The Braves landed two marquee free agents since the 2018 season ended, a former American League MVP last November and eventually a former A.L. Cy Young Award winner in June.
Those two stars, Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel, teamed up Sunday to front first-place Atlanta to a series-sweeping 2-1 victory over the Mets at Citi Field.
Donaldson continued his season-long assault on Mets pitching with two more home runs, giving him nine against them in 2019. That is a feat not even infamous Mets killer Chipper Jones accomplished against his longtime NL East rivals.
The last player to hit that many homers against the Mets in one season was Dave Kingman, who blasted nine against his former team for the Cubs in 1979. Willie Stargell (1966) and Dick Allen (1968) are the only players to belt 10 homers against the Mets in one year, while Hank Aaron also ripped nine against the Mets for the Milwaukee Braves in 1962.
“I’ve had some success against them,” said Donaldson, who is batting .393 (24-for-61) with a 1.381 OPS in 16 games against the Mets. “I feel like I have a lot of respect for their pitching staff. What they do a great job of is they come after you. They come at you in the strike zone, they have really good stuff and they know it. They know they have good stuff, so they’re gonna challenge you.
“As a hitter, I always look forward to those types of challenges.”
Keuchel also has dominated the Mets this season, albeit over a shorter timeframe. The 31-year-old lefty allowed four hits over seven scoreless innings Sunday - with the aid of three double plays - after he’d posted six zeroes in his first career start against them in Atlanta on August 14.
“I felt really good. We had won the series, and were fortunate enough to have a few key plays Friday and Saturday to afford us this game,” Keuchel said. “But I knew we needed a longer start and I was fortunate enough to make some pitches.”
Keuchel went unsigned all winter before choosing a one-year deal worth $13 million with Atlanta on June 7 instead of signing with the Yankees for slightly less money ($11.5 million). With a game-time temperature Sunday of just 74 degrees, he joked, “I’m usually changing uniforms a couple times a day, but I barely broke a sweat today.”
“It’s a close game. [Mets starter Steven] Matz is usually on point against us, it seems like, his career numbers are really good against the Braves, and I knew that going in,” Keuchel added. “I’m always looking to keep the ball on the ground. Nobody likes to give up home runs.”
Donaldson certainly enjoys hitting them, ripping a solo shot down the left-field line against Matz in the second inning and another to right-center against Paul Sewald in the seventh.
That was sufficient support for Keuchel and two relievers, with the Mets scoring their lone run against closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.
Since Keuchel was rocked for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against Miami on Aug. 8, he has allowed just one earned run over 19 innings in his past three outings to improve to 5-5 with a 3.78 overall ERA over 13 appearances.
“We still haven’t been scoring a ton of runs for him, but he’s doing a great job for us every fifth day, really giving us a chance to win,” Donaldson said. “Besides that time in Miami, that was a tough one for him, but every other time, he’s been nails for us, exactly what I’ve expected.”