Mets’ letdown of a season puts into perspective difficulty of building Braves’ juggernaut

Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley (27) and Matt Olson, right, celebrate after scoring against the New York Mets during the eighth inning in the second baseball game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley (27) and Matt Olson, right, celebrate after scoring against the New York Mets during the eighth inning in the second baseball game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Credit: AP

NEW YORK – As the Braves began running away with the National League East, the Mets realistically evaluated their roster. Their determinations are reflected in their eventual actions: They did not believe they would contend, so they dealt their most tradeable pieces.

They traded Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Robertson, Tommy Pham and Mark Canha.

And because baseball players follow baseball, the Braves were aware of this in their own clubhouse.

“It was just kind of shocking, more than anything,” A.J. Minter said. “They have so much talent over there. They have a lot of good leaders. I don’t think it’s one thing. I just think they’re missing a – I’m not going to speak for them, but just from the outside in, they just need an identity.”

To be clear, Minter also expressed a respect for the Mets. He wishes them the best. He feels bad for their fans, who must be hurt by what the team once had and what could’ve been. His comment about their identity was not a slight.

At Citi Field this weekend, it has been impossible to miss the stark differences between the Braves and Mets.

In one clubhouse, Atlanta is pushing toward October – again. Barring a massive collapse, the Braves are headed for their sixth consecutive NL East crown.

In the other, New York is reeling after the trade deadline seemingly ripped out the club’s heart. In the series’ first three games, the Braves outscored the Mets, 34-3. The Braves lost the finale by a run.

The Mets built MLB’s most expensive team ever, only to tear it down in hopes of retooling.

You must credit Mets owner Steve Cohen for pouring his resources into the club. But this season illustrates something: What Atlanta has built is remarkably difficult to achieve.

“It took a while here, that’s for sure,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “When I got here, I didn’t foresee this coming. And you gotta have the right people. You gotta have the guys with the makeup and people that you trust and things like that. We’re very fortunate to have a group of young men that are high-quality guys. It’s hard. It’s a hard sport. Everybody’s getting better and everybody’s striving to get better, and it just makes it tougher on everybody. There’s a lot of really good teams out there now, so it’s a hard thing to do.”

The Braves are in sync, from their front office to their coaching staff, from scouting to player development, from one corner of their clubhouse to another.

It just works.

“The only thing I’ve known is winning,” Minter said. “With that being said, what we’ve built here is just the beginning, believe it or not. I feel like we can win five more (after winning) five straight. And that starts with the guys that laid the platform before I got here.”

He mentioned Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson, who are no longer with the club. And when asked about the Braves’ identity, Minter first mentioned the Hall of Famers, from John Smoltz to Tom Glavine to Greg Maddux. There are tons of others, including the late, great Hank Aaron.

For years, Minter said, Atlanta fans felt their city’s sports teams were cursed. So much good, then so much heartbreaking.

It changed in 2021.

“Finally, we broke through and kind of broke the curse, a lift of our shoulders,” Minter said. “We just kind of come out here and feel more relaxed, and you’ve got the city behind you. Fans are obviously excited about us. When you come together as a city fighting for one goal, it definitely makes it a lot more special, (and there’s) a lot more encouragement and drive to go out and play every day.”

A year ago, the Braves lost three of four here in Queens and fell to 6.5 games back of the first-place Mets with around a month and a half to play.

On Saturday, the Braves swept the Mets in a doubleheader – by a combined score of 27-3. The Mets fell to 23.5 games back of first-place Atlanta. They might compete for last place.

A stunning letdown of a season.

“It obviously didn’t work for them this season,” Sean Murphy said. “But I mean, I still look across the way and I’m looking at a pretty dang good lineup. It’s still a good team over there. Obviously, they moved some pictures and what not. At the end of the day, they went for it. And sometimes baseball stuff, and (it) didn’t work. But I don’t think they’re going to give up over there.”

The Braves, on the other hand, have realistic World Series aspirations. They’ll play in the postseason again.

“It’s a feeling like no other,” Minter said. “I wish every player could experience it. That’s the whole reason why we play this game, is to win and to be the final team standing at the end.”

Minter said he couldn’t imagine showing up to the ballpark in August knowing his team is out of it. This is a feeling Sean Murphy felt last year when he played for Oakland. Still, Murphy found ways to be motivated. After all, he was still a big leaguer.

“Even then I still feel the anxiety and the adrenaline that you would feel if the game mattered,” he said.

The Mets got what looks to be a nice prospect return (including Luisangel Acuña, the brother of Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr.) when they traded Scherzer and Verlander. They could still spend money this offseason. It’s difficult to see Cohen sitting back.

Meanwhile, Atlanta has built a sustainable winner. The Braves have stars. But they’ve filled the gaps with established major leaguers and prospects. Their scouting department feeds their player development arm, which sends those players to the big club.

This seems simple. This is what every club tries to achieve.

Few do it like the Braves.

And this weekend at Citi Field, the Mets have offered yet another example of why building a consistent winner is so difficult.

“I feel like you’re asking the wrong person because I’ve only known he good,” Minter said. “I haven’t been through the bad yet. Hopefully I never see the bad.”

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