Division up for grabs; Wisler debuts tonight vs. deGrom

Top Braves pitching prospect Matt Wisler makes his debut Friday against the Mets and Jacob deGrom. (AP photo)
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Top Braves pitching prospect Matt Wisler makes his debut Friday against the Mets and Jacob deGrom. (AP photo)

 

There’s a pretty good chance the Mets will be the only team in the National League East with a winning record after this weekend. With more than 90 games still to play.

The first-place Mets are 36-32 as they arrive in Atlanta for a three-game series starting tonight against the Braves (32-35), who are in third place, 4 ½  behind New York and just two games behind the dysfunctional Nationals (34-33), who open a three-game series tonight against the surging Pirates.

Atlanta is 17-16 going back to its three-game sweep of the Marlins May 15-17, but in their past 16 games the Bravos are a mere 6-10 with a 4.53 ERA, including two losses in the past three against a last-place Red Sox team that had previously lost lost seven in a row.

Top Braves pitching prospect Matt Wisler makes his debut Friday against the Mets and Jacob deGrom. (AP photo)

Top Braves pitching prospect Matt Wisler makes his debut Friday against the Mets and Jacob deGrom. (AP photo)

But don’t despair, Braves Country. Because as rough as things have been for much of the past few weeks, it’s not like any team in the NL Least, er, East, appears poised to run away with the division. And if anyone is, it’s probably not the Nationals.

I mean, the Mets at least have a rotation that features Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey, all pitching against the Braves in that order beginning tonight. (Hey, it could be worse — the Braves will miss their ancient nemesis, Bartolo Colon.)

The Nationals? They have one ace performing up to expectations, Max Scherzer (7-5, 1.93 ERA), with Jordan Zimmermann (5-5, 3.75 ERA) as their next-best starter. Gio Gonzalez has a 4.82 ERA. Stephen Strasburg (6.55 ERA) is no longer the pitcher the Braves love to face, he’s now the pitcher every team loves to face.

The Nats are 6-14 with a 4.99 ERA and only 73 runs scored in their past 20 games. They just lost three of four against the Rays, including both games at home in that back-to-back two-game series arrangement like the one the Braves just completed with the Red Sox.

And here’s the other thing about the Nationals, and this is really pretty amazing: In their first 67 games, their three-game series against the Cardinals accounted for their only games against a team that made the 2014 postseason. Three games out of 67.

The sked gets a  little tougher for the Nats the rest of the way, with 29 games against 2014 playoff teams in their last 95, beginning tonight with the opener of a three-game series against Pittsburgh.

As for the Braves and Mets, if either team had clicked off, say, 12 wins in their first 17 June games, they’d have a sizeable lead over the Nats right now. But neither did.

The Mets are just 8-9 in June, and in their past 16 games they are 7-9 with a .246 batting average, 4.69 ERA and 56 runs scored, with 10 of those runs coming in one game – a 10-8 win against the Braves on Sunday.

Oh, yes, they’ve had the Braves number of late. I had to smile when I heard an Atlanta radio guy talking yesterday about a sweep of the Mets being a legit possibility, his reasoning being that the Braves have always played well against the Mets.

The Braves are 6-13 with a 4.32 ERA against the Mets since last July 7, and the Braves have been outscored 86-60 and out-homered 20-8 in those 19 games. And tonight, the Braves will start a prospect, right-hander Matt Wisler, making his major league debut against arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom.

It’s one of those matchups that seems so one-sided on paper, you might be ready to bet on the Braves, if you were the sick type who actually bets on baseball.

Wisler’s debut: He’s 22 years old, has a 3-4 record and 4.29 ERA in 12 starts at Gwinnett, and tonight Matt Wisler makes his major league debut agtainst Jacob deGrom, who is 16-10 with a 2.56 ERA in 35 major league starts over two seasons, with 234 strikeouts in 225 1/3 innings.

DeGrom, who is his past 28 starts, going back to June 21, 2014, is 16-6 with a 2.15 ERA, .214 opponents’ average, and 200 strikeouts with 42 walks in 184 1/3 innings.

DeGrom, who in his past six starts is 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA and .162 opponents’ average, with 53 strikeouts and five walks in 43 1/3 innings.

Good luck, kid.

