The Braves are a different team than when they last played the Mets

Ronald Acuna (center) celebrates with Michael Harris and Orlando Arcia (11) after hitting a three-run home run off Washington Nationals' Erick Fedde during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, July 8, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Combined ShapeCaption
Ronald Acuna (center) celebrates with Michael Harris and Orlando Arcia (11) after hitting a three-run home run off Washington Nationals' Erick Fedde during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, July 8, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Ronald Acuña had not gotten his legs under him. Michael Harris was still in Double A. Spencer Strider wasn’t yet in the rotation. The offense had not clicked. The team had not yet found its stride.

These are not the Braves who visited New York in early May.

This is a new team.

“It does feel pretty different,” Matt Olson said. “Early on, it was just kind of like we were keeping our heads above water. Play a good game or two, play a bad game or two. We were just floating around that .500 (mark), not really hitting our stride.

ajc.com

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

“This past month and a half, it’s been really fun. Obviously, winning cures all. But the way we’ve been doing it, it’s been a different guy every night. Starting pitching will go carry one game, the lineup will go carry another game, the bullpen will carry another game. That’s what good teams do, they find different ways to win. You don’t rely on one person or one thing every night to go get a win, and that’s the fun part.”

It all leads us here: The Mets and Braves will play three games from Monday through Wednesday. The National League East’s top two teams will take center stage, with the baseball world watching as it evaluates who is better at this point in the season.

Including this upcoming series, the Braves have 15 more games versus New York this season. The battle for the NL East could go in tons of different directions before the regular season ends.

It is only July. We have not yet reached the All-Star break. But this series should be fun.

“You look forward to games like that, especially ones that are in the division,” Olson said.

He then adds: “I think we’re getting Scherzer.”

They are, in fact, getting Max Scherzer, one of the Mets’ aces. He is one of baseball’s bulldogs. He is as tough as he is talented. Oh, and he’ll face Max Fried, who has a 2.52 ERA over 17 starts.

Monday will be the Battle of the Maxes. Tuesday is Strider versus David Peterson. Wednesday is Charlie Morton versus Chris Bassitt.

One team once led the division by 10 1/2 games. The other has climbed back into the race because of its dominance in June and early July. The Braves are 1 1/2 games behind the Mets.

“It’s a really long season,” Olson said. “They came out obviously really hot. It’s not taking anything away from them, they’re clearly a really good team and they got a lot of good players. But we didn’t come out or best and I know a couple other teams in our division didn’t come out the strongest. That lead did start out pretty good. That’s the good thing about playing 162. Things will always revert back to the mean.

“We expect it to be a race.”

For almost two months to begin the season, the Braves struggled to string together victories. Their offense hadn’t exploded much. They didn’t have an answer for the fifth spot in the rotation. They seemed like they were sleepwalking.

Things have changed.

The Braves now rank second in OPS in baseball. They’re second in homers and third in runs scored. They have the eighth-best batting average. They have the seventh-best team ERA and the sixth-best batting average against in the sport.

The Braves are a complete team.

“As of late, it’s felt like early on, we come out and the starter throws well and we score some runs early,” Olson said. “That’s a good feeling to have when you’re coming out and in the first three innings, you’re up and you feel like you’re going to win the game. First couple months, it was kind of like we were battling a little more for wins. Now, you kind of show up to the field and expect to win that day. If it starts off not great, there’s no panic and we know we can find a way to win the ballgame.”

Over the last month, the Braves have rolled through the Giants and Cardinals. They have punished lesser competition. They played the Dodgers tough and were a strike away from winning that series.

Now the Mets come to town, and the Truist Park atmosphere should reflect the importance of this series.

“It should be really good,” Olson said. “Definitely pumped to see what the crowd will be like, and hopefully (we have) some exciting games.”

Home run differential

The Braves had hit 132 homers entering Sunday. They were on pace to hit 249 of them, which would tie the franchise record set by the 2019 club.

Atlanta had also allowed the second-fewest homers in the majors with 71. The Braves are on pace to allow 134 this season. If they keep this pace, it would be the second-largest differential (plus-115) between homers hit and homers allowed by a team in a single season in baseball history.

The MLB record is held by the 1927 Yankees, who had a plus-116 homer differential.

Starters going deep into games

Kyle Wright on Saturday went seven innings in his start. Charlie Morton did it in the game before.

Atlanta has gotten at least seven innings from its starting pitchers in four of nine games this month.

This season, the Braves are 11-3 when their starter goes at least seven innings