5 things to watch as Mets and Braves play four-game series in Atlanta

Here are five things to watch when the Mets and Braves play a four-game series in Atlanta starting on Monday night...

Is the Mets' offense about to break out?

New York didn't tear the cover off the ball during their series win against the Reds in Cincinnati, but they showed signs on Saturday and Sunday that the worm is turning.

The at-bats were better, the swings often had more purpose, they ran deeper counts, and there were more opportunities with runners in scoring position.

The Mets had 11 hits and six runs on Saturday, and while they scored only three runs on the nine hits they had on Sunday, the biggest part of that win was Francisco Lindor breaking out of his slump with a double and homer -- both from the right side of the plate.

Along with Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo had been mired in miserable slumps entering the series in Cincy, and all three players showed signs of life.

In addition to Lindor's breakout on Sunday, Nimmo had a pair of hits and a walk on Saturday, and McNeil hit his first homer of the season on Friday and added another hit on Sunday.

As the Mets continue to wait for J.D. Martinez (whose debut won't come in Atlanta, but could come when New York returns home on Friday), they'll have to hope the three key players mentioned above continue to shake off the early-season struggles.

Julio Teheran's first start

The Mets' starting rotation, still without Kodai Senga and now missing Tylor Megill, has been very good over the first nine games of the season -- though some deeper starts would be welcomed.

Jose Quintana (3 ER in 10.1 innings pitched), Luis Severino (4 ER in 10.0 IP), Sean Manaea (1 ER in 11.0 IP), Adrian Houser (1 ER in 5.0 IP), and Jose Butto (1 ER in 6.0 IP) have all been solid or better, and a new name will enter the mix on Monday in Atlanta.

Teheran, who was signed last week after opting out of his deal with the Baltimore Orioles, will join the rotation in place of Megill.

The 33-year-old isn't the pitcher he was when he was dominating the Mets with the Braves early in his career, but he was serviceable for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, with a 4.40 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 71.2 innings.

With Teheran's deal for a bit more than $2 million, it's fair to believe the Mets will give him a decent chance to excel. But if he doesn't, they could easily turn back to Butto, who has been very impressive in the majors since his rocky first big league start last season.

Brett Baty looks very comfortable

Baty has had a very strong start to the season -- on both sides of the ball.

He looks more comfortable at the plate than he did at any time during the 2023 season, and his defense has been markedly better, with him looking more nimble and his throws being right on the money for the most part.

This is an enormous season for Baty, as he looks to put the struggles of 2023 behind him and possibly cement himself as the third baseman of the future.

He's slashing .290/.353/.387 (.740 OPS) in 34 plate appearances, often barreling balls up and going the other way with authority.

And while Baty has just one extra-base hit so far (a home run), the results should come in that area if he stays locked in.

The stolen base problem

The Mets have stolen just five bases this season.

For comparison, two of the three teams they've played so far rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the league -- due in part to the Mets' inability to throw anyone out (literally).

The Reds lead the league with 18 steals, and the Brewers are second with 16.

And opposing base-stealers are a perfect 17-for-17 against the Mets so far this season.

Part of that is on the pitchers, part of it is on the catchers, part of it is due to the fact that the Mets have played run-happy teams so far, and part of it is on the defense sometimes falling asleep -- as it did during Sunday's game against the Reds when they executed a double-steal.

As far as the Mets' paltry number of steals, that should improve once they get more traffic on the bases -- with Lindor, Starling Marte, and Harrison Bader their biggest threats to swipe bags.

Atlanta's rotation without Spencer Strider

Strider landed on the IL over the weekend due to damage to his UCL.

While it's not yet clear if Strider will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, he is set to miss significant time. And without Strider, the Braves' rotation becomes a lot less imposing.

It is now led by Max Fried -- who has struggled badly in his first two starts this season -- and also includes Charlie Morton, Chris Sale, and Reynaldo Lopez.

The Braves haven't yet announced who will start against the Mets on Wednesday in the spot left vacant because of Strider's injury.

To be clear, Atlanta's rotation can still be very good if Fried rounds into form and Sale stays healthy. But losing Strider -- who entered the season one of the Cy Young favorites in the National League -- is a huge blow.