The Marlins have floundered over these years. They made a (fluky) NL Division Series appearance in the truncated 2020 campaign, where the Braves swept them, but have otherwise been irrelevant. The Mets had hovered around average, flirting with becoming a true threat last summer only to fold down the stretch.
These 2022 Mets, however, are more a sign of what’s to come than their past laughable selves. The Mets have pushed the Braves to the brink unlike any divisional opponent since 2018. They’ve spent 173 days in first place; the Braves have enjoyed pole position for three days over the same time. Yet the race remained tight.
The Braves’ victory over the Mets on Friday evened the division with five games remaining, including two more head-to-head meetings this weekend. These two teams, near equals for the entire stretch run, will have a photo finish. That’s a deserving ending.
“Definitely (it’s a rivalry), they want to beat us just as bad as we want to beat them,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “That’s the fun part about it. They’re a really good team over there. We’re fighting for a division. It’s what it’s about. It’s what baseball is about. It’s why you play 162 games to get to this point. It’s fun.”
Braves first baseman Matt Olson: “Any time you have two teams close to 100 wins in the same division, I think it’s good to have them facing off. It’s a really good team over there. We’re a really good team. This is what it’s about, head-to-head.”
There’s a lot of history in this rivalry since the Braves joined the NL East in 1994. There’s a lot of passion in these massive fan bases, one representing New York City and the other encompassing the South – two distinctly different areas and cultures, of course.
In recent years, the Braves and Mets haven’t been competitive at the same time, which has quelled any excitement. Since the rivalry peaked when the Braves eliminated the Mets in the 1999 NL Championship Series, there hasn’t been much competitive crossover.
Since 2000, the Mets have four postseason berths and nine winning seasons (excluding this one). The Braves have had 13 playoff berths and 16 winning seasons (excluding 2022). Since the Mets won the NL East in 2006, ending the Braves’ 14-year reign as division champions, this is only the third time both teams have held winning records in the same campaign (2007, 2019). This is the first time since 2000 that these teams will finish first and second in the division together.
The NL East is the only pennant race remaining. All eyes are on Atlanta this weekend for the most meaningful series of the season thus far. At last, Braves-Mets has its mojo back. All it’s missing is a modern version of Chipper Jones encouraging Mets fans to switch back to their Yankees gear.
“This is probably the best rivalry in baseball today and probably the best series of the 2022 season,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It means the most of the regular championship season. Find me a series that’s more important than this one, and I don’t think you can.
“It’s excellent for baseball. It brings national attention. Of course, locally it’s the ultimate. We sold 2,000 standing room only tickets two weeks ago, for all three games. If we had 60,000 seats, we’d have filled them up, I think.”
These clubs’ structures exemplify stability in MLB. The Braves have more youth, but the Mets have more money. Starting with the former, the Braves have most of their core signed long term. Their nucleus is preposterously young yet still experienced. They’ve already won a World Series and look well capable of adding another championship in the coming years. Their own payroll continues climbing.
As for the Mets’ free-flowing cash, they will need to spend more to keep their team together – players such as Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz, Chris Bassitt and Brandon Nimmo are impending free agents – but their No. 1 payroll will support indefinite contention.
Money isn’t everything, as the Phillies and Angels consistently show, but owner Steve Cohen’s mindset and deep pockets have completely shifted the Mets’ outlook. They’re finally more Yankees than Knicks. They’re even the top-spending club in the market, boasting a payroll higher than those very Yankees, forever considered American professional sports’ shining example of capitalism.
They also have a nice group of young players to supplement their higher priced talents, including No. 1 catcher prospect Francisco Alvarez, who made his MLB debut Friday. Manager Buck Showalter, who has three decades of managerial experience, over 1,600 victories and a Seinfeld cameo, has proved an invaluable adult in the room, providing the steadiness and leadership the franchise sorely needed. Newcomers such as starter Max Scherzer, a future Hall of Famer, have added the same credibility.
“We knew going in that they were going to be a really good, strong club,” Snitker said. “They did a lot of things in the offseason, they’ve gotten a lot of their guys back, and they’re showing their organizational depth. It’s a good club. We knew when we started out that this was going to be a rough division. And it has been all year.”
Consider this weekend an official welcome into the new era of Braves vs. Mets. Their rivalry officially is reborn.