MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves

Opposition Research: What’s Left of the Atlanta Braves

Starting today, the Mets open up a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves. When I was growing up, the Braves were the Mets’ premier rivals, a team with the nationwide television coverage–thanks, TBS–a New York team deserved, and stacked to the gills with talent. The Atlanta Braves of today are a far cry short of the team that dominated the 90s and much of the 2000s, opening the season with an 0-for-9 run and just now rising to the mark of four wins and 11 losses on the season. Not good, even for a 15-game sample.

So let’s go on a brief journey: a review of the Braves, their players, and what to expect this weekend as the Mets strive for a series win in Atlanta.

The Braves’ “Hitters”

The scene, it’s not good at all.

Erick Aybar has started every game but one, and after yesterday’s two-double offensive breakout, he has raised his OBP to .183 and slugging percentage to .211. Freddie Freeman’s last recorded True Average for the season was .232. These are supposed to be two of the team’s best players. The two regular outfielders that the team recently traded for–Ender Inciarte and Hector Olivera–are injured or on leave while a domestic violence investigation is ongoing.

Yes, Nick Markakis is his usual, quietly-effective self. But this is a team that features Jace Peterson as a regular outfielder, Adonis Garcia as the team’s cleanup hitter, and A.J. Pierzynski. On paper, the Mets have an enormous talent advantage over the team even if they were operating at full capacity, but these Braves have been slumping hard. Markakis (.344 TAv) and Garcia (.279 TAv) are the only two regulars who’ve put up league-average performance this season.

In short, the Mets have an obvious talent advantage on the offensive side of the ball, one that can’t be denied. The Braves have Markakis, whom you might say matches up well with Michael Conforto, and Adonis Garcia, whom you might say matches up well with Asdrubal Cabrera. If you call Freddie Freeman and the Mets’ best hitter (Yoenis Cespedes?) a wash, even though Freeman is slumping, then the Mets still carry a substantive advantage in every other slot in the batting order.

The Starter Matchups

Tonight, Matt Harvey takes the hill against Bud Norris looking to right the many wrongs of his first three starts. It’s been noted that his velocity has been down to start the season, about a mile or two per hour from his average in 2015, according to Brooks Baseball. Meanwhile. Bud Norris is doing that thing he does every so often: pitching like garbage (.320 True Average against, 6.23 ERA). Even with Harvey’s diminished strikeout rate (4.7 strikeouts per nine innings this year), it’s fair to assume that the Mets will carry a strong advantage into this game. In essence, Norris is pitching exactly like he did in 2015.

On Saturday, Steven Matz takes the hill against Jhoulys Chacin, which on paper is the best pitching matchup of the series. Matz has been absolutely fine on the whole–his 7.27 ERA belies a heightened walk rate (four walks in two starts) and some rough batted ball luck (.348 BABIP). Chacin, meanwhile, has looked remarkable in his two starts; the new Brave has struck out 14 and walked none. It’s possible Chacin has made some real improvements now that he’s no longer forced to pitch in the Colorado and Arizona hitter havens, so if you squint and account for regression, one could perhaps see this matchup as an even one between the two squads.

Sunday is the wild-card day. Jacob deGrom is scheduled to return to the mound after time off due to injury (latissimus) and family concerns (young Jaxon deGrom). Opposing him is … well, that hasn’t quite been decided yet. Whoops. Unless the Braves convince Greg Maddux or John Smoltz to come out of retirement and use a time machine, this is an obvious advantage for the Mets. Insert the shruggie guy here, because this one is a mystery as to what the pitchers will bring.

The Expectations

If the Mets don’t come away with at least a series win, one would have to consider this weekend a disappointment. The Braves are a rebuilding team without much going for them, where the Mets are trying to cement themselves as something more than a once-and-done playoff contender. Not everything has broken right for the Amazins this year, but playing a depleted Braves team that was already not very good is a blessing indeed. If the team rips off three wins, great. Two wins is just fine. If the Mets win only one of three or–worst of all–none of them, then expect Panic City to go into overdrive. Let’s hope it’s a good weekend!

Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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