Mets-Braves series to set tone in East
Glavine's return provides another storyline in division rivalry
NEW YORK -- David Wright has heard a thing or two about this Tom Glavine guy. Wright might even believe he's familiar with the man who once owned a Shea Stadium locker just a few yards away -- before realizing, of course, that he knows nothing at all.
"I am excited about facing him," Wright said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "I want to see what it's like, see the legend and the myth."
Wright's short wait is over. The Mets and Braves will face each other for the first time this season, playing three games in Atlanta beginning on Friday. Mets fans might view the series with a measure of vengeance, still steaming over Glavine's poor final outing at Shea Stadium and subsequent defection to his hometown Braves. But regardless of whether or not that's fair, the Mets and Braves have more pressing issues on their agendas. This is the first of many critical series that should help decide the National League East.
"I think it can set the tone," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "It's the first time you see each other. You see where you stand right away."
There's reason for confusion in a division that, at least on paper, seems one of the tightest in baseball. The Mets, after adding Johan Santana over the offseason, appear to have improved, and the Braves, now expecting full seasons from first baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Yunel Escobar, also seem better. Then there are the Phillies, who have the least to prove after winning the division last year with a torrid September run.
Philadelphia's he-said-she-said spat with the Mets has fortified the notion that the National League East has essentially become a two-team race, though to believe that would be to overlook some critical details. Recall that last July, after the Braves first acquired Teixeira and reliever Octavio Dotel through a series of deadline deals, so many baseball critics immediately deemed them the new NL East favorites. The praise seemed justified.
An unexpected slide quickly squelched those good vibes, but the talent in Atlanta has remained as impressive. These Braves have lost only one major piece, Andruw Jones, and have since replaced him with a mix of other parts, enough to give them one of the league's elite offenses. That's why they know they can compete.
"Since I was here," Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran said, "they have been a good team every year, with pitching and veteran guys. Each time we play them, we usually do well. But it's never easy. They always find a way to get back in the game. Their guys always know how to pitch and make it hard."
And that's just the thing. Both the Mets and Braves boast superlative offenses, which means the series, and the season, will almost undoubtedly come down to pitching.
This first weekend series shouldn't disappoint. Not with John Maine -- spectacular spring in tow -- facing Braves ace Tim Hudson in Friday night's game, or with Santana squaring off against John Smoltz on Sunday afternoon. That group, should expectations prove correct, could be among the top four pitchers in the division by season's end.
Still, the weekend's most intriguing matchup -- or at least the one with the richest plot lines -- might just come on Saturday, when Glavine will face his former Mets mates for the first time since rejoining the Braves. Glavine isn't the same player he was the last time he pitched against the Mets in 2002, but he's proven that he's still plenty capable. The Mets know that, just as they know his tendencies and personality. Now, they simply must translate that into success -- as foreign of a concept as that may seem.
"The worst is rooting against your buddy," Mets closer Billy Wagner said. "I'm going to tell him, 'Go six, get your no-decision and get out of the way.' We win."
Glavine's opposition on Saturday is Mike Pelfrey, who earned a rotation spot only after the Mets deemed Orlando Hernandez too unhealthy to pitch. Pelfrey has yet to complete a full big league season, meaning he can't yet compare to one of his former mentors on the mound.
So he can only imagine what he'll be like at the plate.
"When I face him, I'll do what I always do -- watch the ball as long as I can, close my eyes and swing," Pelfrey said. "I think that will work with him. He probably knows all my strengths and weaknesses. Mostly my weaknesses. I've kept my strengths a secret."
After this weekend, there will be no more secrets between these divisional rivals. For nearly all of last decade, the Braves were the division's best team, until the Mets finally tipped the scales back in their favor in 2006. Last season saw both teams falter, so there's no telling what this summer might bring. No telling, that is, until now.
"The Braves are always a true test," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "It's good to bump heads with them early in the season. Let's see what we've got."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.