Five things we learned in a renewed Braves-Mets rivalry

NEW YORK — On July 24, the Braves arrived at the ballpark with a chance to pass the Mets if they won and New York lost. Atlanta sat only a half-game back, its climb up the standings reaching its apex.

The Braves were so close.

Fast forward a couple weeks and they find themselves 6 ½ games back of the Mets after losing four of five in a crucial four-day weekend at Citi Field. Atlanta dropped the final three games, including a doubleheader sweep.

“It wasn’t a good weekend, obviously,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We struggled to win the one game we did. … It was a rough weekend. But we gotta put it behind us.”

Here are five things we learned from the latest edition of a renewed Braves-Mets rivalry:

Lucky or good?

Spencer Strider made some interesting comments after his rough start.

“A lot of weird hits,” he said. “They seem to be having a lot of luck right now offensively. That’s great. It’s August. (We’ll) see what things are like in October.”

This season, the Mets have benefited from weak contact including infield singles and bloopers. They rank 17th in average exit velocity, according to Baseball Savant. Entering Sunday, they had a .302 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), the sixth-highest mark in baseball. (The Braves ranked eighth in baseball with a .298 BABIP).

But the other school of thought says this: The Mets work tough at-bats and put the ball in play, which is beneficial.

So is it luck or not?

“You put the ball in play and something might happen,” Snitker said. “And especially with two strikes, these guys fight balls off and foul them off. If you put it in play, you got a chance. And they do that. They get your pitch count up, and they have experienced hitters. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Added Dansby Swanson: “I give credit where credit’s due. They’re pesky. It just seems like they make you earn everything, both offensively and defensively. They don’t give at-bats away. Then obviously on offense, they make you beat them. Things went their way this time. That’s how it goes, that’s why this game can be so frustrating at times. But you never know unless the ball gets put in play, and they’re pretty good at that, so credit to them for battling their at-bats and making us earn it.”

Mets’ starting pitching will be a problem

The key matchup in this series the rest of the way (plus perhaps in the postseason?) could be this: The Mets’ starting pitching versus the Braves’ home run hitting.

“I feel like all their guys threw the ball pretty well this week,” Swanson said. “Feel like they were aggressive and they were aggressive in the zone and made a lot of really good pitches. You can just tip your hat to them for throwing the ball well.”

Entering Sunday, New York’s starters ranked second in baseball with a 2.60 ERA. Then Jacob deGrom allowed two runs over 5 ⅔ innings on a day when he took a perfect game into the sixth.

New York’s starting pitchers rank fifth in baseball with a 3.58 ERA this season. But they have gone without deGrom for almost all of the season – and without Max Scherzer for some of it.

The Braves are second in the sport with 167 homers. Their .752 OPS is fourth. They’re a dangerous offense.

The Braves’ starters, on the other hand, have had a difficult time against the Mets. If you take out two innings versus Taijuan Walker, the Braves scored 14 runs over 43 innings against New York’s pitching staff.

Braves starting pitchers have had a tough time

In 12 games against the Mets, Braves starters have turned in only three quality starts. You could probably guess who pitched them.

Max Fried had two of them – one in New York in May, the other over the weekend. Kyle Wright had the third and did it in the May series.

The Braves had one quality start in five games in this series in New York. The Braves have a great rotation, a talented bullpen and a potent offense. They’re every bit as talented as the Mets.

It just hasn’t shown up in the standings. One reason is because the Mets’ offense has.

Ronald Acuña could be back to himself

You can take positives from anything.

Here’s perhaps the most important one: Ronald Acuña looks like himself again. He has a hit in eight of the last nine games he’s started, including a four-hit game in New York. He has two doubles, a homer and five RBIs in those nine games. And he had a deep flyout as a pinch hitter in Sunday’s loss. This is huge for Atlanta.

The Braves probably have a better bullpen than the Mets, even if the Mets can deploy star closer Edwin Diaz. Atlanta already had Kenley Jansen and A.J. Minter. Then Dylan Lee emerged. And now the Braves have Raisel Iglesias, a proven closer himself. They will soon add Kirby Yates.

‘We want to play them again’

The Braves and Mets have seven games left against one another. All seven are at Truist Park.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say we want to play them again, and we got seven more games, all at Truist (Park),” Strider said. “We’ll have them down there next week and run it back and see what happens. It’s August. A lot of luck and weird hits, but that stuff doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success. We’re excited to play them again and try it one more time.”

The Braves are 37-22 at home. The Mets could collapse down the stretch, but the Braves can’t count on it. Among the teams the Mets play in September: the Nationals, Pirates (twice), Cubs and Marlins (twice).

The Braves, fueled by last year’s World Series run, know this: It’s never over until it’s over.

“I think they’ll realize that because they’ve experienced that,” Snitker said. “They’ve been through it, and they’re going to know that this thing’s far from over, that’s for sure. We’ve got a lot of games to play. We can get hot again.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect this thing – after the run we’ve been on for the last six, seven weeks – to not have another bump in the road. Nothing’s that easy. I knew we were going to have to navigate some tough times again before this thing was over. We’ve come out of it before, and we’ll come out of it again.”

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