NY Mets Host Braves For Weekend Series
By: Willie Bee
Thursday, August 9, 2012
It was a nice story earlier this season, made possible by solid pitching and timely hitting. But any dreams or hopes the New York Mets had of pulling off another miracle in Flushing have since died following an 8-18 run since the all-star break.
Their eyes now on next year and beyond, Mets faithful get their first glimpse of the future Friday night when rookie Matt Harvey makes his Citi Field debut in a battle against the rival Atlanta Braves. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. (ET) and the Braves counter with lefty Paul Maholm.
Opening odds for Game 1 listed the Braves -130 with an 8-run total priced 20 cents to the low side.
The NL East race has been whittled down to just two teams as Washington and Atlanta battle it out for the honors. Play started Thursday with the idle Braves four games behind the Nationals who were finishing a series in Houston. Atlanta owned the third-best record in the National League (64-47, +11.6 units) and a half-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates at the top of the wild-card hunt.
Fredi Gonzalez's gang has taken advantage of a soft schedule to begin the second half by going 18-8, including 12 wins the last 15 trips to a diamond. The Braves have faced only two teams with winning records following the break, Washington and San Francisco, posting a 3-4 mark in those seven matchups while beating up on the likes of the Mets (3-0), Marlins (5-2), Phillies (5-1) and Astros (2-1). The schedule will stay fairly easy from here on out with two more series vs. the Nats, a home set with the Dodgers plus a visit to the Giants and a season-ending trip to Pittsburgh the only plus-.500 squads Atlanta has left.
One oddity about this weekend is the Braves are sending three hurlers to the mound that were not part of their rotation when the 2012 campaign opened. Maholm, who was acquired from the Cubs before the trade deadline, will be followed by Kris Medlen on Saturday before Ben Sheets wraps things up Sunday.
Maholm is making his second start for the Braves and seemed to be set up for a nice debut in Atlanta last Saturday facing a Houston team he has dominated in the past. The lefty pitched well (7 IP, 3 ER), making just two mistakes to the Astros' Justin Maxwell, and took a 3-2 loss with the Braves offense stymied by Houston rookie Lucas Harrell.
The Mets, and Citi Field in particular, have given Maholm some trouble the past few years. His only appearance against New York this season was a scoreless inning of relief on this mound in early-July; the previous three seasons saw Maholm go 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA in five starts against the Mets, 0-2 with a 9.42 ERA in three Flushing assignments.
Harvey's home debut for the Mets comes after beginning his MLB career with three starts out west. He sparkled at Arizona in his first start, striking out 11 in 5-1/3 innings of shutout baseball, and enjoyed a decent performance despite a loss in San Francisco. But the Padres, who have so little offense, knocked him around pretty good last weekend in San Diego at a very pitcher-friendly park, scoring five times with a pair of homers in Harvey's five frames.
The seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft should have plenty of family on hand for the game after growing up in nearby Groton, CT. He recorded 268 strikeouts in less than 250 minor league innings the past couple of seasons before being called up to the parent club.
Atlanta and New York have swapped a couple of sweeps so far this year, the Mets manning the broom in the season-opening series at Citi Field and the Braves returning the favor at Turner Field to begin the second half. Even with losing the first three in New York back in April, Atlanta has a 17-13 record at Citi Field. Two of the three in Flushing this year went 'under' the total.
Weather could be an issue for Friday's contest with the forecast listing a 90 percent chance of evening thundershowers. Rain is also in Saturday's forecast (50 percent), meaning any potential make-up would probably be set for either Sunday or when the clubs meet at Citi Field the weekend of Sept. 7-9.