A seemingly favorable schedule had the Atlanta Braves poised to head into the All-Star break on a tremendous run. Instead, they're facing a potential four-game slide.
The Braves will try to get untracked and regain first place in the NL East on Wednesday night against the New York Mets.Atlanta (49-41) began a stretch of 20 games in 20 days by winning 11 of the first 12, capitalizing on a schedule pitting it against some of the worst teams in baseball: Houston, Philadelphia, the Mets and Arizona.The Braves also visit the last-place Chicago Cubs this weekend before the break.They're looking to turn things around by the time they get to Chicago after losing three in a row, including the first two of this four-game set in New York.The slide also dropped Atlanta percentage points behind Washington atop the division.The Braves swept a three-game set with the Mets (41-49) at home last week behind a 2.67 ERA, but the pitchers have allowed 12 runs in 18 2/3 innings of this series.All-Star Julio Teheran made his contribution by giving up five runs in 3 1/3 innings of Tuesday's 8-3 defeat.Now the ball goes to Ervin Santana (7-5, 3.93 ERA), who owns a 0.86 ERA while winning all three of his career starts against New York. That includes two games with Atlanta this year in which he's yielded one run over 15 innings after earning a 7-5 victory at Citi Field on April 19.Another solid outing is just what the right-hander needs to continue his recent turnaround. He's won his last two starts while allowing four runs in 14 innings after going 1-5 with a 5.96 ERA over his previous eight games.Santana surrendered two runs in 7 1/3 innings of a 5-2 win over Arizona on Friday."Everything my way is getting back again, so I just have to keep it up," he said. "Keep my mind positive and keep working down in the zone."Freddie Freeman has been doing his part at the plate with five hits in this series, including a pair Tuesday to go with two RBIs.The first baseman, batting .392 over the last 19 games, has hit .426 with 20 RBIs over his past 17 against the Mets. He's also 18 for 38 while plating eight runs in eight road matchups.After pounding out a season-high 18 hits Tuesday, the Mets are on the verge of their first four-game winning streak since July 7-10, 2013.Curtis Granderson has homered on two of his three hits in this series. He's 10 for 31 (.323) with four homers and seven RBIs in seven games after going 0 for 17 over the prior four. He's hitless in six at-bats versus Santana this year.Dillon Gee (3-1, 2.73) has returned to the rotation, though it's come at the expense of losing Jonathon Niese.Niese was placed on the disabled list Sunday with shoulder fatigue, and manager Terry Collins insists it's not connected to previous shoulder trouble, including a partially torn rotator cuff last year."There's no discomfort, no pain like last year," Collins said. "You don't need radar guns to tell you there's something going on here."A strained right lat landed Gee on the disabled list May 14, but he allowed two runs in 10 2/3 innings over three rehab starts. The right-hander was 3-1 with a 1.36 ERA in five starts prior to his injury.He's 1-1 with a 1.21 ERA over his last three meetings against Atlanta after allowing two hits in seven innings while not getting a decision in a 2-1 home loss July 22.
Ervin Santana has struck out 59 batters with his slider this year, which is tied for the third-most K's in the majors this season among qualified pitchers. Santana throws his slider on 34.2 percent of his pitches, which is the fourth most in the majors among qualified pitchers. Lucas Duda strikes out when facing sliders 45.5 percent of the time, which is the fifth-highest mark in the NL among qualified batters.