Braves put Mets -- and everyone else -- on notice

October 2nd, 2022

The Mets can get back control of their destiny in the National League East if they can get a game off the Braves on Sunday Night Baseball, salvaging at least one game out of this series. They can still win the division if they can get out of Atlanta tonight tied with the Braves at 99 victories, heading home to Citi Field for three with the Nationals.

But what the Mets and everybody else saw over the first two games, when the Braves beat Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer and rocked the Mets world, is that the champs look very much like the champs again. It is good news for nobody except them.

“They are peaking at the right time,” Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo said after the game.

The Braves, who have hit home runs over the second half of the season the way the All Rise Yankees have hit them with Aaron Judge, hit three homers off deGrom on Friday night. They hit two more off Scherzer on Saturday, in a game when the Mets fully expected Scherzer to restore order and even the series.

Again: None of this locks up the division. If the Mets win out starting on Sunday night, when they throw Chris Bassitt (15-8) against the Braves, they win a division which they have really led since April, most of that time alone in first except for two nights:

When the Braves passed them on Sept. 10.

And Saturday night, when they won, 4-2.

The Mets got just one run after loading the bases in the first inning off Kyle Wright and pushing his pitch count to 30. Then the Braves passed them -- maybe for good -- when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run homer off Scherzer in the bottom of the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. Matt Olson, who hit a monster home run off deGrom on Friday night, added a solo shot off Scherzer in the sixth. The Mets have gotten a lot of singles in this series, 14 in all. The problem is the Braves have gone all Aaron Judge on them.

Kenley Jansen, the ex-Dodger who will be as important as any Braves player in the postseason, has gotten his 38th and 39th saves. The Dodgers don’t really have a closer right now, the way Craig Kimbrel has looked. It was actually ex-Yankee Tommy Kahnle who pitched more like a closer in San Diego the other night, when he overpowered the Padres in the 10th inning of a 1-0 victory. But the Braves appear in good shape, even if Jansen did load the bases in the ninth on Friday night before striking out Francisco Alvarez and Tyler Naquin.

Going up against the Mets' two aces, Max Fried and Wright were better for Atlanta. Not by a lot. But by enough. Now if 38-year-old Charlie Morton, a longtime October star, shows up big on Sunday, the Braves will be up two with three to play. They'll face a Marlins team that isn’t going to throw Sandy Alcantara against them, with Don Mattingly having shut down his ace for the season.

The Mets have come back all season. They tried to come back Friday night from 5-2 down. They still have it in their own hands to turn the Braves into a Wild Card between now and Wednesday. And if it’s the Mets who end up a Wild Card, it doesn’t mean what has been such an amazing season for them is a failure. Or that anybody should make the mistake of writing them off.

“The one World Series ring I got,” the great old manager Jim Leyland likes to say, “I got as a Wild Card.”

The Braves won 88 regular-season games last year, then beat a 106-win Dodgers team in the NL Championship Series en route to a World Series championship. Now the Dodgers have former Braves star Freddie Freeman, who seems to be on his way to a batting title. So the Dodgers have gotten better this season.

But since the Braves started to make their run in late May, their record is 76-32. Over the same stretch of baseball, the Dodgers are one game better at 77-31. So the sides have looked very much even.

“This is no time to celebrate," Swanson said Saturday night. “There’s four games left. So much left to be had of this season."

He’s right. They’ve still got four more nights in October before the postseason begins. So do the Mets. But whatever happens between now and Wednesday, everybody better look out for the defending champs the rest of the way. That includes the team that’s already won 110.