‘This is what you play for’: Braves know what’s at stake in series versus Mets

It all comes down to this.

“This is what you play for,” Matt Olson said.

The Braves and Mets, bitter National League East rivals, are ready for a three-game series at Truist Park. The only way the stakes would be higher is if the two clubs met in the postseason.

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This series, for all intents and purposes, is for the division crown. Could the Mets lose against the Nationals, or could the Braves lose to the Marlins? Sure, but don’t count on it. The coming series is the biggest of the regular season for these teams, and the Braves enter it one game behind New York.

All of this is especially true when you consider this: The NL East’s second-place team, which likely will be a 100-win team, will play in the new three-game wild=card series. The division’s champion, on the other hand, will receive a first-round bye.

Thus, it seems like losing the division puts you at a huge disadvantage.

“I’m sure you can look at it that way,” Olson said. “I feel like we have such a good staff here that it’s not as big of an issue. We’ve legitimately got five, six guys that there’s no problem putting them out there, and (we’re) totally confident with (them). Obviously you want to win the division, obviously anything can happen in a three-game series and you want to take that risk out if at all possible and winning the division does that, but I don’t think it’s something that our back would be against the wall if that was the case.”

Added Jake Odorizzi: “I think, obviously, it’s more important to win a division – you’re already guaranteed a spot in the (NLDS). But the five days off in between the season being over is a little unique. But at the same time, you’ve won a series without throwing a pitch, whatever it might be. Our goal’s to win a division, that’s the big thing. … Our thought is right now just handling the division and then we’ll adjust accordingly if we need to. But this team has the talent to pull through and win a division, so it’s a big series coming up for us and I think everybody in the world kind of knows that at this point.”

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If the Braves win the NL East, they would not begin postseason play until Oct. 11, and would have almost a full week off after their regular-season finale. They would be able to line up Max Fried, Kyle Wright and perhaps Spencer Strider (who is out with an oblique strain).

If the Braves do not finish atop the division standings, their postseason journey would begin Oct. 7, two days after their final regular-season contest. They would need to throw their best pitchers in that series, which might leave them vulnerable for the start of the NLDS against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

But the Braves believe they can win in multiple ways, which gives them confidence for the postseason regardless of where they are seeded.

“We’ve got faith in the rotation,” Olson said. “If some of the guys who are technically one, two, three have to go in that series, we feel just as good going out there winning the game with the other two, three guys. It’s just confidence in those guys.”

The Braves, who are one game behind the Mets, would be tied with the Mets in the standings if they took two of three this weekend. The only issue: The Mets would own the tiebreaker for winning the season series, meaning Atlanta would need help from the Nationals in the final series. If the Braves (7-9 versus the Mets this year) sweep the Mets, they would win the season series and be two games ahead.

In this three-game series against the Mets, the Braves will start Max Fried on Friday, Kyle Wright on Saturday and Charlie Morton on Sunday. In this order, the Mets will throw their top three starters: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt.

The Braves and Mets are playing for the division, and the right to not have to play the wild-card series.

“I guess the biggest part is rest – players having rest, pitchers having rest, and going in healthy, I guess, knowing everybody is up to their full potential,” Michael Harris said. “Just knowing you have the number one spot, it just takes off a lot of stress from your shoulders (because) you don’t have to play those extra games.”

Throughout this strtech run, the Braves have simply tried to take care of their own business. Of course, they see the standings. They are aware of the Mets’ wins and losses. That’s human nature. But they don’t let it get in the way of their own work.

“The more that you’re focused on things outside of these walls,” Dansby Swanson said, “the less you’re going to be focused on the things that matter.”

The Braves and Mets of old engaged in a heated rivalry. It cooled over the years, but could be picking up now that both teams are contenders.

This is the most important iteration of this rivalry in a long time.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Olson said. “I expect Truist to be pretty rowdy.”