What Happened, In One Sentence:
The Mets showed Atlanta why contact is only one of many important skills in baseball, winning 8-2.
Closer than it Seems:
If you just look at the final score, it looks like the Mets had an easy win last night. Atlanta has traded away most of their good players. They are the type of team you expect to beat nearly every game if your goal is winning the World Series. Overall, scoring eight runs on 15 hits is very good. However, Saturday’s game was fairly competitive until Neil Walker and Asdrubal Caberea put it out of reach with back-to-back homers to lead off the ninth inning. The best way to solve a frustrating 2-for-16 night with runners in scoring position is to drive yourself in.
The first inning suggested a fun game where the Mets could run away and hide from Atlanta’s low-powered offense. Curtis Granderson led off with a single and moved to third on a Michael Conforto single. Lucas Duda hit cleanup with Yoenis Cespedes resting his thigh bruise and hit the Mets’ first sacrifice fly of the year. Then Conforto got the first steal of his big league career and Neil Walker got his first walk of the season. Mets nemesis Freddie Freeman misplayed a routine grounder and it was 2-0 in the first with runners on second and third. Travis d’Arnaud came up – his first at bat not hitting eighth in the order this year – and set the other tone for the evening by standing two runners in scoring position.
It went that way most of the night for both teams. The Mets got leadoff runners on in the second and third but couldn’t score. Meanwhile, Atlanta got two hits in the second and third off Steven Matz. The Braves played it very cautious on the basepaths, not challenging Granderson’s arm on several plays in the third inning. It’s a bit of an odd choice for a team that has only hit three home runs so far this season. When Freeman doubled to right with two on, Daniel Castro did not try to score from first base and Matz retired the two platoon bats hitting after Freeman. The Mets were about to strand another leadoff runner in the fourth when David Wright doubled down the right field line with two outs, giving the Mets a 4-1 lead. Atlanta would only have one more at-bat with the tying run at the plate: Matz threw fastballs past lefty masher Adonis Garcia in the fifth.
Matz in the Middle
Steven Matz came in to the game with a 7.27 ERA after a terrible first start against the Marlins and brilliant second start at Cleveland. The Braves look like a great team for a pitcher to face, but it’s an odd lineup for a left-handed pitcher. Atlanta’s two best hitters are lefties with strong platoon splits, but they acquired several players whose main tool is contact against left-handed pitching. Matz seemed to pitch like someone who knew he was going against a lineup with no power. He pounded the zone with strikes, giving up nine hits while only getting six swings and misses. With runners on base, Matz relied more on locating his 95 mph fastball, fooling hitters with gas to notch eight strikeouts.
Some Rare Lineup Changes
Cespedes reaggravated his thigh bruise sliding in to second base Friday night. He got his first game off today, and may not play tomorrow. Juan Lagares got the start for a combination of his hot bat (he went 2-5 with a triple) and glove in spacious Turner Field. The Mets lineup has been surprisingly stable day-to-day for the first three weeks of the season. Granderson, Walker and Cabrera have started every game this season, while Conforto and Duda have only sat out one game (the one time the Mets have faced a lefty starter). Even Wright has started 14 of 16 games.
Odd Bullpen Decisions
With runners on first and second base in the seventh, Fredi Gonzalez took out left-handed pitcher Matt Marksberry to make Neil Walker bat left-handed. Walker has been red hot against lefties this season in 11 plate appearances. Gonzalez went with the small sample size instead of Walker’s long term platoon splits. Terry Collins returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, keeping Hansel Robles in to face Freddie Freeman instead of calling on Jerry Blevins. Both relievers rewarded their managers’ faith with strikeouts.
Jacob deGrom returns to the mound. The Braves will counter with by promoting Aaron Blair, one of the prospects they acquired in the Shelby Miller deal.
Photo credit: Jason Getz – USA Today Sports