It’s early. Still, the Braves trail the Mets by five games

The Braves and Mets will square off in four games over the next three days in Flushing, N.Y. (AJC file photo/Hyosub Shin)

Credit: AJC file photo/Hyosub Shin

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The Braves and Mets will square off in four games over the next three days in Flushing, N.Y. (AJC file photo/Hyosub Shin)

Credit: AJC file photo/Hyosub Shin

The Braves awoke Monday with the 19th-best record in the majors. They’ve played seven series, winning one. They lost two of three to Texas, which has the worst record among American League clubs.

They opened by facing Cincinnati, which after 22 games has the second-worst record in the history of baseball. The Reds, who went 2-2 against the Braves, are 1-17 against everyone else.

The Braves have spent 17 hours above .500. They’re 18th in runs scored, 24th in ERA. Their longest winning streak is two games. On the plus side, their longest losing streak is two. Through 23 games, they’ve been the same middling team they were until August last season.

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If we missed the part where the 2021 Braves won the World Series, we might have cause to fret. Knowing better, we should do what everyone in baseball does, which is to shrug and say, “It’s a long season.”

Some of this – not all, but some – can be explained away. Like every club, the Braves had a shortened spring training. Like no other club, they spent the first week of 2022 celebrating the championship they’d won in 2021. They played 16 games without the great Ronald Acuna.

Charlie Morton’s ERA is 7.00. Ozzie Albies is hitting .164 left-handed. Kyle Muller started Sunday and walked six in 2 ⅔ innings. Matt Olson is coming off a 3-for-24 week. Between them, Adam Duvall and Dansby Swanson have 32 hits and 60 strikeouts.

After 23 games last season, the Braves were 11-12, one game out of first place. They were 10-13 this time, which isn’t a lot different. Except: They were six games behind the Mets. After the Braves’ victory Monday night at Citi Field, Atlanta now trails by five games in the NL East. Should the home side take the next three, the Braves would be eight games in arrears. That would match their biggest deficit of 2021, which came in June and lasted one day.

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The Mets held first place then, too, though their winning percentage was .590. This year’s Mets have played .696 ball. They’re fourth in the majors in runs, third in ERA. That’s without getting anything from Jacob deGrom, indisposed yet again.

We around here enjoy gigging the Mets, who have won the NL East twice since the Braves moved into the division in 1994. The Mets make an inviting target because they spend a lot of money and still mess up. They reached the World Series in 2015 behind a rotation that featured deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler were on the way. They’ve made the playoffs once since, exiting after being shut out by Madison Bumgarner in the 2016 wild-card game.

Over the past six seasons, the Mets finished an aggregate 79 ½ games out of first. Syndergaard, known as Thor, has started five big-league games since 2019. He’s with the Angels. Harvey, known as the Dark Knight, signed a minor-league deal with Baltimore last month. Matz and Wheeler work elsewhere.

The Mets have had four managers since 2016, five if you count Carlos Beltran, fired before working a game for his role in the Astros’ cheating. They’ve had nine general managers since 2017. That’s if you count Sandy Alderson twice, plus an interim triumvirate after Alderson stepped aside the first time. It also counts Brodie Van Wagenen, who’d been an agent for deGrom and Syndergaard and who lasted two years, and Jared Porter, who lasted five weeks before being fired for sending objectionable photos to a female journalist. His interim replacement, Zack Scott, was dumped after a DWI arrest.

The catch is that the Mets, for the first time in decades, appear to have professional management. Steve Cohen bought the team in 2020. The latest GM is Billy Eppler, previously of the Angels. Their manager is Buck Showalter, once described to me by a baseball executive as the only difference-making tactician in the sport. They’ve won each of their seven series. FanGraphs gives them a 54.2 percent chance of winning the East.

Baseball seasons take forever. Barring a Reds-like start, nothing that happens in April can’t be overridden. The Braves and Mets will play 15 more games after this week. There’ll be three wild cards per league come October and no one-game play-ins. The Braves don’t have to finish ahead of the Mets to win the 2022 World Series. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take three of four in Flushing.

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