The Mets finish off their homestand this weekend with a three game set against the Atlanta Braves. Here are some things you might want to know about them:
Record: 31-26, third place NL East
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez. Lifetime 307-305 (.502) managerial record.
Park: End of the Mets homestand, still Citi Field.
Quickly . . .
Can they hit? Not so much
Can they pitch? Yes
Can they field? Yup
Who’s their best player? Brian McCann, the best catcher in baseball.
CF – Jordan Schafer – L
LF – Martin Prado – R
3B – Larry Jones – S
C – Brian McCann – L
RF – Eric Hinske – L
2B – Dan Uggla – R
1B – Freddie Freeman – L
SS – Alex Gonzalez – R
Through his first 57 games as an Atlanta Brave, second baseman Dan Uggla is batting .175 with a .241 on-base percentage, both figures second worst in the National League; and, oh yeah, his .316 slugging is fifth worst. Jason Bay and Hanley Ramirez can relax; Uggla is massive-head and shoulders the most disappointing player in the division. The Braves are 11th in the NL in team on-base percentage, 10th in team slugging percentage, and 12th in runs per game, and have struggled to score runs all season long. Their biggest problem has been Uggla – almost all other Braves have on-base and slugging percentages at the NL average – but they are also hilariously slow. They have stolen the fewest bases (and are the only team to have more caught stealings than successful steals), and Jose Reyes has twice as many triples as the whole team. Baseball-Prospectus estimates that their baserunning has cost them 11 runs, not an insignificant difference: If they held this pace for the season, it would cost them about 3 games in the standings.
And they’re even slower than usual now, as two-thirds of the outfield and the only stolen base threats (sort of), Jason Heyward and Nate McClouth, are on the mend. Their replacements are Jordan Schafer, who has finally made it back to the majors after failing to hold the center field job as a rookie in 2009, and Eric Hinske, who shifts into the lineup in right.
6/3: RHP – Derek Lowe (vs Jon Niese)
6/4: RHP – Jair Jurrjens (vs Dillon Gee)
6/5: RHP – Tim Hudson (vs R.A. Dickey)
Miss: RHP – Tommy Hanson
The reason the Braves are five games over. The rotation leads the NL in staff ERA (3.24), and they have the lowest WHIP and second lowest opponent’s batting average. This might be a little misleading, as the difference between the Braves’ pitchers and the other elite rotations in the NL — the Giants and Phillies — may be just the quality of the defense behind them: the Braves are fourth in park-adjusted defensive efficiency (which measures how well a team turns balls in play into outs, adjusted for their home park), while the Giants rank 13th and the Phillies 28th. But whatever the reasons, the Braves have still been better at preventing runs than any other team in the NL. One note: With a couple of off-days, they’re running with a four man rotation at the moment. Rookie Mike Minor was optioned to Triple-A last week and should be recalled when Atlanta needs a fifth starter again next weekend.
Friday night’s start goes to Derek Lowe. He’s moved away from his sinker a bit this season, mixing in more sliders, changeups and cutters, leading to more strikeouts and more walks, but the same sweaty results (4.03 ERA). Jair Jurrjens starts Saturday night; he’s giving up more contact this season, but is keeping the ball down. He leads the league in ERA at 1.51 and was just voted NL pitcher of the month for May. Sunday night’s game (thanks, ESPN!) will be started by Tim Hudson, who is the same old, same old: lots of sinkers in the zone and frowning baldness. All righthanded pitchers, so begin getting mentally prepared for Willie Harris starts.
C – David Ross – R
IF – Brooks Conrad – S
IF – Diory Hernandez – R
UT – Joe Mather – R
OF – Matt Young – L
David Ross is hitting .308 with a .564 slugging percentage as the backup catcher. So that’s kind of awesome. Little known fact: Brooks Conrad and Joe Mather drink tea together and read selections from Pride and Prejudice at precisely 4 p.m. before every home game. No other Braves are invited. A righthanded hitter, Mather might get the start in right field tonight against the lefthanded Jon Niese.
RHP – Craig Kimbrel
LHP – Johnny Venters
RHP – Cory Gearrin
RHP – Scott Proctor
LHP – Eric O’Flaherty
RHP – Scott Linebrick
LHP – George Sherrill
RHP – Christhian Martinez
Maybe the league’s best bullpen. Atlanta’s pen is first in strikeout rate, first in ground ball rate, has the fourth-lowest walk rate, third-lowest home run rate, and ranks second in ERA (and first in FIP and xFIP). Closer Craig Kimbrel leads all relievers with 42 strikeouts (in just 28 innings), and eighth inning man Johnny Venters has allowed just 2 runs all season, giving him a 0.52 ERA. Lefties Eric O’Flaherty and George Sherrill have also pitched well, and apparently Scott Proctor is alive and safe from Joe Torre . . . though maybe not safe from Fredi Gonazlez. The Braves’ new manager likes to manage: His club leads the league in pitching changes, intentional walks, and is second in sacrifice hits. Also, they lead the league in weird two-strike squeeze plays against the Mets in April.
And those were some things to know about the Atlanta Braves.