MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

Game recap April 21: New season, same Mets

Jacob deGrom may be the unluckiest starting pitcher in all of baseball. deGrom turned in another fantastic start for the Mets Saturday night, as he struck out 10 and allowed only four hits in seven shutout innings. With the pitcher’s spot due up to begin the seventh, manager Mickey Callaway sent Wilmer Flores up to pinch hit for deGrom, who would be rewarded with a three-run inning that set him and the Mets up for the win. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the vaunted 2018 Mets bullpen blew yet another lead against an NL East opponent. This was nothing new for deGrom, who has seen the Mets bullpen blow 20 of his leads since 2014, the most of any pitcher in all of baseball in that timespan.

It was a pitchers duel at Suntrust Park Saturday night, as the Braves sent out Opening Day starter Julio Teheran opposite deGrom in the third game of this four-game series. Teheran and deGrom pitched like the aces they are, as they both went seven innings, allowed no runs on four hits, and finished with 98 and 97 pitches respectively. While deGrom struck out a dominant 10 Braves hitters on the evening, Teheran struck out a respectable six Mets.

The Braves turned to Sam Freeman in the top of the eighth, who walked Flores and than allowed a bunt single to  to leadoff the inning. The lefty Freeman was kept in to face the left-handed Michael Conforto, who hit a grounder to Johan Camargo at third that looked like a sure double-play ball. Camargo fielded it and threw to Ozzie Albies at second, who dropped the ball on a transfer but held on long enough to get Reyes out at second. Or so we thought, as Callaway challenged the play and the ruling was surprisingly reversed, which set Yoenis Cespedes up with the bases loaded in a tie ballgame.

That would do it for Freeman, as Brian Snitker called upon Shane Carle to face Cespedes and escape the jam. Cespedes looked anxious to make up for his three strikeout evening and hit a short fly ball to right on the first pitch he saw, but it wasn’t deep enough to score Flores. Early season Mets MVP Asdrubal Cabrera stepped up and delivered yet again, hitting an RBI single to right that scored both Flores and Reyes to give the Mets the 2-0 lead. Jay Bruce, who’s been in quite the slump to start the season, hit a sharp line drive to center that scored Conforto and was the only other Mets run on the evening.

With Robert Gsellman unavailable after a multi-inning outing Friday, A.J. Ramos came on in the eighth and promptly walked the leadoff hitter, just like old times. Sticking true to himself, Ramos struck out the next batter, Ender Inciarte, before walking Albies and putting the tying run at the plate. Callaway had seen enough and turned to designated LOOGY Jerry Blevins, who’s actually been the worst Met reliever against LHB to start the season, to face Braves slugger Freddie Freeman. Blevins’ best pitch is his 70 mph curveball, but he threw a 88 mph sinker on the first pitch and Freeman was ready, blasting a double off the wall in left center that scored Ryan Flaherty and Albies and cut the Met lead to one. Blevins was left in to face Nick Markakis, who he struck out, but a wild pitch during the at-bat allowed Freeman to advance over to third. Sensing another blown game from the bullpen, Callaway decided to bring in closer Jeurys Familia for the four-out save, the fourth such instance in the young season. Familia struck out Preston Tucker to end the threat, and the Mets went to the ninth with the 3-2 advantage.

Former top prospect Jesse Biddle came in to pitch the ninth for Atlanta in what was his major league debut. Biddle is a former first round pick and number one prospect of the Phillies, but a myriad of injuries and freak occurrences almost ended his promising career. The lefthander had to have all of the adrenaline flowing and was touching 95 mph in his scoreless ninth. Biddle got Tomas Nido and Reyes to ground out, but walked Conforto, which allowed Cespedes the chance to make up for his 0-4 night. It looked like he had done it, as he hit a moonshot down the left field line that was initially called a home run, but an umpire conference quickly concluded without the use of replay that the ball was foul. It turned out to be a huge difference, as the home run would’ve given the Mets a three-run advantage heading to the bottom of the inning.

The bottom half of the inning began with a leadoff walk issued to Dansby Swanson. In stepped Camargo, who barreled up a 95 mph sinker to right center which scored the tying run while simultaneously giving the Braves the winning run on third with no one out. Braves catcher Carlos Perez was scheduled to hit next, but Snitker decided to pinch hit Kurt Suzuki instead, and he delivered with a sharp liner to Todd Frazier for an infield single. Familia faced another pinch hitter, this time Charlie Culberson, and struck him out for the first out. In stepped the speedy Inciarte, who appeared to be swinging away. Once Familia delivered the pitch, Inciarte showed his intention to bunt, and his perfect drag bunt caught the Mets by surprise, scoring the winning run easily.

Things to keep an eye on

Saturday was another brutal outing for the Mets bullpen, as the extreme early season usage seems to be catching up with them. The team made a move to fortify the bullpen early Saturday, sending Gerson Bautista back down to Double-A Binghamton in favor of Corey Oswalt from Triple-A Las Vegas, but Oswalt sat next to Matt Harvey on the bench in the bullpen.

Yoenis Cespedes struck out three more times Saturday to increase his season total to 37 in 89 plate appearances. Cespedes had the infamous golden sombrero Friday but made up for it with his clutch game winning hit. His K-rate now sits at a horrendous 41.6% for the season and it’s a troubling trend for the seemingly healthy slugger. The Mets need Cespedes to figure it out at the dish, and he has reportedly thought about bringing back his famous golf game in order to fix his swing.

Jay Bruce didn’t look 100% out there either, and his .194/.258/.354 triple slash leaves a lot to be desired. Bruce hasn’t looked great in the outfield and the Mets have two fantastic options on the bench in Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares. Bruce recently missed a game due to a flare up of plantar fasciitis, and it would seemingly serve the Mets well to place him on the DL while simultaneously getting Nimmo and Lagares more at-bats.

Fan-favorite (I laughed out loud typing this) Jose Reyes was 0-20 entering Saturday’s game, but went 3-4 and added a stolen base, which almost assuredly secured him three starts next week. Reyes shouldn’t be getting starts ahead of franchise cornerstone Amed Rosario and it’s hard to argue what value he brings to the table. I had the chance to see Phillip Evans and Luis Guillorme live this past week in Las Vegas (scouting notes piece coming this week!) and both bring much more to the table without the personal issues that Reyes possess.

The Mets will send Zach Wheeler (1-1, 2.77) out to face Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz (1-1, 2.53) as they look to split the four-game series.

Photo credit: Adam Hagy – USA Today Sports

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