Braves vs. Mets Series Preview: The Comforts of Home

After a long and forgettable road trip, in which they had four chances to win a series and blew all of them, the Braves return at last to Turner Field to face the Mets. While the Braves are obviously not playing very well right now, it's important to note that they aren't exactly being blown out: of the six losses on the trip, three were by one run, one was by two runs, and two were by three runs. It won't take much to turn the team around.

In fact, there's good reason to think that merely returning home should do the trick, since the Braves have the best home record in the majors at 34-13. Even better, those 47 home games are easily the fewest in the majors. In fact, only one other NL team (the Pirates with 49) has played fewer than 52 home games. That means the Braves get at least five more home games the rest of the way than their competitors, which is just a huge advantage for this team. The month of August is particularly kind to the Braves, as they have 28 more games scheduled, 19 of which are at home.

All of which is saying that you shouldn't be surprised if the Braves go on a big hot streak this month and put some space between themselves and the rest of the division. Hopefully, that hot streak will start tonight against the Mets, who haven't exactly been hot lately and have actually dropped into a tie for third place with the Marlins.

Pitching Matchups

Monday, 7:00 PM ET: Tim Hudson (11-5, 2.40 ERA, irrelevant FIP) vs. Johan Santana (8-5, 3.11 ERA, 3.55 FIP)

The series gets off to a great start with this fantastic pitching matchup. Hudson is coming off one of his most impressive starts of the year, in which he allowed just one run in 7.2 IP against the Nationals, striking out seven and not going to a three-ball count until his last batter.

By contrast, Santana is coming off one of his worst starts of the year: seven runs allowed on 13 hits in 5.2 IP, with only two strikeouts, against the Cardinals. Before that, however, Santana had allowed one run or fewer in each of his five previous starts, including seven shutout innings against the Braves. Hopefully Santana-killer Matt Diaz (14/26, 1.248 OPS lifetime) can help the Braves bring out Bad Santana.

Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET: Derek Lowe (10-9, 4.58 ERA, 4.39 FIP) vs. R.A. Dickey (7-4, 2.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP)

Lowe has been frustrating lately, as he hasn't made it through the sixth inning in any of his past four starts (with an ERA of nearly 5.50 during that stretch). For a pitcher who derives much of his value from his ability to eat innings, that's not very good. In addition, he has gotten only 43% ground balls in that stretch (career rate: 63%), which has led to a poor 26% line drive rate (career: 17%). In other words, his sinker hasn't been sinking, and he's been hit hard because of it. Hopefully he can break out of this slump against the Mets.

Dickey, a 35-year-old knuckleballer, has come out of nowhere to be the Mets' best starter this year. To give you some perspective of how surprising he's been, his previous best ERA was the 4.62 mark he put up last year. His previous best FIP was 4.31, and that was all the way back in 2003; since 2004, he hadn't been below 4.99. He's never made more than 15 starts in a season (this will be his 15th this year). He's just never been very good before, and now all of the sudden, he's excellent. Whether this extended stretch of good fortune is due to highly fluky luck or Dickey learning to throw his knuckler with much more consistency and movement, I can't say (though the longer he keeps this up, the less explanatory power "luck" will have).

Wednesday, 7:00 PM ET: Kris Medlen (5-0, 3.84 ERA, 4.27 FIP)* vs. Mike Pelfrey (10-5, 4.10 ERA, 3.80 FIP)

* Numbers as a starter only.

Medlen has struggled since returning to the rotation following a brief exile in the bullpen. In two starts, he allowed eight runs on 14 hits in 11 innings (6.55 ERA), though he did strike out 12 men. Somehow, despite his struggles, the Braves won both of those starts, making them 12-1 in games he has started. The fact that we won Medlen's two starts on the road trip while losing both of Tommy Hanson's starts (2 ER in 13.1 IP) seems like a sick joke played on us by the baseball gods. Medlen left his last start after being hit by a pitch on the right forearm, but he seems to have recovered quite nicely and should be 100% for Wednesday's game.

After a fantastic start to the season, Pelfrey has regressed back to his natural abilities in a big way. If you thought Derek Lowe's recent rough patch was brutal, check out Pelfrey's: he hasn't made it through the sixth inning in any of his last six starts, putting up an ERA of 9.95 in that stretch. He's had a negative WPA in all six starts, given up 54 hits in only 25.1 IP, and put up a miserable 13:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In other words, he's been Charlie Morton-esque for six starts. It'd be nice if he could keep that going for a while longer.

Who's Hot (and Not) On the Mets?

(all stats over the last 14 days)

HOT
Angel Pagan-- .367 / .456 / .653 in 58 PA

NOT
Carlos Beltran-- .186 / .321 / .279 in 53 PA
Luis Castillo-- .209 / .277 / .256 in 47 PA
Ike Davis-- .167 / .226 / .333 in 53 PA
Jeff Francoeur-- .138 / .194 / .241 in 31 PA
Josh Thole-- .115 / .281 / .231 in 32 PA

Basically, for the past two weeks, the Mets offense has consisted of Pagan, David Wright (.277 / .333 / .468), and Jose Reyes (.317 / .349 / .433), and six black holes. They do have some excuse, as Jason Bay and Rod Barajas are on the DL, but it's not like those guys were lighting the world on fire, either.

Stat of the Series: 3.18

The Braves have scored 70 runs in 16 games since the All-Star break (4.38 per game), which isn't great, but is worlds better than the Mets' 54 runs in 17 games (3.18 per game). As frustrated as I am with the Braves' offense right now, I've got to admit that it could be a lot worse.

It certainly does seem like we're catching the Mets at the right time. Hopefully between playing at home and being able to take advantage of their hitting woes, we should win at least two out of three.

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