Braves cut NL East deficit to four games after win over Mets

The Braves finished a grueling nine-games-in-eight-days road trip Thursday afternoon, leaving New York encouraged about their standing in the National League East after a 6-3 win over the Mets.

The Braves had a 5-4 record on the trip, 2-2 in Philadelphia and 3-2 in New York, and Thursday’s win moved them within four games of the first-place Mets in the East on the eve of MLB’s 4 p.m. Friday trade deadline.

“I think it’s huge,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said of winning the series against the Mets. “It was a good series win, no doubt.”

Riley had much to do with it again Thursday, hitting a home run -- his 21st of the season and fourth in three days -- and driving in three runs to give him 10 RBIs for the series. The Braves’ bullpen also had a starring role in the series finale, with four relievers combining to pitch five scoreless innings.

The net result of the trip is that the Braves return home for a three-game weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers still in contention in the NL East.

“With our struggles and how we’ve had the ups and downs and everything, we’re right there,” manager Brian Snitker said of the four-game deficit. “I look ahead, and I’m thinking if we can keep weathering storms for a week or two, we’re going to get some guys back (catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Huascar Ynoa from the injured list).

“We’re hanging in there. That’s all I can say. Hopefully we get on that run that we’ve been waiting on for four months. I don’t know, but guys are getting after it, I tell you that, to stay right here. Nobody wants to run away with it. We’ve got a tough next three days, too, against that pitching staff Milwaukee has.”

Riley’s two-run homer against Mets starter Taijuan Walker in the fourth inning Thursday -- Riley’s eighth homer in 69 career at-bats at Citi Field -- staked the Braves to a 2-1 lead. One out later, a solo homer by Abraham Almonte stretched the lead to 3-1. One inning later, RBI singles by Ozzie Albies and Riley made the score 5-1.

Credit: Noah K. Murray

Credit: Noah K. Murray

The Mets cut into the lead on a massive two-run homer by Pete Alonso off Braves starter Drew Smyly with no outs in the bottom of the fifth. That ended the outing for Smyly, who allowed three runs on nine hits in four-plus innings and left with a 5-3 lead. Then the Mets were shut down by the Braves bullpen, and the Braves’ offense added an insurance run on Dansby Swanson’s career-high 18th homer in the eighth inning.

“The bullpen and offense were huge today,” Smyly said.

The first Braves reliever, Jesse Chavez, retired the side without further damage in the fifth. Tyler Matzek worked two perfect innings in the sixth and seventh. Luke Jackson pitched a scoreless eighth and closer Will Smith a scoreless ninth.

“Amazing how good that was,” Snitker said of the bullpen performance. “Matzek, that might have been as good as I’ve seen him throw in the two years he’s been here. ... They all did a great job.”

The win, following a 2-1 loss to the Mets on Wednesday night, continued a peculiar pattern for the Braves: In 14 games since the All-Star break, they still haven’t won -- or lost -- back-to-back games. Every win has been followed by a loss, and every loss has been followed by a win.

“We’ve been talking about it all season, but it’s just a matter of getting on a roll and putting a win streak together,” Smyly said. “It’s easier said than done. I know we need to start doing it, but we’re all capable of getting that job done. We’ve had quite a few tough games since the All-star break, facing some tough teams, and we’ve been holding our own.”

Braves 6, Mets 3 (box score)