Bradley’s Buzz: Here come the Mets, whose lead is dwindling

This is how the Braves reached the 1999 World Series: Andruw Jones taking ball four from Mets pitcher Kenny Rogers with the bases loaded in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. (G. Paul Burnett/New York Times)

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This is how the Braves reached the 1999 World Series: Andruw Jones taking ball four from Mets pitcher Kenny Rogers with the bases loaded in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. (G. Paul Burnett/New York Times)

The Braves trailed the Mets by 10½ games at the close of business on June 1. Should the Braves win their next two games, they’ll be in first place. Even by their lofty standards, this has been impressive.

Once upon a time, the fun part of a Braves’ season came when they fell behind. They were the greatest chasers the game has known. The worst-to-first bunch of 1991 was 9½ games behind L.A. at the All-Star break, holder of third place in the National League West. The 1992 club was seven back – in fifth place! – of Cincinnati on the far side of Memorial Day. The 1993 aggregation trailed San Francisco by 10 on July 22, by nine on Aug. 11.

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Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

There were no wild cards then. If you didn’t win your division, you didn’t make the playoffs. The ‘91 Dodgers won 93 games and were eliminated on the regular season’s final bay. The ‘93 Giants won 103 but were eliminated three hours after the Braves got to 104 by beating Colorado on Oct. 3. Until last season’s team won 107, no band of Giants – either in New York or San Fran – had done better.

Didn’t matter how good the opponents were. The Braves were always one notch above, and they were always seeking to get better. They landed Alejandro Pena, huge in September and October, on Aug. 28, 1991. They landed the All-Star closer Jeff Reardon in Fred McGriff reported for duty in 1993 the night the press box caught fire. He one homer that night, two more the next day.

Francisco Cabrera hit two home runs off the vaunted Reds’ bullpen on a Wednesday night in ‘91. Otis Nixon climbed the wall to thwart Andy Van Slyke on the Saturday in ‘92 that the Braves managed one hit – a David Justice home run – and won 1-0. The Braves’ last meeting with the Giants in 1993 saw Ron Gant line the winning single off pitcher Dave Burba’s not-inconsiderable backside.

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About recent history

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Atlanta Braves players celebrate their latest division title clinched after Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Phillies at Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves players celebrate their latest division title clinched after Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Phillies at Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

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Atlanta Braves players celebrate their latest division title clinched after Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Phillies at Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

If the past three decades have taught us anything, it’s that when the Braves finally get going, they REALLY go. Because there are three wild cards per league this season, finishing first in the East isn’t mandatory. Last season it was. The entirety of Alex Anthopoulos’ pitch to upper management for deadline reinforcements was that the Braves were in the only division they could still win.

Anthopoulos bought, as Freddie Freeman famously said, “a whole new outfield.” Joc Pederson became a style influencer. Eddie Rosario was MVP of the NLCS. Jorge Soler was World Series MVP.

The 2021 Braves trailed the Mets by five games on Aug. 1. Bolstered by their new outfield, they finished 11-1/2 games ahead.

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About those amazin’ Mets

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New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) reacts in the dugout after being relieved in the sixth inning inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in New York. Ottavino gave up five runs to the Braves. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: AP

New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) reacts in the dugout after being relieved in the sixth inning inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in New York. Ottavino gave up five runs to the Braves. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: AP

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New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) reacts in the dugout after being relieved in the sixth inning inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in New York. Ottavino gave up five runs to the Braves. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Braves got good again in 2018. They’ve won the East four years running. As happened in the late ‘90s, they’ve owned the Mets. They’re 43-28 against New York over the past four seasons plus the first four meetings of 2022.

The Braves have won the East 16 times since being relocated from the West in 1994. Over the same span, the Mets have won it twice. They last won a World Series in 1986. The Braves last won the World Series on Nov. 2, 2021.

The Mets are 19-16 since May 31. The Braves are 29-8.

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About Robinson Cano

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Robinson Cano bats for the Mets during a 2020 game against the Braves.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Robinson Cano bats for the Mets during a 2020 game against the Braves.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Robinson Cano bats for the Mets during a 2020 game against the Braves.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

This could be a move we’ll forget ever happened. (Remember Jose Bautista’s 12 games as a Brave in 2018? No? There’s a reason.) Cano is 39. He was cut by the Mets in April, cut by the Padres in June. He wouldn’t appear to have anything left.

He was, however, the best second baseman in the sport for nearly a decade – an eight-time All-Star, twice a Gold Glove winner, five times a Silver Slugger awardee. His career WAR is 68.5, which is better than Hall of Fame second basemen Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio and Robbie Alomar.

Cano tested positive for PEDs not once but twice, costing him an aggregate 242 games – a year and a half, in baseball terms. His batting average as a Met/Padre was .182. He had one extra-base hit. Even in his finest seasons, it was possible to wonder if he was playing full-out; his numbers served as a counterpoint.

Ozzie Albies, among the best second basemen post-Cano, is injured. Phil Gosselin, re-acquired off waivers, is 6-for-23 with no extra-base hits. The Braves don’t need Cano to be Albies. They just need him to be better than Gosselin.