When the New York Mets when seven games in a row, it looked like somebody was finally ready to take change in the NL East. However, the Mets now carry a three-game losing streak to Atlanta after being swept in a weekend set at the Trop by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Will the Braves now be the team to take the baton and charge forward in the division? It may only be mid-May, but these division games continue to be extremely important and we have one here on Monday night. Taijuan Walker and Max Fried are the listed starters, with most sportsbooks having Atlanta laying -150 and a total of 7.5 for the game on ESPN.
Let’s dig into the game and the matchup to see if we can find a play.
New York Mets
The Mets were a positive regression candidate for a while prior to going on that seven-game Tootsee Roll. New York was one of the biggest underachievers with runners in scoring position, both in terms of hitting with them and stopping the other team from scoring. Their Cluster Luck regression was basically off the charts and then the series against the Rays hit.
The Mets dropped all three games and quite decisively at that by a combined score of 22-8, including a 7-1 loss in the series finale on Sunday. It sure seemed like a good spot for the Mets to keep rolling along with an extra hitter in the lineup thanks to the DH and against a Rays team that had been having its fair share of issues. That was not the case.
New York is still looking for its offensive stride. The Mets are also struggling a bit on the defensive end, as they are around a bottom-five team in fWAR on the hitting and fielding sides of the spectrum. WAR is a counting stat and the Mets have played fewer games than a lot of teams, but the 10% walk rate for the Mets has not translated into a lot of big offensive nights.
In fact, New York’s low home run total and poor slugging percentage are what truly stand out about this team, the start to the season, and about why they are just a couple games above .500.
Taijuan Walker strikes me as an enormous regression candidate. He has a 2.20 ERA with a 2.93 FIP. His low FIP is a byproduct of having allowed only one home run in his 41 innings of work. His .221 is ripe for regression with a 39% Hard Hit%. He’s had one of the biggest gaps in wOBA-xwOBA this season, suggestive of a lot of good fortune on the hard contact that he has allowed.
So maybe the cart went before the horse a little bit there. Walker is a prime regression candidate against an Atlanta offense that has been better than most, but hasn’t really lived up to the standards that should be set. The Braves have a 98 wRC+, which is just slightly below league average. They have hit a good number of home runs and have one of the slugging percentages above .400, but it hasn’t been enough.
Why? Because the Braves bullpen has been among the worst in the league. Despite a lot of starting pitcher injuries, Atlanta has done okay on the rotation side of things, due in large part to what Huascar Ynoa has been able to do. One of those injured pitchers from earlier this season is Monday’s starter in Max Fried.
Fried has been limited to five starts covering 22 innings of work. He has an ERA over 6 and a FIP just barely under 5. The tough start to the season for him on the injury front was certainly a big setback, but we may have seen some signs and flashes of coming out of it. Fried allowed just one earned run over six innings last time out against a Toronto lineup that has a lot of upside.
The Braves bullpen is slowly, but surely improving. Atlanta is still in the bottom 10 in both ERA and FIP, but the numbers have gotten a little bit better of late. The Braves entered Sunday with a 3.52 ERA and a 3.88 FIP over the last 14 days, so things are stabilizing back there.
Mets vs. Braves Free Pick
This is not going to come as a surprise to anybody that read the write-up, but the Braves are the pick for me. The Atlanta bullpen has improved quite substantially of late. The Braves offense is still a unit I expect to improve. Ultimately, it is a fade of Taijuan Walker, who has gotten very fortunate in a lot of ways, but especially on hard contact.
The Braves are usually among the league leaders in hard contact, so this seems like a good spot for Walker to struggle and for the Braves to secure a win. The money has been bet on Atlanta in a big way and I agree with the move here.
Pick: Atlanta Braves