The New York Mets have struggled this season against the Atlanta Braves, their closest pursuers in the NL East and a team that appears to have vastly upgraded itself before last week’s trading deadline.
Luckily for the Mets, they’ll have Oliver Perez on the mound when they begin their crucial three-game series with the Braves at Shea Stadium on Tuesday.
New York comes into the set with a 4 1-2 game lead over the second-place Braves, but it’s likely no team improved itself as much as Atlanta did last week. The Braves club the Mets will face now includes slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has three homers and seven RBIs in five games since being obtained from Texas, as well as hard-throwing reliever Octavio Dotel, who’s made four appearances since coming over from Kansas City.
The Mets, however, had problems with the Braves before Atlanta added Teixeira and Dotel, as they’re 3-6 against them this season.
“We haven’t shown up to play them yet,” closer Billy Wagner said. “And now they’ve got new players and they’re a better team.”
One Mets player who hasn’t had any trouble against the Braves this season, though, is Perez, who has all of his team’s wins versus Atlanta in 2007.
The left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three starts against the Braves this year. He faced them most recently May 23 and pitched seven innings of four-hit ball in New York’s 3-0 victory at Turner Field.
Perez (10-7, 3.00 ERA) has pitched well throughout his career against New York’s division nemesis, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in nine starts, and he’s in the midst of yet another strong stretch of pitching since the All-Star break.
Perez is 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four starts since the break, although he had mixed results in his last outing. The left-hander struck out a season-high 11, but surrendered five runs - four earned - along with three walks in six innings of the Mets’ 8-5 win over the Brewers on Wednesday.
Perez settled down after a rocky beginning and gave up just two hits after the second inning.
“I was trying to forget everything and make a new start,” Perez said.
The Braves kept pace in the finale of a six-game homestand, winning their second straight Sunday, 6-5 over Colorado. Yunel Escobar, filling in at shortstop for the injured Edgar Renteria, hit a one-out single in the 10th inning to score Jeff Francouer and send Atlanta into the Mets series confident it can close the gap.
“I’m not going to say we need to sweep,” said third baseman Chipper Jones, a .304 hitter with 18 homers and 48 RBIs during his career at Shea Stadium. “But we want to cut into that lead.
“Hopefully, we can play them like we did the first three series.”
Right-hander Buddy Carlyle (6-3, 4.20) is expected to start for Atlanta despite leaving after five innings Wednesday when he hyperextended his right elbow while batting on a swing and miss.
“It’s kind of silly, taking too big of a swing at an off-speed pitch,” Carlyle said. “It’s going to be fine.”
He allowed two runs and five hits in a 12-3 win over Houston. Carlyle, 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA in seven starts since June 26, has never faced the Mets.
Center fielder Andruw Jones is expected to return Tuesday from a two-game absence because of a sore left shoulder. Jones has 26 homers and 88 RBIs in 169 career games against New York.