By Matt Straub
It feels like the turn of the century again, at least for this weekend. The New York Mets and Atlanta Braves are both rolling and the winner of their weekend set will be in first place in the National League East. Much can change between now and October, but the two teams both made statements in the opening three games of the year and give this series as much of a big-game feel as early April can provide. Here’s a closer look at the series between old rivals.
New York Mets (2-1, 2nd place NL East)
at Atlanta Braves (3-0, 1st place NL East)
Friday, 7:35 p.m.
Jonathon Niese (Career: 52-51, 3.87 ERA) vs. Eric Stults (Career: 35-43, 4.12)
Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
Dillon Gee (Career: 40-34, 3.91) vs. Julio Teheran (2015: 1-0, 1.50)
Sunday 1:35 p.m.
Bartolo Colon (2015: 1-0, 1.50) vs. Alex Wood (2015: 1-0, 3.60)
Both teams have some. The Braves hadn’t swept anyone to start the year since 2007, and no one thought they would this year, which started with a trade of closer Craig Kimbrel and the apparent admission they were blowing up the roster. Instead, the Braves took three from a Miami Marlins team which thinks it can play in October. The Mets took the rubber game of a three-game set in Washington Thursday afternoon, giving them a series win over the Nationals, who most expect to roll through the National League. Matt Harvey threw six dominant innings, getting better with each, to seal the series win.
Three Mets storylines
1. The bullpen needs work: The Mets’ starters have been great, which is music to their fans’ ears since the bullpen looks shaky. Jenrry Mejia is hurt, Jeurys Familia was lousy Thursday, and there aren’t many other exciting options in the bullpen to begin with. It’s not a huge issue yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
2. Matt Harvey is back: He won’t pitch in this series, but we’re going to talk about him anyway. He was solid in his first two innings Thursday and simply dominant after that, needing about 50 pitches to finish his last four frames. Most importantly, he looked to be throwing easily and without any kind of extra stress, making fans feel optimistic about his health going forward.
3. The offense is struggling: Travis d’Arnaud has five hits, but no one else on the team has more than three hits in three games. Lucas Duda is hitting .273, but no one else has an average close to that besides the young catcher. It’s hardly alarming after three games, but the Mets might need to be a pitching and defense first team this year if the offense isn’t there.
Three Braves To Know
1. You probably already know Freddie Freeman, but he’s worth paying more attention to. He’s off to a 5-for-13 start and will be a big threat for the Mets pitchers this weekend. The Braves have given him some solid help so far, which helps lengthen the lineup. Every order needs a star to anchor it, however, and Freeman is that player.
2. Nick Markakis, one of the big offseason additions for Atlanta has been decent, but the Braves will need more from him to truly get their offense rolling.
3. Teheran’s velocity was down last season, but he looked good in six strong innings against Miami. A Mets offense which has seen Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, however, won’t be intimidated. Perhaps a couple of well-timed hits against Strasburg will help ignite the Mets, but they’ve been OK against great pitchers already.
The dreadful Phillies help the Mets open Citi Field for the new year on Monday, which means a good weekend will put the Mets in position to have a fantastic start to the year.