With the NL East title nearly lost after a weekend sweep by the Braves, the Mets are in trouble heading into the playoffs

ATLANTA — Ahead of the weekend that would effectively settle National League East, New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso wondered if he’d ever played in a series with so much at stake. Since his debut in 2019, the Mets haven’t made the playoffs, finishing at least nine games each year, and so this would surely be the biggest of his MLB career. Twice he led his Florida Gators to the College World Series.

Drawing on this experience, he said that when so much is at stake, less is more. “Small thoughts equal big results.”

Maybe the Mets let their thoughts get too big this weekend in Atlanta because the results were ultimately far too small. In three games, they had just four extra hits, left 22 runners on base, and went 5-for-18 with runners in scoring position. Unhappy with the production and their options at DH, the Mets called up MLB.com’s top prospect, 20-year-old Francisco Álvarez, to make his stage debut under pressure, only for him to go no-hitter. in the crucial series. The pitchers that were supposed to be off may have cracked, but it’s the lineup that’s crumbled.

After spending 175 days in first place this season, they will head to the two-game final series of the reigning Atlanta Braves. A single victory over the weekend would have given them the chance to control their own destiny. Now, to win the division, they’ll have to sweep the Washington Nationals and hope the Miami Marlins can sweep the Braves. Anything less, and they’ll go straight into the wild card round while the Braves await the split series.

“The hardest part? shortstop Francisco Lindor said after Sunday’s 5-3 loss in which he went 0 for 5. “That we lost.”

ATLANTA, GA – OCTOBER 02: New York Mets manager Buck Showalter returns to the dugout after a visit to the mound during the eighth inning of an MLB game between the New York Mets and New York Braves Atlanta on Sunday, October 02, 2022 at Truist Park in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Flexible Weekend by Defending Champions

People will talk about how the Mets were 10.5 games ahead in the division on June 1, a high mark that was reduced over the next three months. But they haven’t collapsed – going 63-44 since – as long as they were caught. During the same span, the Braves were 76-32, a 114-game winning streak, and second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball.

But I imagine it’s cold comfort when you watch what started out as an enchanted season slip away in the home stretch. The Mets went from comic relief to easy favorites in the space of just one ambitious offseason. With a new GM, a new manager, a much-vaunted new clubhouse culture, and the kind of payroll that had people accusing the Yankees of buying rings, the Mets got into the season. Fans may not have admitted it out loud – they saw a lesser version of the team go from first place in mid-August last year to missing out on the playoffs altogether – but the Mets of 2022 were one of baseball’s great teams. And for most of the season they played like that.

Zoom out and you’ll see a team with 98 wins and the potential for a few more. The Mets could finish with 100+ for the first time since 1988 and only the fourth time in franchise history. Hosting the new set of three wildcard games will strain their launch plans at the start of what will be a grueling month if they’re lucky; but it’s still their first playoff berth in six years.

“What I reminded them of and will remind them of is how good they are,” manager Buck Showalter said. “And since they had a good year and we will still have a chance to achieve their goals.”

The power of the Mets in short supply

Zoom in, though, and there’s cause for concern.

Even good starts from great pitchers include a few bad pitches. You’re hoping to miss the zone, or sneak one by the batter, or have it wasted on a pop-up. But sometimes you get beat on your bad throws. That’s what the best rosters do: punish mistakes.

It takes a bit of luck to win a World Series like the Braves did last year, knocking out behemoths like the Dodgers and Houston Astros along the way. But it also takes the ability to focus on the many opportunities that elite pitchers allow. Sure, it’s a bit reductive, but home runs are a terrifically effective way to make the most of mistakes.

The difference in the National League East this season will likely be just a handful of shots thrown by the Mets’ top three pitchers in three games in Atlanta. The Braves roster turned three into home runs against Jacob deGrom (two Cy Young Awards) Friday night, two into home runs against Max Scherzer (three Cy Young Awards) Saturday night and two into home runs against a few pitchers on Sunday. amid a not-so-good start from Chris Bassitt. In total, the Braves outscored the Mets seven to three in the sweep that reversed both teams’ fortunes. Shortstop Dansby Swanson and first baseman Matt Olson each homered in all three games.

This dichotomy is no accident. While the Braves have the second-most home runs in baseball this year — and the most since that June 1 milestone — the Mets are 16th. Their offense is built around the second-best on-base percentage in baseball, which works best if you don’t block guys who get along. And their wins are built around getting better-than-good starts from deGrom and Scherzer and handing them over to their closer feel Edwin Diaz, who made just one weekend appearance and n never had a chance to secure a lead.

Perhaps the most disappointing part is simply the reminder that even a 98-win team can be swept away – above all when he comes up against another playoff-caliber club. The big picture won’t save you in a post-season series, you have to live up to it. The Mets can cite their determination and resilience and everything they’ve won so far — but, remember, the reward will be more series like the one they just lost.

“It was intense,” Alonso said of his first taste of near playoff baseball, “but I feel like we have a pretty good idea of ​​what it’s going to be like in October.”

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