While the Braves have been tearing it up as of late (averaging 5.67 runs per game in their last 18 games), the Mets have enjoyed mild success on their current 13-game homestand. The Mets have won each of their first three series on the homestand: Yankees, Twins, and Royals. While winning the series is what is important, the Mets have not looked tremendous in their series wins. If the Mets are going to get back in the 2002 playoff race, they are going to have to take care of business against one of their biggest rivals AND one of the hottest teams in baseball.
After several games where none of the teams knew each other thanks to interleague play, both the Mets and Braves get to settle down for a nice familiar rivalary. The first pitch of the series will be thrown by Al Leiter (7-6, 3.07 ERA) for New York. Leiter is eleventh in the league in ERA, but has only been helped by an average of 3.4 runs in support per game. Al has given up just three earned runs in his last two starts (1.84 ERA) but is just 1-1 in those two decisions. He will be facing Kevin Millwood (4-5, 4.02 ERA). Like Leiter, Millwood has been superb as of late, allowing just two runs in his last two starts (1.23 ERA).
Game two has Steve Trachsel (5-6, 3.54 ERA) against Greg Maddux (7-2, 3.20 ERA). Trachsel is coming off a no-hit bid against the Twins (Trachsel has given up just two earned runs in his last two starts), while Maddux has been bothered in his last two starts by a calf injury. He has pitched well through the pain (2 runs in 11 innings), but has had to leave both games early.
Game three sees Shawn Estes (3-5, 4.37 ERA) pitching against arguably the best pitcher in the game this season, Tom Glavine (11-3, 1.68 ERA). Glavine has started three games this season against the Mets. The Braves are 1-2 in those starts, but Glavine has allowed only three earned runs in 20 innings in those starts and has only walked 5 batters in his last 26 innings.
The series ends Thursday with Pedro Astacio (7-3, 2.92 ERA)and Damian Moss (4-2, 3.15 ERA). The rookie, Moss, has been very efective and has allowed an batting average of .199 against him. He does, however, have a less than sparkeling 55/42 SO/BB ratio. Moss is 2-0 in his last two starts and has given up just one run in his last 14 innings pitched (0.64 ERA).
A Closer Look
The Mets are 4-5 against the Braves this season: 2-1 at New York. The Braves are on a stretch where they have gone 21-5, which has given them a strong hold on the NL East. The Braves lead the East by 5.5 games, and are ahead of the fourth place Mets by 7.5 games. So to be completely straight forward and obvious; this is an important series for the Mets.
Should the Mets sweep the series, they are only 3.5 games back, which is a good place to be. Should the Braves sweep, the Mets are 11.5 games back and two games under .500. Let's look at the latter case. If the Braves sweep the Mets, the Mets will fall to 38-40 with a three game series against the Yankees to finish up the numeric half-way point. More importantly, they will be in fourth place, 11.5 games out of first, and probably just as many games out of the wild card since both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are playing so well.
This leads up to the trade deadline fiasco. What will the Mets do if they are in such a dimal predicament? Will the Mets suddenly give up on the season (seeing as how it would take a miracle to come back), or would they go after that miracle by adding a player or two, knowing that the Braves cannot take on any more salary. With the threat of a strike, few teams may be willing to trade. The Mets may find it hard to add a good player, or drop players if the front office gives up on the season.
The Mets simply cannot get swept. They cannot even afford to lose three games of the series, it would be just too hard to come back from such a hole. The Mets have won 6 of their last eight games, so perhaps the Mets will fare well enough against the Braves to salvage the rest of the season.
3B Edgardo Alfonzo is hitting .364 with 2 HRs & 5 RBI in his last 6 games....C Mike Piazza is hitting .389 (14-36) in his last 12 games with 3 HRs....OF Jay Payton has just ONE RBI in his last 13 games played....SS Rey Ordonez has just 3 hits in his last 20 at-bats (.150 avg)....Has OF Jeromy Burnitz finally started turning the corner? Burnitz is hitting .289 in his last 12 games and is 6 for his last 16 (.375), although he hasn't driven in a run in 7 games played...."Larry" Chipper Jones comes to Shea red-hot, hitting .381 in his last 12 games with 14 RBI....Atlanta is still waiting for OF Gary Sheffield to wake up. Sheffield enters the series hitting just .267 for the season and he has just 9 RBI in his last 18 games....Reliever John Smoltz has converted his last 9 save opportunities, allowing just two runs in those appearances....SS Rafael Furcal, best known for his speed, has just two stolen bases in his last 18 games and has been thrown out twice as many times ( 4 ) during that span....OF Andruw Jones, who had 4 RBI against the Mets in the last series, is in a 10-49 slump (.204 avg) entering this series at Shea.
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