Back on April 29, a game between the Braves and Mets at Citi Field was rained out. The Braves had won the first game of the series 4-0, putting them at 18-9 with a three-game lead over the Mets, who fell to 15-12. At the time, the Braves were already heavily favored to win the division, but it wasn’t a near-certainty, and the Mets were fairly likely to be a playoff team.
Well, what a difference a few months makes. The Braves, even with their recent rough patch, are still the holders of MLB’s best record, have a teeny-tiny lead in total team fWAR, and can definitely challenge for the team’s all-time best season with a bit more good play. The Mets, well... it’s just depressing. After that 15-12 April, the Mets began a steady and almost-constant slide. They went 5-12 over their next 17 games, and after playing a bit better in the second half of May, suffered a seven-game losing streak in June and finished that month 7-19, which basically doomed their season. Then they traded away a bunch of stuff at the Trade Deadline, and, like I said, it’s just depressing.
The Mets are currently 52-62, 21 games behind the Braves. They’re just three games ahead of the Nationals for fourth place in the NL East; they’re closer to the cellar of the NL in record than to the second-place Phillies. It’s bad, man. In a run environment that rejuiced the ball in addition to restricting defensive placement and encouraging everyone to run wild, the Mets’ strategy of relatively slow station-to-station guys never really got going, and the pitching, especially the bullpen, was some mix of expectedly and unexpectedly horrible. The Mets are 10-14 since the All-Star Break and just 2-7 in August, which makes sense because, well, they traded away a bunch of guys and don’t have much to play for.
Pretty much the only intrigue left in this once-promising series is whether the Mets can muster the animus and pull off the execution needed to knock off their much more successful rivals, something that they failed to manage back when they were still relevant earlier in the year (1-5 against the Braves this year).
For the Braves, this game is mostly a chance to yet again see if Charlie Morton can figure out some way of pitching that doesn’t go horribly awry because of issues with his fastball. Morton’s curve, now used over 44 percent of the time, has a .256 xwOBA-against and a whiff rate over 40 percent. Morton’s four-seamer, used 34 percent of the time, has a .402 xwOBA-against and a whiff rate of 22 percent. Given that the curve only clips the zone about 40 percent of the time, and the four-seamer does about 54 percent of the time, it’s been pretty easy for batters to just wait Morton out or jump on a four-seamer.
There was a point earlier in the year where the dichotomy in his pitch effectiveness wasn’t hurting Morton too much: from April 25 through July 14, Morton made 14 starts with a collective 72 ERA-, 81 FIP-, and 79 xFIP-, with only a couple of blow-up starts in nearly three months of outings. The other shoe has dropped over his last four outings, though, as Morton has struggled each time (an 8/3 K/BB ratio game against the Angels was kind of an exception, but for the fact that he allowed three solo homers in that game). There’s theoretically some kind of mechanical adjustment or sequencing innovation that will help Morton leverage the curveball without the fastball getting blasted, the way Morton managed for much of the year, but he hasn’t found it yet. There’s always the hope that he does so tonight.
This will be Morton’s third time facing the Mets already this season. His two starts against them so far weren’t much to write home about — he had a 6/3 K/BB ratio over 5 1⁄3 innings against them in New York but defense and sequencing led to four runs scoring, giving the Mets their only win over the Braves so far this year, and he got trashed by them in Atlanta with a 5/4 K/BB ratio and two homers allowed in what ended up being a 7-5 comeback Braves win. As a Brave, Morton has been really homer-prone against the Mets — he has a 4.32 FIP against the Mets in 60 1⁄3 innings despite 3.98 FIP since joining the Braves overall, but his xFIP is actually better (3.65 vs. Mets, 3.82 as a Brave).
The Braves bats continue to rake — they have the league’s second-best wRC+ since the All-Star Break and by far the best in August — and tonight they’ll take aim at Tylor Megill, whose awful season is one of, but far from the only, reason that the Mets have tanked in 2023. Megill was a fine innings-eater type in limited duty in 2021-2022 (122/108/89) with potential for far more if he could rein in some homer challenges. Instead, he has faceplanted with a 133/123/118 line in 16 starts so far this year. It appears that losing a fair bit of his fastball has killed its ability to miss bats, and overexposed a pretty good slider despite command improvements to the pitch.
Megill actually outdueled Morton in that only-Braves-loss-to-the-Mets-so-far-this-year game, though he didn’t actually pitch that well, with a 4/3 K/BB ratio in 5 1⁄3 innings. He did manage to avoid giving up a homer to the Braves in that game, which helped the Mets come back against Morton and win.
Anyway, as much as it would be more fun for this to be a meaningful game, it is what it is: the Braves will just keep marching towards the postseason, irrespective of any late-summer bumps in the road, and the Mets will keep sliding towards oblivion.
Atlanta Braves @ New York Mets
Friday, August 11, 2023
7:10 pm EDT
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast, MLB Network
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online / Ch. 89