With the Braves getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Mets taking two of three from the San Francisco Giants, our boys in blue and orange are once again a solid five games up in the standings coming into an Atlanta series. The Braves offense has been sputtering, posting a .197 average in their last ten games and hitting under .200 with runners in scoring position over their last fifteen. And, to top it all off, here come the Mets into Atlanta with their three horses: Pedro, Glavine and Trachsel. Yes, that’s right Mets (and Braves) fans, there will be no Victor Zambrano to give up five runs in the first two innings, successfully killing all momentum and good feelings. For the first time in quite awhile Mets management has gone out of their way to put themselves in the best situation possible — looking to take all three games from the Braves, and to continue to build a big lead in the standings. And, with the offense showing signs of life again, it all starts tonight at Turner Field. In the marquee matchup of April, the undefeated Pedro Martinez (4-0, 3.04) takes the mound against his greatest rival, John Smoltz (1-1, 4.15). In the second game, Tom Glavine (2-2, 2.78) returns to his House of Horrors to take on former Met John Thomson (0-0, 1.31). And, in the finale, the ever reliable Steve Trachsel (2-1, 3.13) cements his role as third starter by bumping Victor Zambrano back and taking on the newest Met Killer, Hiram Kyle Davies (1-2, 4.56).
Game 1: John Smoltz
What’s the Story? Better known in some circles as Satan Incarnate, Smoltz has been with Atlanta since 1988, and since donning a Braves jersey he’s gone 13-11 with an ERA of 3.53 in his fifty-eight appearances against the Mets. Smoltz was already a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher before last season, and he only helped his cause by going 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA in a remarkable 229.7 innings. Though Smoltz pitched a complete game shutout against the Padres a couple weeks ago, he’s been fairly hittable this season. If you remove his dominant start against the Padres he’s averaging five and two thirds innings and four runs a game. Still, he’s facing the Mets, and his arch nemesis Pedro, so you can probably expect a solid start out of him. Smoltz’s stuff is right where it was last season — he’s sporting a mid-90’s fastball, a hellacious slider, and his infamous splitter. He also features a solid curveball, a decent change.
Last Season: Smoltz was fairly dominant against the Mets last season despite a 3-2 record. In thirty-five innings he held the Mets to only nine runs, despite giving up thirty-three hits (including homeruns by Carlos Beltran and David Wright). Perhaps most impressive, he walked only five while striking out thirty-one. That, my friends, is what we call pitching.
What to Expect: Smoltz and Pedro didn’t duel to the death last season, so perhaps a winner will be determined this year — while both are still healthy enough to be at the top of their games. Though Smoltz has had more than a few questionable outings, you have to figure that a.) pitching at Turner Field, b.) pitching against the Mets and c.) pitching as much of a Must Win game as you can have in April, will all bring out the best in him. Smoltz has been a primarily fastball/slider pitcher this season, and he’s been pounding the corner down and away, just like Mazzone taught him to. He’s dominated righties with his slider throughout his career, and this year’s no different. Lefties should expect a healthy dose of splitters. Either pitch will be thrown to either hitter, however, when he’s got two strikes on you.
Game 2: John Thomson
What’s the Story? Thomson originally started the season out of the bullpen, but was quickly slotted back into the regular rotation after Horacio Ramirez went down with a strained hamstring. Though the tutelage of Leo Mazzone was credited as Thomson’s major reason for his rebirth, so far this year he’s been arguably the Braves best starter. Over his three starts he’s thrown seventeen innings, allowing only one earned run on fourteen hits. Thomson features a mid-90’s fastball, a hard sinker, a nice slider, a changeup and a curveball.
Last Season: Thomson pitched pretty well against the Mets last year, despite posting a 1-1 record in his three starts. In nineteen innings he allowed only six runs despite giving up eighteen hits (including a Cliff Floyd homer). He walked two and struck out fourteen.
What to Expect: Thomson’s success lies in keeping his pitches down in the strike zone. During his short stint with the Mets his major problem was the fact that his fastball stayed up in the zone, which resulted in him getting hammered often. With the Braves he’s mastered keeping the ball down, and the results have shown once again that he’s doing it well. He’s a pitcher who changes speeds often, which has driven Mets hitters nuts so far this year, and relies mostly on his fastball and sinker/slider. He’ll stay predominantly away from righties, but is willing to come inside against lefthanders due to his sinker. Righties should keep an eye out for the slider.
Game 3: Kyle Davies
What’s the Story? Click here for Davies’ original scouting report.
This Year: Instead of just this year — let’s look at both, shall we? Over the course of his young career, Kyle Davies is 2-0 in two starts against the Mets. He’s held them to eleven hits in sixteen and a third innings, and has struck out four while walking twelve. His ERA against the team is .55. Mets hitters have hit .193 against him. I hate him.
What to Expect: The Mets have this knack of making young pitchers look like the second coming of Tom Seaver, and Davies has been no exception. However, after the Mets get shutout by these rookie pitchers, they rarely ever face them again — and even more rarely face them two weeks later. This is an interesting test to see if Davies is really going to stay this good against the Mets, or if he’s just lucked into two terrific starts. With the offense looking like it’s about to get on another roll, we’ll see if Davies’ curveball can put up another nine innings of zeroes. Either way, his real name is Hiram, so even if he continues to kill us at least we’ll have something fun to chant at him for the next ten years.
Overall: I don’t care what anybody says, this is not shaping up to be just some April series with a lot of baseball yet to be played. The Mets rarely get second chances, and definitely never get them against the Braves, and yet here they are — with the same place they held in the standings last time they faced Andruw Jones and his coterie of ne’er-do-wells, and left for the west coast on a 1-2 trouncing. Five games is a healthy lead, but seven or even eight games is outstanding, and it’s never too early to attempt to put the Braves away — especially when they have a history of playing great late. The potential for a great Mets series is evident: while the pitching matchups are all terrific, the Mets have leg-ups on the bullpen and the offense if it’s truly starting to roll. Still, until the Mets beat the Braves, you’ve got to give the upperhand to Atlanta. Personally, I’m gonna say the Mets go 1-2 again — taking Trachsel’s start. But I do feel they’ll be close in all three games, and it’ll all give us a good feeling for the future.
Of course, if the offense picks it up this could be a totally different story.
Predicted Record: 12-9
Actual Record: 14-7
Predicted W/L: 10-11