It is hard to really label a particular game or a particular week’s worth of games as essential during a baseball season given the number of games that are played, but if you need to point to one week that the Braves REALLY need to put together a good showing to have a chance...this is it right here and it starts with a series against the NL East-leading Mets.
While the Braves will be coming off a much-needed off day after playing 10 games in seven days, they will enter this home series against the Mets in third place in the NL East and five games back. The wild card picture is even more bleak, so for the moment...the only realistic path for the Braves to make the playoffs is by winning the division and the Mets are the biggest obstacle.
While the Braves have been pretty consistently a .500 team all season long, they are at least catching the Mets at a time where they are not playing their best baseball. After splitting a four game series against the Braves a week ago, they split a four game set against the Phillies as well and their offense has failed to show up more often than they have (which, oddly enough, sounds a lot like the Braves lately.
So with that, we have two teams that are not exactly lighting the world on fire playing in Atlanta this time for a series just a week after their last matchup with Atlanta getting a day off ahead of it. This series is an important one, so lets break it down.
Tuesday, June 29th - 7:20 PM EST (Bally Sports South)
Charlie Morton (3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 80.2 IP, 93 K, 28 BB)
After what was a fairly mediocre start to the season, Morton has been an absolute stud for the Braves of late when they have needed him with a 2.38 ERA in his last seven starts and he has been even better than that recently. He is also going to be pitching with an extra day of rest going into this start which might be the one the Braves need to win the most given the pitching they face in the next two games.
Tylor Megill (4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K in debut last week)
Megill made his MLB debut against the Braves last week and the Mets emerged victorious although that had a lot more to do with what Kyle Wright was doing on the mound than what Megill did or didn’t do. The lefties in the Braves’ lineup performed well against Megill, in particular Freddie Freeman, so that is worth monitoring. Also of note, the Braves were far from at full strength during his debut as Ronald Acuna Jr. was not in the lineup. That could be a big, big difference.
Wednesday, June 30th - 7:20 PM EST (Bally Sports South)
Max Fried (4.21 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 57.2 IP, 55 K, 20 BB)
Fried is another guy in the rotation that was pitching much better lately than he had early in the season, but he is also coming off an IL stint where he was dealing with yet another blister issue. All signs are that the Braves were just trying to stay ahead of it, but it will be interesting to see if there are any lingering effects. Jeff McNeil is a guy that has given Fried fits in the past (career .375 hitter against Max), but other than that...Max has generally pitched pretty well against most of the guys the Mets will trot out so far.
Taijuan Walker (2.38 ERA. 1.03 WHIP, 79.1 IP, 82 K, 25 BB)
The Braves managed to dodge playing against Walker last week, but if it weren’t for the cheat code that is Jacob deGrom’s performance this season, Taijuan would be getting a lot more attention for how good he has been. One big development over his last few starts is that he is walking a lot few batters (just seven free passes combined in his last seven starts) and that has allowed him to keep his pitch counts pretty low and go deeper into games. There isn’t a ton of experience against Walker in this Braves lineup and no one has been particularly great against him in those limited samples. This matchup is the one I would circle as the pivotal one in the series.
It looks like this matchup just got a tad easier as David Peterson is going to take the hill instead of Walker.
The Mets have named David Peterson their starter for Wednesday in Atlanta, so they'll push Taijuan Walker back until Friday at Yankee Stadium. Jacob deGrom goes in between, on Thursday, as previously announced.— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) June 28, 2021
Thursday, July 1st - 7:20 PM EST (Bally Sports South)
Drew Smyly (4.79 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 67.2 IP, 57 K, 23 BB)
This is going to easily be the hardest game for the Braves to win, but on a positive note, Drew Smyly has pitched pretty well in his last few starts and somewhat importantly, the Mets haven’t gone against him this year. The downside is that the Mets have some problematic lefties in their lineup and Smyly has been surprisingly poor against them this season. Smyly’s breaking ball will need to be sharp to keep the Braves in this one.
Jacob deGrom (0.69 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 78 IP, 122 K, 11 BB)
Can we just appreciate objectively, at least for a brief moment, just how insane of a season that Jacob deGrom is having in 2021? Typing his line this season almost made me weep. He shutdown the Braves last week and he is amidst a potentially all-time great season, so this is going to be a really, really tough one. If you are looking for a silver lining here, its that the Braves did get him out of the game after five innings last week, he has had some nagging minor injuries here and there of late, and guys like Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. have had some measure of success against him in their careers. Also, deGrom DID actually give up a couple earned runs in his last start and his strikeout numbers have waned a bit, although that that is newsworthy says more about how insane he has been up until now than anything else.