By Declan Finn
The off day Monday for the New York Mets either came at the best possible time or the worst, as there isn't a hotter team in baseball right now. With eight straight victories and a perfect record at home, the last thing many Mets players and fans would have hoped for is an off day, as momentum could be lost in an instant. But with the immense rash of injuries suffered by the ball club early on, having a day to get the roster in order could be just the thing the Mets need to set themselves up for a continued run in becoming one of the National League's best teams.
The Mets will get the opportunity to prove it against one of their key nemesis over the years, as the Atlanta Braves come into Citi Field starting Tuesday night. The Braves already own a series victory over the Mets this season, so this matchup is an early-season battle of NL East heavyweights. Here is our in-depth preview of the series.
Atlanta Braves (8-4, 2nd place NL East)
at New York Mets (10-3, 1st place NL East)
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
Trevor Cahill (0-1, 15.43) vs. Jonathon Niese (1-0, 1.59)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.
Eric Stults (0-1, 6.30) vs. Dillon Gee (0-1, 7.59)
Thursday, 1:10 p.m.
Julian Teheran (2-0, 3.71) vs. Bartolo Colon (3-0, 2.25)
It might not be possible for the Mets to have any more momentum than they do at this moment. They have won eight straight games, are a perfect 7-0 at home and own the second best record in the major leagues. The Mets swept four games from the Marlins and three from the Phillies heading into this matchup with their divisional rivals. It hasn't been all perfect for the Mets, however, as injuries have taken their toll across the roster, but every challenge has been answered so far with victories. Since opening the season with five straight wins, the Braves are just 3-4 over their last seven games and sit in second place in the division. The Braves did take two of three from the Blue Jays this weekend and already have won two of three games against the Mets in their home. There's momentum on both sides in what should be an early-season showdown.
Three Mets Storylines
1. In addition to the winning streak, the biggest news surrounding the Mets is injuries. Two players broke bones in a matter of moments Sunday, with catcher Travis d'Arnaud breaking his hand and relief pitcher Jerry Blevins breaking his forearm against the Marlins. d-Arnaud will be out at least three weeks, while Blevins will be gone for at least six weeks. Both players have had huge roles in the team's success, with d'Arnaud leading the Mets in RBI and Blevins retiring all 15 batters he's faced out of the bullpen. Now, the Mets will have to replace that production. The spotlight will shine brightest on catching prospect Kevin Plawecki, who was called up from Triple-A and will take d'Arnaud's place behind the plate. He gets his first action of the year.
2. The Mets are still waiting for Curtis Granderson to become the power hitter they envisioned when he signed as a free agent prior to last season. Granderson had a disappointing first go-around in Queens, hitting .227 with 20 homers and 66 RBI, but was expected to be a big contributor this season after a year getting acclimating to the National League. Well, things haven't worked out that way so far. Granderson is hitting just .146 with no extra base hits and no RBI in 13 games. Going against a pair of beatable pitchers Tuesday and Wednesday could be the time for the ex-Yankee to get going at the plate. If not, it could set the stage for another long, depressing season for Granderson.
3. It will be interesting to see if the buzz in and around Citi Field remains in this series with neither Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom on the mound in the three games. The home crowds for the Mets this season have already been enormous, with at least 40,000 fans packing the stadium three times, and another two dates that had 39,000 fans attend. Last year, the Mets drew 40,000 fans just twice. This year, the Mets have beaten that number in seven games. With names like Niese, Gee and Colon pitching in this series, the numbers may take a big dip, which could lead to a letdown of excitement in the crowd and on the field. If the fans keeping packing Citi Field, however, the Mets could have something special this year.
Three Braves To Know
1. Nick Markakis might be a familiar name, albeit in a different uniform. Markakis, who is from Glen Cove, NY, made his name as an Oriole for nine years in the American League, but has transitioned nicely to the National League. He's batting a team-high .375 with eight runs scored, a double and five RBI. He has a five-game hit streak, going 10-for-16 with six walks over that span.
2. Freedie Freeman is off to a powerful start with the Braves, hitting .283 with four home runs and eight RBI in 12 games. Freeman beat up on Blue Jays pitching this weekend, going 5-for-11 with a double, two home runs and four RBI in three games. Freeman had a big dip in production last year, with 18 homers and 78 RBI, so his early numbers are encouraging for the Braves, and discouraging to everyone else in the division.
3. The Braves sent shock waves through Major League Baseball when they traded closer Craig Kimbrel right before the season began to the San Diego Padres. The move was seen by many as the Braves already giving up on the season and getting what they could for one of the best closers in baseball. The Braves decided to go with Jason Grilli as the new closer, and the results have been positive over the first two weeks of the season. Grilli leads the National League in saves with six, allowing one run on two hits in six innings of work. Grilli saved 33 games for the Pirates in 2013, so he has the ability to do it. But there are likely many within the Mets organization and fan base who are happy to see Kimbrel out of the division.
The Mets go from playing their NL East rivals to playing their cross-town rivals, with three games against the Yankees at the Stadium starting Friday night.