The Atlanta Braves got off to another slow start against the New York Mets and never recovered, losing 8-3 in Citi Field on Tuesday night. Mets starter Jacob deGrom paced the Mets with seven shutout innings while their offense plated runs in six different innings. Here are three observations from the game:
Look at the track record. Look at the talent. Look at the trajectory. Julio Teheran’s first career selection to the National All-Star roster on Sunday night does not look like it will be his last, because, among many other reasons, he avoids the ugly pitfalls of which he slogged through on Tuesday night.
In short, it was arguably Teheran’s worst start of 2014, and only his second dud in a 19-start campaign so far.
Much like he was able to do earlier in the season against another young Braves starter (Alex Wood), Mets leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson got the ball rolling early on for the Mets with a leadoff home run, quickly disrupting Teheran’s outing and continuing his recent hot streak against Atlanta. Unlike Wood, though, Teheran was unable to recover and keep his team within striking distance. The Mets scored three times in the second and once again in the third to push the lead to 5-0 — just the second time this season Teheran has given up five or more runs in a start.
And they weren’t fluky runs, either. The Mets battered Teheran in Citi Field. He eventually gave up 11 hits and allowed two walks while striking out just two batters. His night was over after 3 1/3 innings pitched.
It was not the All-Star selection encore he was expecting.
"I felt good. I felt strong. I feel like everything I threw they just were swinging. And when you have those kind of games you just have to battle and that’s what I did today," said Teheran, whose only other comparably poor outing this season came on May 14 against the Giants, another short outing in which he allowed four earned runs. "I didn’t know what to adjust because I was (throwing) my best stuff."
To be clear: Teheran’s clunker did not derail what has been an All-Star campaign to date. His ERA still sits at a very respectable 2.57, he owns a 3.34 FIP (top-40 among all qualified starters) and despite the 2-for-2 night in New York his strikeout-to-walk remains very good. He’s the No. 1 guy on a playoff contender and only four other NL starters owned a higher WAR entering Tuesday’s games. This is simply a setback. He’s been through this before.
"It’s just one of those starts. The young man, he’s bound to have a battle. When you go out there 35 times, 30 times, you’re going to have a battle. And today was one of his battle (starts)," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Got him out of there fairly early and now he can rest up for his next one, maybe catch up again."
The concept of crowning All-Stars at the midseason mark — a distinction that unfortunately comes to define and reward a player’s full season regardless of second-half performance — is already an imperfect science. It’s a long season, a poor outing here and a rough stretch there is not the final evaluation for any player.
Fortunately for the Braves, they have an All-Star pitcher locked up to what is looking more and more like a club-friendly deal through most of his 20s. Unfortunately for the Braves, one of Teheran’s rare duds cost them the lead in the NL East race.
The Mets were already flush with young starting pitching talent, notably Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, entering the 2014 season, but it was a long-haired 26-year-old that threw his way into some interesting franchise history on Tuesday night. It hasn’t taken Jacob deGrom long to put himself in the conversation when discussing the Mets’ future on the mound.
In a seven-inning shutout performance against the Braves, deGrom joined impressive company, becoming just the third pitcher in New York’s franchise history to post two 11-strikeout outings in his first 11 career starts.
The others on that list? Some guys named Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden.
The Stetson product did not issue a single walk in the contest. He kept hitters off-balance by consistently mixing up his arsenal of big-league stuff, including a fastball that consistently sits in the mid-90s, and the Braves were never able to completely figure him out — even though they did log seven hits off the rookie. Gonzalez was more concerned with opportunities missed than deGrom’s overall body of work.
"We had him on the ropes a couple times early. And I think if you score runs, maybe it’s a different game. And we didn’t. Young pitchers, you let them wiggle out and they get more confidence and more confidence," Gonzalez said. "His stuff, I mean, it’s plenty good. His fastball’s got some depth to it. He lived at the bottom of the strike zone a couple times with some good fastballs, good breaking balls. He’s got a good arm."
This is the second straight impressive start for deGrom against Atlanta, though the results at Turner Field on July 2 were not quite as eye-catching as matching Ryan and Gooden. He allowed three runs in that contest, but he struck out eight and allowed only two walks in just five innings of work. That may be a reflection of Atlanta’s lineup — he’s posted his two lowest FIP scores in his past two outings, both — or it may be signs of growth for a guy still learning the MLB ropes.
When Harvey returns, this staff could really shape up into something menacing over the next few years.
(Side note: It’s still strange to think how quickly the Philadelphia Phillies’ staff fell from the top spot in the NL East. The Braves, Nationals and Marlins have already surpassed them, and when Harvey, a bona fide Cy Young candidate when he’s on, gets back in there, the Mets should at least claim that No. 4 spot. That could leave Philadelphia going from first to worst in a matter of three or four seasons.)
As necessary and impressive as the Braves’ nine-game winning streak was from June 27 to July 5, the three-game losing streak to sub-.500 teams New York and Arizona has been nearly as disappointing for Gonzalez & Co. On one hand, it’s just a three-game span that both good and bad teams go through; on the other, many of the bad traits that have plagued the Braves for long stretches this season have reemerged.
Atlanta has scored just six runs in the three losses.
As previously mentioned, the Braves struck out 14 times and walked just once against the Mets’ pitchers on Tuesday. The hits did come in waves — B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward each logged multi-hit games — but they finished just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position, and two of those hits came in a two-run ninth inning with the game all but out of reach.
"We had men on third a couple times and we didn’t get the productive out. We got punchouts. And when we were rolling, we get a run in (there). We didn’t fail," Gonzalez said. "It’s easier said than done, and I know the guys want to put the ball in play. But a guy throwing 94, 95 miles an hour can punch you out."
(If the ninth inning did serve a purpose, it was to once again find success against a rather terrible Mets bullpen. Atlanta has to like its chance in late-game situations against New York moving forward.)
Atlanta has five more games against the Mets and Cubs to head into the break with positive momentum for what is shaping up to be one of the closest division races in baseball. A five-game winning streak isn’t necessary, but they once again need to get back on the right track.