Jacob deGrom and the Mets start a huge three-game series against the Braves at Citi Field on Friday night.
It's nice to have the best pitcher in baseball taking the mound the day after completing a sweep of the Indians, who are just a half game back of the second American League Wild Card, isn't it?
The Mets have been hot, but so has Atlanta. Exactly like the Mets, the Braves have won 11 of their past 15 games. Unfortunately, two of those 11 wins came at New York's expense when the two teams met in Atlanta last week.
"We just want to make sure we come out every day with the same energy, same passion, love for the game, and God willing, see everybody in October," said Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna, who is batting .393 (14-for-48) this season against the the Mets.
That said, the Mets begin tonight in prime position to open the series with a win. If that happens, of course, it would mean waking up tomorrow with visions in their heads of sweeping two playoff-chasing opponents in back-to-back series.
Mike Foltynewicz will start tonight for the Braves. It is the first time he is facing the Mets this season. It's total imagination, but I always fear these situations because it seems the pitcher has the advantage the first time around. The thing is, all season Foltynewicz has been average- to below-average, regardless of the competition and location of his starts. For instance, while Atlanta has won six in a row during games that he has started, he has allowed three or fewer runs in seven starts this season and four or more runs in his other seven starts.
In other words, he's been a crapshoot. And while he allowed just two runs against the Dodgers in his last start, he was pulled with two outs in the fifth having thrown 107 pitches.
What's more, the four batters on the Mets that Foltynewicz has done well against and faced the most during his career (Todd Frazier, Joe Panik, Wilson Ramos and Michael Conforto) are all hitting well during the past week.
Meanwhile, deGrom has been on fire.
In five starts since the All Star break, he has a 1.00 ERA and has struck out 56 batters in 45.0 innings. He has faced the Braves and pitched well three times this season, though he hasn't seen them since the end of June.
The Mets also have the advantage of being home, as opposed to when they lost two of three last week in Atlanta.
"This place is a completely different place when we're playing well," Conforto said after Wednesday's dramatic win against the Indians. "I think we just feed off the energy in this ballpark."
The Mets have won 13 of their last 14 and are 37-21 at Citi Field this season, which is the the sixth-best home winning percentage in baseball one win shy of their total home wins each of the past two seasons.
"I think there's obviously a confidence here," manager Mickey Callaway said recently. "Lately, the exciting games that we've been playing and our ability to come back, I really think it's due to our fan base. It's amazing the support we're getting."
Home or away, the difference Saturday and Sunday will likely come down to each of the teams' bullpen and fielding...
For the bulk of this season, Atlanta's bullpen has actually been worse than the Mets. However, while the Mets rebounded a bit and have since leveled out, Braves relievers have been surging.
In 34.1 innings since August 10, they have a 3.41 FIP and are ninth in ERA, thanks in large part to Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and former Mets lefty Jerry Blevins.
Blevins, who the Braves acquired in April, has continued to dominate left-handed hittters, including shutting down Conforto in two big spots last week.
Therefore, pressure the next few days will be mostly on the Mets' starting pitchers, who will need to go deep in games and keep the Braves off the base paths. Thankfully, the Mets have deGrom. Zack Wheeler will pitch Saturday, followed by Steven Matz, who has a 2.56 ERA over his past five starts.
In the end, I don't see a sweep, but I do expect the Mets to return last week's serve and win two of three against the Braves this weekend at home. In that reality, they would begin Monday at 69-61, 8.0 games behind the Braves in the NL East and likely a hair closer to swapping spots with the Cardinals in the Wild Card race.
By the way, as long as we're talking deGrom, how come he isn't being hyped as in the conversation for this year's Cy Young Award? He is not in the top 10 on ESPN's Cy Young Tracker and he has no odds put on him in Vegas.
Nevertheless, just like last year, deGrom is among the league leaders in WAR, along with pitchers like Cy Young frontrunner Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
Last season, deGrom's 9.0 WAR topped Scherzer's 7.3. This season, while Scherzer leads the stat and is projected to end 2019 with 7.5 WAR in roughly 28 starts, deGrom is directly behind him and projected to finish with 7.0 during 32 starts. Yet, still no love for deGrom.
It's also worth noting that others near the top in WAR for pitchers in the NL include two more Mets (Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler) and two more Nationals (Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin). Mike Soroka represents the Braves. Hooray, NL East!
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!