In a season where Braves fans will be looking for silver linings rather than silver trophies, a Sunday sweep at the hands of the division rival Mets encapsulated the mas o menos experience of the 2016 Braves.
On the plus side, Aaron Blair made his long-awaited major league debut and fared well against a Mets offense that had torched Atlanta pitching in the prior two games of the series. While the Mets had scored 14 runs in two games, Blair kept them to three runs in 5 and 1/3 innings.
Blair found himself in an early hole after back-to-back singles began the game against him, but after a Michael Conforto sacrifice fly, he notched his first major league strikeout against Lucas Duda while AJ Pierzynski threw out Asdrubal Cabrera at second on a full count pitch. That was the first of three double plays turned behind Blair, as he faced just one batter over the minimum (unfortunately, that one batter reached base due to a leadoff walk) over the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings.
The Braves bats, meanwhile, were having a tough time with Jacob deGrom. The exceptions to this were Daniel Castro and Adonis Garcia, who combined for two singles in the second, though the Braves failed to score. Castro singled again in the third and Adonis in the fourth, but in both cases, they were left stranded. The Braves finally gave a bit of support to Blair in the fifth, as Jace Peterson laced a leadoff single, was bunted over by Blair, and scored on a Nick Markakis single. A big inning threatened as Daniel Castro notched his third hit off of deGrom, but Freddie Freeman hit a comebacker to the pitcher and the game stayed knotted at one.
The deadlock didn't hold for long, as a shutdown inning proved elusive and the Mets pushed more runs across the board. A one-out walk to Curtis Granderson and a single to Asdrubal Cabrera brought up Michael Conforto, who stroked a deep ground rule double to right, giving the Mets the lead. At that point, Blair had only thrown 80 pitches, but he got the ol' hook from Fredi Gonzalez anyway in favor of Alexi Ogando. (This was a bit puzzling, as the following batter, Lucas Duda, has a 45-point wRC+ split for his career in favor of facing righties, and the Braves had Hunter Cervenka available for the game.) Ogando induced a sacrifice fly from Duda to cap the Mets' scoring, and struck out Wilmer Flores after an intentional walk to end the frame.
The final line on Blair: 16 outs recorded, six hits, three runs (all earned), two walks, and one strikeout. It wasn't a peripheral-happy outing, but Blair induced fairly weak contact in the middle innings, and was really torched by Asdrubal Cabrera setting up first-and-third situations for him in the first and the fifth. In any case, the outing was something to build on, and he held a really hot offensive team at bay the way his Atlanta teammates had failed to do earlier in the series.
deGrom would record only two more outs after he had regained the lead, but the Mets bullpen kept the anemic Atlanta attack off the board until the ninth. Jim Henderson, Hansel Robles, and Jerry Blevins stymied the bats before giving way to closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth. Familia had a bit of an adventure, as he allowed a leadoff hit to Kelly Johnson and a two-out single to Jeff Francoeur to cut the lead to one. Nick Markakis then hit a soft grounder and reached first safely to bring up Daniel Castro. Castro had already accumulated three hits at the expense of Jacob deGrom, but was not able to put up a four-hit outing and rolled out to second to end the game and give the Mets a sweep.
The Braves thus drop to 4-14 despite pounding out 12 hits on the afternoon. Nick Markakis and Daniel Castro both had three-hit days at the top of the Atlanta lineup, and both Adonis Garcia and Kelly Johnson chipped in with two hits apiece, but when Freddie Freeman, AJ Pierzynski, Mallex Smith, and Jace Peterson put up just one hit combined, and no one on the team hits an extra-base hit (again), runs are going to be at a premium. The Braves actually reached base more than the Mets (12 hits to seven hits and four walks) in this one, but the one extra-base hit the Mets notched (Conforto's double) came with runners on base and was really the difference in the contest.
Alexi Ogando, Hunter Cervenka, and Jason Grilli all pitched scoreless innings in relief (Ogando did yield the sacrifice fly that capped the scoring), but to little avail.
The Red Sox come to town on Monday to start the two-and-two home-and-home series.