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Braves go to New York to face suddenly-rebuilding Mets

The Braves will square off against a faltering divisional foe

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

In a season where both teams had great expectations, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets have ended up on two vastly different paths. The Braves have been the best team in baseball, with a 72-41 record powered by the most potent offense in the sport. Meanwhile, the Mets have had a disastrous season, sitting at 52-62 following a fire sale at the Trade Deadline. The vaunted two-headed monster of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander has been dismantled, with both future Hall of Famers being traded at the deadline.

After a middling but not terrible start to the season, the Mets went off the rails in June, finishing the month with a 7-19 record. A reason for the team’s struggle was that their aging core, which was excellent last season, started showing their age. Starling Marte, who was ultra-productive last season, fell off a cliff in 2023. Even Verlander and Scherzer were showing signs of aging before they were traded. Almost everyone on the team has regressed this season, and that has proven to be a recipe for disaster, because there’s no team in baseball and no amount of money that can compensate for struggles basically roster-wide.

Even after the sell-off, there are still some bats to be worried about in the Mets lineup. Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor have all had solid seasons. Alonso has put up 2.5 fWAR while having the highest wRC+ of the three at 134. Lindor has put up the most fWAR with 4.3, thanks to his elite defense and a 123 wRC+ bat. Nimmo has also been a rare Met to play up to his standards with a 2.6 fWAR and 118 wRC+. While many of the Mets’ young players have failed to establish themselves, one that has is catcher Francisco Alvarez, whose 21 home runs lead all catchers.

This lineup could still be a threat to an Atlanta Braves starting rotation that has struggled mightily lately. Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton all failed to complete five innings in their last start, and while Yonny Chirinos and Bryce Elder did make it to five innings, they got hit hard in the process. In a near-flawless season for the Braves, the rotation has been a bit of a question mark since the All-Star break, even if it’s largely defense and not the pitching itself that’s leading to the bad outings.

Friday, August 11, 7:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Charlie Morton (22 GS, 123.2 IP, 24.3 K%, 10.7 BB%, 45.2 GB%, 3.86 ERA, 4.10 FIP)

Charlie Morton has really struggled in his last four starts, allowing at least three runs and walking at least three batters in each of those outings. He has also hit three batters in those starts, another sign of his wayward control. With the rotation struggling recently, it is vital for the veteran to steady the ship and turn in a useful start, but whether he’s up to the task is a different question.

Morton’s curveball, which he throws 44.2 percent of the time is one of the best pitches in baseball with a 40.4 percent whiff rate and all sorts of toher goodness. However, his other pitches have been an issue for him, with his four-seamer, changeup and sinker all getting crushed. Despite throwing in the mid-90s, Morton has to pitch around his fastball, which has been getting hit harder than in previous years. The reluctance to throw fastballs in the zone, and the fact that the curve usually flies out of the zone, could be an explanation for his increased walk rate. He is walking 10.7 percent of batters this year, compared to 8.7 percent last year and 7.7 percent in 2021. He has already walked was many batters as he did in 2021, despite throwing 62 fewer innings.

Tylor Megill (16 GS, 76 IP, 17.4 K%, 11.1 BB%, 43.2 GB%, 5.45 ERA, 5.24 FIP)

Tylor Megill has struggled mightily this season, after flashing potential in 2021 and 2022. In previous years, Megill was good at getting strikeouts with strikeout rates of 26.1 and 25.5 percent in 2021 and 2022, respectively. However, that has dropped off massively in 2023, with a 17.4 rate that is a far cry from his previous numbers. His fastball was a big whiff generator for Megill before this season, with the 28.5 percent whiff rate on the pitch an elite mark for a four-seam fastball, but this year it sits at just 16.5 percent. Megill was demoted in late June and was recalled following the exits of Scherzer and Verlander. His first start back in the big leagues did not go well, with the right-hander going 4 23 innings while allowing five runs on nine hits with a 3/0 K/BB ratio.

