Jason Heyward has hit Jonathon Niese well in his career (.375, 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI), but you can understand if he has butterflies at first pitch in tonight’s Game 3 series finale against the Mets at 7:10PM. The last time they faced one another, Heyward was smashed in the face by a Niese fastball that got away from him. Heyward suffered a broken jaw and spent time on the DL last August, and to this day wears a face guard on his batting helmet.
That incident slowed an otherwise torrid Braves team that had become a completely different team offensively after Fredi Gonzalez moved Heyward to the leadoff spot (a move that certain Twitter timelines will show was done at my urging 🙂 ). Atlanta fans are hoping the recent move of Heyward back to the top of the lineup will spark a similar run. The chances are good: since Heyward was moved to the leadoff spot last July, the Braves are 66-44 (.600) in games in which he bats leadoff. That equates to a 97 win team over a full season.
The Braves (69-64) are trailing Washington in the division by 6.5 games, and are 2 games back in the Wild Card chase. If they want to make a playoff appearance, they will have to string together a couple of runs of 7-3 and 8-2 and hope for some help. There are plenty of games left with Washington, and the Braves have generally handled the Nationals pretty well, but the Nationals are playing good baseball right now(and getting some breaks).
Mike Minor (5-8, 4.90) has been pitching better lately, as evidenced by his 2.53 ERA over his last 3 starts, including 7 2/3 no hit innings against Cincinnati last week. He has also pitched well against the Mets lately, 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in his last six starts against the Mets.
Justin Upton was held hitless last night to snap a 13 game winning streak, but he has a career .529 average against Niese.
Andrelton Simmons has also fared well against Niese, but after last night’s defensive clinic, all he needs to do is be Simmons in the field and the Braves should have a chance.