The NL East has become a battle of familiar faces as the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves begin to pull away from the pack. Let’s take a look at two MLBbros who have contributed in critical areas to both teams.
More Money, More Cash, More W’s
This offseason, Steve Cohen and the Mets front office were as aggressive as we’ve ever seen the little brothers from Queens. They spent big money on Mad Max Scherzer and expected a major bounce back from oft injured ace Jacob DeGrom. But injuries to both have forced the Mets to lean on the last Black Knight left in the Big Apple, Taijuan Walker.
Walker has a 6-2 record so far this season, but as we all know in today’s game we have to go beyond the win-loss record to discuss a pitcher’s true impact. Over his last seven starts, Walker has given up 39 hits in 42.1 innings pitched, while striking out 37 batters along the way.
When opponents have been able to hit Walker, he has done a great job of minimizing the damage. According to FanGraphs, his left-on-base percentage this season is 74.9. One reason Walker may be confusing hitters this season is the fact that he has tweaked his pitching arsenal considerably.
Last season, Walker primarily threw a four-seamer, a sinker and a slider. These three pitches made up 78.6 percent of the pitches that opponents saw, which became predictable as the season went along. This year, not only has he added another pitch to his arsenal (a cutter), Walker has dropped his sinker from his primary rotation of pitches.
Instead of relying on his sinker as his second out pitch, Walker’s split-finger fastball has hitters handcuffed this season, managing just a .155 batting average against the pitch. Walker has held down the fort as the Mets await the return of their aces. That could be scary for the teams chasing the Mets.
Atlanta Fighting Back
The Braves have battled back from a rough start of the season to remain right in the race. MLBbro Travis Demeritte was called up and eventually sent back down, but Michael Harris II has flashed on the five-tool player he was advertised to be.
When I asked Atlanta Braves third base coach Ron Washington what he saw in the young centerfielder Michael Harris II, he didn’t mince words.
“Ballplayer,” Washington placed a heavy emphasis on this word as he began his statement. “He’s not enamored by the big leagues. We aren’t expecting much out of him, which helps him to relax. He’s certainly shored up our defense in the outfield, he’s running the heck out of the base paths. He’s swinging the bat, the kid is a baseball player.”
We’ve raved about the defense since his arrival in the bigs, but Harris has been a much stronger presence in the ninth spot than many anticipated. Harris is hitting .360 over his last seven games, which included collecting four hits in three games against their newfound rivals from the west, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The rook hasn’t been overpowered by fastballs and is also hitting off-speed pitching surprisingly well out the gate. Harris has hit .377 against fastballs and an impressive .300 against off-speed pitches, although off-speed pitches have only made up 13.7 percent of the total pitches he’s seen so far.
With superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. potentially joining Ozzie Albies on injured reserve soon, the Braves need Harris to continue surprising everyone if they have any hope of catching Walker and the Mets.