With their stomachs full of poutine and bagged milk, the Atlanta Braves will travel from a successful Canadian campaign to Citi Field and face the New York Mets. The Braves took 2 of 3 from a capable Toronto squad to improve to 8-4 on the year. That would be a great start for any team, but with the basement-level expectations facing Atlanta this season it is stunning. However, it is only good enough for the second best start in the division. First is currently being held down by *RECORD SCRATCH* The Mets! Yes, the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves sit high atop the hilarious NL East. In fact, the team from New York is riding an 8 game winning streak. The last team to greet the Mets and beat the Mets was the Braves. Will Atlanta be the ones to break the streak, too?
The answer is almost certainly maybe. The Braves will once again have the good fortune of missing Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom in the rotation. Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colón will take the home mound. All three are consistent pitchers with good control and have shown their quality so far. Colón has been especially magnificent. The Amazing Bartolo has only walked 1 batter in 20 innings pitched, his pinpoint control is as good as ever despite the heavy odds against him. He has also managed to help himself at the plate by recording an RBI in two consecutive games.
Atlanta will be sending a better-than-anticipated offense against Bartolo and his comrades. In Toronto, Atlanta managed to score 18 runs over the three game series. What was supposed to be an anemic offense has shown flashes of excellence in the form of power shots from the likes of Gomes, Freeman, and Pierzynski as well as in the near-perfection that has been Nick Markakis. Markakis has reached base safely in 10 of the 11 games he has played. He has a .479 OBP going into the season’s third week. Largely because of his age and the fan favorite he came in to replace, Nick was a controversial signing during the off-season. However, the man in right field has been the Braves best hitter in the admittedly young 2015. He is making my updated #22 shirsey purchase easier to wear all the time.
The Braves offense has been good. That is surprising yet true. But even if it holds up in this series against New York, it may not be enough. The Mets have proven very adept at getting on base this season. The temporary loss of David Wright is certainly good for Atlanta, but the orange and blue lineup of hitters is solid. The Braves will be sending out Trevor Cahill and Eric Stults to face them in games one and two, respectively. In his debut Cahill looked like a wet pile of garbage loosely pushed together to form a little league pitcher. By inning two, he was just a pool of disappointment. Hopefully, Roger McDowell will be able to help him out, but fans should not expect what they saw last week to turn into something useful yet. This project may take time. The question is, if the Braves front office is really trying to go for wins, can they afford to take that time? Stults has not been great, either. He is a fine 5th starter, but the team will need him to eat more innings than he has been able to so far.
The bullpen is already overworked, having gone for 44.1 IP in just 12 games. The loss of McKirahan to the Special Cream Cops won’t help the situation. The wear and tear may have started to show in Toronto as the pen showed its humanity. Or perhaps the Atlanta relievers were simply seeking to prove the principle of regression to the mean after their unbelievable start. Either way, the first two games could be tough from the defensive side for Atlanta in games one and two. Teheran will face off against Colón in game three on Thursday. This should be a great matchup. Teheran surrendered an abnormal amount of homers against the hard-hitting Blue Jays, but there is no reason yet to think that performance represented any sort of new normal for the young ace. Do not panic, Braves fans.
This has immense potential to be a fun series. The Mets are on a red-hot streak, but they are still the same team that was predicted to finish anywhere from third to fifth in the division. Likewise, the Braves are off to a good start but the cracks in the good ship Fredi Gonzalez are already starting to cause some concern. The point is that the Braves and Mets, as said last time, are rebuilding the parity that made them great rivals at one point many years ago. They may not be the league’s best this year, but they both sit back in their rightful spots atop the division for the time being. And today kicks off a three day battle for that division lead. Boo, Mets. Yay, Braves.