But before you go thinking this is a matchup that Wisler’s mother might want to avoid – you saw what we did there; couldn’t resist – consider this ray of hope: In deGrom’s past eight road starts, going back to late August, he is just 3-4 with a 3.86 ERA and seven homers allowed in 49 innings.

On the other hand, in his only start in Atlanta during that stretch, he allowed just three hits and two runs (one earned) in six innings, with three walks and 10 strikeouts, in a Sept. 21 win.

In fact, in four starts against the Braves, deGrom is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and .226 OA, with 38 strikeouts, six walks and one homer allowed in 25 innings. He got no decision last weekend in New York when he allowed  five hits, one run and one walk with nine strikeouts in seven innings of a Mets loss.

Against deGrom, Chris Johnson is 5-for-11, Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-10, and Freddie Freeman is 2-for-10 with a homer. No other active Brave has more than four official at-bats or one hit against him.

Of course, Wisler’s entire family and friends will actually want to see this one, because you only have one major league debut. It’s a night he’s never going to forget. Also, it’s the start of what most people believe could be a great career for the 6-foot-3 Ohio native, who was rated by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in the Padres organization after last season, and the No. 34 prospect in BA’s Top 100 entering the 2015 season.

The Braves got Wisler – along with Cameron Maybin — as a key piece in the six-player trade that sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the Padres on the night before opening day.

And don’t let Wisler’s modest won-lost record and ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett fool you. The ERA is a bit skewed by the eight hits and seven earned runs he gave up in 3 2/3 innings in his most-recent start Sunday at Indianapolis. He has 49 strikeouts and 13 walks in 65 innings for the season, and befor that Indy game Wisler had posted a 1.96 ERA over his previous nine starts while allowing only 31 hits in 41 1/3 innings.

Here’s a link to the story I wrote about Wisler last night, with quote from John Hart about the situation and how long he might be up, that kind of thing.

Wisler features a mid-90 mph four-seam fastball, a low-90s two-seamer (sinker), and a plus-slider and decent curveball and change-up. He’s more polished at this point than Mike Foltynewicz, the rookie whose spot he’s taking for now, after Folty struggled in a few starts in a row and got sent down this week.

Foltynewicz can throw harder than either Wisler or lefty Manny Banuelos, the other top starting prospect for the Braves at Gwinnett, but Wisler and Banuelos – and anyone calling him ManBan needs to stop – are perhaps a bit more polished and understanding of their stuff at this point.

It’s going to be interesting to watch tonight. It always is when a top pitching prospect makes his debut.

And in the age of social media, it’ll also be interesting to see the reaction. Because you can bet it’ll be largely irrational and knee-jerk unless the kid just has a down-the-middle line that’s neither great nor terrible, say six innings with 7-8 hits and 3-4 runs allowed, and five strikeouts with three walks. If he does that, it won’t allow what will otherwise surely be a premature, over-the-top evaluation by so many folks in various online platforms.

Imagine if Wisler gives up 10 hits and seven runs in four innings. “Overrated! He’s terrible! Great job trading Kimbrel, John Hart!”

Or, if he pitches seven innigns and allows only one or two runs runs and four or five hits, with seven strikeouts and a couple of walks. “Best trade ever! Why didn’t Frediot start this guy earlier!? Way to go, John Hart, we could have been in first place if you’d brought him up sooner!”

Ah, yes, rational discussion is likely to ensue later tonight. Stay tuned.

But seriously, enjoy the game, folks. It’s always exciting seeing a young, promising kid make his big-league debut. And I know the majority of folks at home and in the stands will actually be able to put things into context a little better than some of the more vocal or outrageous posters on the Internet will.

•Here’s a great one from the great ’80s band New Order, offshoot of the legendary Joy Division.

“AGE OF CONSENT” by New Order

New Order

New Order

Won’t you please let me go
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to

I saw you this morning
I thought that you might like to know
I received your message in full a few days ago
I understood every word that it said
And now that I’ve actually heard it
You’re going to regret

And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what you want me to
You’re not the kind that needs to tell me
About the birds and the bees

Do you find this happens all the time
Crucial point one day becomes a crime
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you

I’ve lost you [x5]
I’ve lost you [x5]
I’ve lost you [x5]

 

 


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