Braves, Mets looking at future talent (Sep 15, 2017)

ATLANTA — When the Atlanta Braves played in New York to open the season, the Mets were seen as potential challengers to the Washington Nationals in the National League East and the Braves as a possible .500 team after two years in a deep rebuild.

Neither scenario has played out.

The injury-ravaged Mets and the still-rebuilding Braves are a combined 129-162 as they head into seven games against each other over the season’s final 17 days.

The teams play three games at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park beginning Friday night, then four games at Citi Field in New York from Sept. 25-27, with a doubleheader the first day.

The Mets lead the season series 7-5, winning five of the seven games in Atlanta.

Both teams are holding auditions for 2018, with the Mets (63-83) hoping to get players healthy for next season and the Braves (66-79) looking at young pitchers that could be part of an improved rotation.

The Braves will start left-hander Sean Newcombe — the first of four rookies to get rotation time this season — in the Friday’s series opener.

The Mets will counter with right-hander Rafael Montero, who has taken advantage of all the team’s pitching woes to make a case for a permanent role by going 4-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his past six starts.

Montero (5-9, 5.05 ERA) has won his last three outings, a stretch that began with 8 1/3 scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 30.

“I’ve regained the confidence that I had when I was in the minor leagues,” Montero said through an interpreter after that game. “I think that confidence is definitely back.”

Montero, 26, is 5-6 with a 4.78 in 15 starts since moving from the bullpen, with the remaining hiccup being his control issues.

The native of the Dominican Republic has allowed only five runs during his three-start winning streak, but walked 14 in 18 2/3 innings.

Still, manager Terry Collins has been encouraged by the work of Montero, who will be making his first start against the Braves after two career losses in relief.

“He really thinks he’s got a home in the rotation, and he should think that. He’s pitched as good as anybody,” Collins said.

Of course, the bar is pretty low for the Mets right now.

Montero’s one appearance against the Braves this season came in relief, when he allowed two runs and three hits in 1 2/3 innings. All four of Montero’s career outings against Atlanta were as a reliever, and he is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in those games.

Pitching has been problematic for the Braves as well. The team has been in decline since reaching .500 at 45-45 on July 16 and it hasn’t been the offense’s fault.

Atlanta’s hope for the future is based on its pitching prospects, and Newcomb (2-8, 4.38 ERA) has picked up the most experience this year, although with mixed results.

The best of Newcomb’s 16 starts was his first, when he limited the Mets to four hits and an unearned run June 10 at SunTrust Park while striking out seven in a no-decision.

After going at least six innings in his first four starts, the 24-year-old has done so only three times since and has 50 walks in 84 1/3 innings.

“I’m working on getting first-pitch strikes,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb’s only career start against the Braves came earlier this season when he gave up only one run (unearned) in 6 1/3 innings but still took the loss.

Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara are the other rookies who have started for the Braves. Behind them is another wave of top prospects.

“It’s fun to watch and see how these guys develop,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You never know what you’re going to get, but each one of these guys has a chance to be in the rotation next year and beyond.”