Saturday, August 12, 1:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Saturday, August 12, 7:15 p.m. ET (FOX)

The starters for both teams have yet to be announced for this game, with roster movement needed before the start of Saturday’s doubleheader. At least one game will feature some combination of Spencer Strider and Jose Quintana, but the other starters are unclear.

Spencer Strider (23 GS, 132.1 IP, 38.7 K%, 7.5 BB%, 33.3 GB%, 3.94 ERA, 2.93 FIP)

Spencer Strider had a disastrous start last time out against the Pirates, with a 3/3 K/BB ratio that was pretty much his worst career start to date. Despite the lofty strikeout numbers, Strider’s ERA is 4.73 in his last 15 starts. There is certainly misfortune involved in that number as his 2.93 FIP, 2.77 xFIP and 3.15 xERA would suggest, but there are also real issues the young right hander needs to figure out — though the biggest issue has been defense completely upending a chunk of his outings. He is getting barreled up much more this season, with his barrel rate in the 17th percentile; last season it was in the 73rd percentile. This has led to more home runs and more damage in general. He has allowed 18 home runs this season, compared to eight last year, in a similar number of innings. While he can blow his fastball by hitters at will, sometimes Strider challenges hitters too much, with too many fastballs right down the middle. Regardless, he is still one of the best young pitchers in baseball and the games best strikeout artist. It’ll be interesting to see if Strider can change his fortunes against the Mets, as he has a career 4.23 FIP and 3.93 xFIP against them in 23 23 innings, while he has a 2.28 FIP and 2.45 xFIP against everyone else in 242 23 career innings.

Jose Quintana (4 GS, 23.2 IP, 16.2 K%, 7.1 BB%, 42.7 GB%, 3.42 ERA, 2.80 FIP)

Free agent pickup Jose Quintana has been out for most of the season, and by the time he returned, his new team’s season was up in flames. However, he has been solid in his four starts since coming off the IL. Quintana is good at limiting the home run, using a fastball, curveball, changeup mix to keep hitters off balance. He won’t blow anyone away, sitting around 90 MPH on his fastball these days, but he is a tricky, crafty pitcher who can work his way through outings with guile and experience. He has not allowed a home run this season, a distinction that will be put to the test against a powerful Braves lineup.

Sunday, August 13, 7:10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Yonny Chirinos (18 G, 7 GS, 76.1 IP, 13.6 K%, 7.4 BB%, 45 GB%, 4.83 ERA, 5.60 FIP)

Yonny Chirinos has been lit up in his three starts since joining the Braves, with an 8.56 ERA and 19 hits in 13 23 innings, though the big problem for him was getting blasted by the Pirates, especially the third time through, after two fine outings. He has eaten some innings, going five in his last two starts, a rare feat for Braves starters lately, but he has been drubbed. Even in Tampa, where his ERA was 4.02, his peripherals suggested dark days ahead, and they have been proven correct in terms of homer allowed... though his xFIP as a Brave is a fine 3.80. He gave up six runs in five innings against the Pirates last time out, allowing four home runs in the process. Chirinos will not be involved in the playoff rotation unless something goes very wrong, so his role is to just eat innings and keep the games close enough for the offense to do its thing. He has sort of done that, with the Braves 3-0 in his starts, but that has more to do with the Braves historic offense showing up to back him.

Kodai Senga (21 GS, 116.2 IP, 28.4 K%, 11.4 BB%, 45.5 GB%, 3.24 ERA, 3.63 FIP)
Kodai Senga has been very good in his first season in the big leagues following a successful tenure in Japan. In a rotation with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, Senga was the ace of the staff. His money pitch is his so-called ghost forkball which gets an unfathomable 58.9 whiff rate and has only been hit for extra bases thrice this season, none of them home runs. It is one of the best pitches in baseball and is what makes Senga special. A side effect of having a pitch that is rarely in the zone as your signature pitch is a high walk rate, as can be seen by Senga’s 11.4 percent mark. If you can spit on the forkball, the at-bat becomes far easier, but that is easier said than done.

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