Recall, it was about this time last year when the Braves made their move and acquired key pieces at the trade deadline which led to a World Series title. Remember, also, that was another time for the Mets and that awful collapse that gave the Braves first place and another division title.
But things have changed in Flushing. Tthis five game series at Citi Field with the Braves would determine if the Mets would put last year in the past. They are a first place team and a day-night doubleheader sweep Saturday increased their lead to 5½ games.
Believe the Mets are real as this Buck Showalter managed team has the pieces to take four of five games in this series at Citi Field Sunday afternoon with Jacob deGrom on the mound for his second start of the season.
You see how the Mets have handled the Braves, so different from last year. A brand of winning baseball that has dominated the NL East with the second best record in the league behind the Dodgers.
But, before we can say the Mets are immediate favorites to win their first division title since 2015, or taking their first trip to the World Series which occurred that same year, remember these are the Atlanta Braves, a team that matches up well with the Mets.
However, the Mets proved they are as good as the Braves and have pushed them back a bit.
The difference is Max Scherzer, who matched a season high with 11 strikeouts and allowing one or no runs in each of his six starts of 7.0 innings. He shut down the Braves in the nightcap, a Mets 6-2 win.
“This is what you play the game for,” Scherzer said. “You play to face the best, especially deep in the season. You grind it out here in the NL East.”
Scherzer gave Justin Verlander company, 14th all time on the strikeout list. The Mets paid him good money to pitch in these division matchups and the Braves could not get past his fastball, a major difference from last year when deGrom went down with his latest injury and there was no Scherzer.
There was a different manager in the dugout. The philosophy under Showalter has worked. The Mets in three games, as they have done most of the season, make contact with the baseball.
Pete Alonso drove in the game-winning run in both games. Francisco Lindor has reached base safely in 14 straight games and scored a run in nine straight. And they play a brand of baseball that wins ball games .
Tyler Naquin, one of those trade deadline acquisitions, delivered a pinch hit RBI single in the eighth, steals a base, and eventually scores an important run as the result of a Tomas Nido sacrifice bunt.
This was Buck Showalter baseball and the Braves could not find ways to answer, quite a difference from last year when the Braves had all the answers.
These are some of the ways to beat the Braves, and more so with Scherzer on the mound, there is a better chance. There was also the way they handled business in the first game and that was attributed to David Peterson, earning a career high sixth win of the season with 5.1 innings of shutout baseball.
Jeff McNeil extended his hitting streak to nine games with an RBI single in the third inning of Game 1. There are so many other factors to discuss, the one exception being, the Mets don’t depend on the home run ball.
They make contact at the plate and good teams do that. Ask the Braves, the Dodgers, and the Yankees all elite teams the Mets have handled because of that difference and playing a good brand of baseball.
Though, bullpen issues could be their only flaw. Trevor May, off the injured list, adds some depth but he gave up a solo home run with two outs before the Mets could officially get the sweep to end a long day.
Showalter preferred not to use closer Edwin Diaz in the first game. Diaz picked up his first career six out save Thursday evening, so the last thing to avoid was using him to close the 9th inning.. It looked like Diaz, with a career high 16.l innings scoreless streak, would not be needed.
But the Mets bullpen, as has been accustomed to doing, could not hold off the Braves with a comfortable lead going into the 9th. The manager came out of the dugout with Braves’ runners in scoring position
The bullpen door opened. Trumpets began to play. Here comes Edwin Diaz and he got the final two outs on seven pitches. Diaz notched his NL leading 25th save and is fourth in the Majors. The Mets took the first game 8-5.
And no matter how much Edwin Diaz is called upon, despite the manager trying to keep his closer fresh as the dog days of August commence, there is no alternative because the Mets bullpen ability to end or close a game relies heavily on Edwin Diaz.
Diaz had struck out 87 batters in 43 games prior to shutting the door. The last out was recorded on another strikeout getting pinch hitter Eddie Rosario to swing on a 99 MPH fastball.
The bullpen could be the difference as to how far this team will advance in October. In the meantime, the Mets can score runs many ways and are an elite team, now that we’re in August.
The Braves have seen the difference. Scherzer is a major part of this turnaround and deGrom is healthy to provide the Mets with that tough back-to-back punch in the rotation.
“It’s great to get these wins,” Scherzer said. “But it’s not over yet. You want to beat them (Braves) as much as you can.”
Scherzer said this same type of baseball needs to be played down the stretch. The Braves are not going away anytime soon, and the Mets are aware of that. But there’s no denying it. There is a distinct difference from last year.
The Mets can beat the Braves.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 10pm ET Youtube with Robert Rizzo