Braves/Mets in Huge Weekend Battle

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SHOWDOWN FOR NL EAST SUPREMACY ON FOX TODAY, TBS SUNDAY

The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets have a lot in common.

  • Both are contenders in the NL East
  • Both play their home games in spacious pitcher-friendly ballparks.
  • Both have great home records, with Atlanta sitting at 30-10 for the year (a stunning 75% success rate), and the Mets entering this weekend set with a 29-14 mark.
  • Both have losing records on the road, with the Mets a disappointing 18-24 right now, and Atlanta entering the weekend series with a 20-25 mark (about a third of the Majors are at .500 or better).
  • Both are about playing about .500 ball this year in the NL East, a division where the rivals have been getting up for each other this year.
  • Both have been in good form the last month, with the Mets at 19-11 their last 30 games entering the weekend, the Braves at 18-12.
  • Both had winning records in Interleague play, suggesting they really have upgraded their franchises recently rather than just being good "for National League"teams.

They're not exactly clones. But, the similarities will be hard to miss as you watch these teams square off Saturday afternoon on FOX-TV, and Sunday afternoon in the weekly TBS game. Friday Night's series opener was televised on the MLB Network. So, this is CLEARLY the marquee series of the weekend!

Here are the main differences as we see them right now.

  • Atlanta grades out better in our "Wins Minus Home Games Played"category because they've played more road games than home games. Entering the weekend series:

Atlanta +10
NY Mets +4

Last night's game finished after publication deadlines. If the Mets won, those numbers are live today. If Atlanta took the opener, we're now talking about +11 and +3. That's a meaningful difference. Atlanta's slight lead in your newspaper standings is actually a little bigger than it looks. They'll have a long homestand at some point that evens out the schedule split. As long as they don't collapse in that stretch of games, they're going to be tough to catch from behind.

  • Atlanta has had better luck in one-run games, which is a sign of hope for Mets fans.

Atlanta 14-12
NY Mets 10-15

Put them both at equality, and the race tightens up. Atlanta still has a hidden edge in the scheduling situation. But...this helps reduce that edge potentially. If the Mets win the close games that the math says they should be winning, they can certainly hang around the race.

  • Records may favor the Mets over the last 30 games, but the Braves step up if you look at the last 20 games (13-7 to 10-10), or the last 10 games (6-4 to 5-5). We were impressed with Atlanta's series win at Philadelphia. They had a chance to step on the throat of the third place Phils, and they did. The Mets didn't exactly make a statement in losing a home series to the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds.

That's the big picture entering these two big TV games. Let's get more specific, looking at the pitching matchups.

Saturday: Tim Hudson (8-4, 2.44) vs. Mike Pelfrey (10-3, 3.39)

Hudson made the All-Star team. Many thought Pelfrey was going to as well, but his name wasn't called. Perhaps the impression that he was padding his stats at home was a key factor. Pelfrey's 4.17 Road ERA isn't exactly the stuff of All-Stars. And, last year he had an ERA of 5.03 in 31 starts...suggesting that he was far from an All-Star type pitcher. Can't argue with the snubbing when you adjust for context.

Hudson has been terrific everywhere this year, taking what had already been a stellar career one step further. Pelfrey may have the better won-lost record. Hudson's been the better pitcher this season and during their time in the league.

Sunday: Derek Lowe (9-7, 4.40) vs. Johan Santana (6-5, 3.15)

Lowe has been very inconsistent this year, mixing strong outings and weak outings in a way that explains the 9-7 record. When he pitches like an ace, he wins. Otherwise, he's pretty much throwing batting practice...and he loses. The damage done in those bad outings has his ERA up near four and a half. Which Lowe will we see Sunday afternoon?

Santana has pitched in bad luck this year, often being victimized by a lack of run support.

LOSSES IN GREAT STARTS
2-1 at Florida
3-2 at Atlanta
2-0 at Milwaukee
5-1 at San Diego
2-1 at Washington

Santana allowed a TOTAL of THREE earned runs in those five starts! Not three per game, three runs allowed in 36 innings for an ERA of 0.75!!

That 3.15 ERA for the season is legitimate, because, unlike Pelfrey, Santana's not showing a drop-off on the road. His one weak spot has been the occasional tendency to struggle in the first inning. If he makes it past that bump in the road, he generally dominates. If he doesn't, the Mets bats have done a horrible job of bailing him out.

Given the arms on the mound, we're looking at a pair of potential pitcher's duels. Hudson's been great everywhere...Pelfrey's been strong at home...Lowe is capable of throwing a gem...Santana will throw a gem if he survives the first inning.

Should Lowe have one of his bad outings, or Santana one of his shaky first innings, that right there could be the difference-maker each afternoon given the relative consistency of all other pitching and hitting indicators.

We'll obviously be watching this series very closely. Our New York sources have been pure gold for us once again this season. We're also paying close attention to these matchups:

  • Minnesota at Detroit: with the battle for the AL Central now a Triple Threat steel cage match that also includes the Chicago White Sox. Parts of the country will see Minnesota/Detroit on FOX today.
  • Chicago Cubs at LA Dodgers: as this marquee media matchup will be part of the FOX set today, and will get the Sunday Night showcase spot on ESPN to wrap up the first half of the Major League season.
  • Cincinnati at Philadelphia: with the Phils trying to avoid falling into the abyss against a Reds team that just refuses to go away despite all the whining of skeptics.
  • San Diego at Colorado: as the first and second place teams in the NL West entering the weekend square off in ANOTHER important pennant race battle. The league sure got lucky schedule-wise with important games this weekend.
  • NY Yankees at Seattle: with all the hoopla around the Cliff Lee situation, this series got just a bit more interesting.

You regulars know we've been on a great run in recent weeks. You often hear about the BIG PLAY WINNERS after they've cashed. Isn't it time to start getting them BEFORE the games start?

Call 1-800-323-4453 right now to join the fun. We've got a great package for the second half of the season. Be sure to ask about early bird football when you call. Game day selections can also be purchased here at the website if you want to test the waters during these last two days before the All-Star Break.

Don't forget that the All-Star Break brings the beginning of our summer college football previews. Monday we'll feature the SEC West and the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Tuesday it's the SEC East with Florida. We'll gradually work our way from East to West through the BCS conferences over the next several days (mixing in baseball notes too). We'll get to the mid-majors later in the month...and start to focus on the NFL divisions when the Exhibition season gets rolling in early August.

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Nov

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