they hit a go-ahead homer in each game, and the game-winning hit in the first two games was a homer. (The third game was a little different, but the Braves still had a go-ahead homer early and another homer to extend the lead later.) They finished second in MLB in homers.
Fast-forward to 2023, though, and some things have changed, but some haven’t. Namely, the Mets have changed and lost their identity as scrappy slappers. They now just... sorta exist. Their team wRC+ is down to 101 (Braves are at 113, in the same ballpark as through 2022). The slash line from above is now 96/98/96/95 — basically about 10 percent worse across the board, with power falling less than other aspects. The Braves are at 104/102/112/126 — basically the exact same team, which makes sense given that the organization is pretty invested in both keeping a consistent approach on the field, and acquiring guys to work with that approach.
All of this is really just prologue, though, to the fact that last night, the Braves won a game in which they were outhomered, and had to chain a bunch of hits together to win. To their credit, those balls were hard-hit — the Braves out-xwOBAed and out-wOBAed the Mets big time in the victory, and they even out-barreled them, because Francisco Lindor’s two-run shot was a cheapie longball. Still, for a matchup where the narrative has been “Mets slap and walk, Braves strike out and hit dingers,” what ended up happening was:
- Both teams walked three times.
- The Braves struck out less than the Mets, six to ten.
- The Mets out-homered the Braves, two to one, though the Braves had ten hits to the Mets’ two.
The hero facing off against an archnemesis that serves as a foil, generally with the same abilities, is a theme so ubiquitous it’s more just a tired trope at this point. In this game, the Braves forced something different onto the Mets: they were a nemesis that was really different, and for one night, they emulated the Mets of yesteryear and beat them at their own game. Baseball, man.
The rest of the sixth
Drew Smith almost got out of it, but then he didn’t. It was, in one specific way, his own fault.
After Carlos Carrasco departed, Drew Smith was asked to face L-S-R. The L was Eddie Rosario, who had one of the most Eddie Rosario-esque PAs ever.
I don’t really know what Rosario was doing in this PA. On the 0-1 count, did he guess fastball and just miss it? In any case, after falling behind 1-2, he went into his usual two-strike protect mode... and swung at six pitches in a row. The first of these was a strike that he somehow didn’t put in play. Four of the next five were nowhere near, yet he kept fouling them off. I don’t really get the approach here — what was Rosario looking for? Smith clearly wasn’t going to throw him a strike, yet he just kept swinging.
After Marcell Ozuna’s double on a poorly-located slider tied the game, Smith had another weird decision.
I’m not going to go into a whole tangent here about how Orlando Arcia spent a lot of his Braves tenure sitting on and crushing fastballs and bad changeups, and then after pitchers adjusted to throw him fewer fastballs and/or ones he couldn’t hit, he adjusted to sitting on and punishing breaking stuff (something that has worked less well than just sitting fastball, but oh well). What I am going to point out is that Smith and the Mets should’ve noted that Arcia didn’t go after the first fastball, nor the second, and then was late on the other three he swung at. What does that tell you? Probably that the guy who’s been sitting breaking pitch for about the past month is... still sitting breaking pitch in this PA. For some reason, Smith threw him a slider, and while Arcia didn’t do a great job with it, he did enough to hit basically a 50-50 grounder and give the Braves the lead due to Eduardo Escobar playing second in this game for some reason.
Smith isn’t really a standout reliever or anything, and he throws his four-seamer a lot because it’s actually good, compared to his slider. Still, his slider was fine last year and commanded fairly well. This year, it’s been a huge mess, both in terms of shape and location. The idea that he not only got burned on it against Ozuna (who saw two pitches, both sliders, from Smith) but then, after four late fouls, chose to throw it again to Arcia... I don’t know, just a weird decision all-around.
We’re not getting out of this without a TTO comment
Hey Mets, Carlos Carrasco has -0.3 fWAR this year and both an FIP and xFIP in the 7.00s the third time through. Since entering his injured/decline phase in 2019, his third-time-through split, xFIP-wise, is larger than average, a pattern that’s held if you also restrict the time horizon to just his Mets tenure, or just since the start of 2022. You inexplicably left him in the third time through, but then also didn’t pull him after a leadoff walk, but then also didn’t pull him until a lefty was due up, when you inserted a righty into the game anyway.
I know your relief corps is just David Robertson and then a bunch of interchangeable junk right now, but come on, try a little harder.