Tied at the top! The onrushing Braves pull even with the Mets

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

They trailed by 10 ½ games on June 1. They trailed by seven on April 10. When they awoke Wednesday, the Braves trailed no longer.

They’d caught the Mets, who are on track to win 101 games. When June arrived, the Braves were 23-27, having spent one day – April 9 – above .500. They’ve since gone 62-24. That’s a winning percentage of .721. Since 1910, only one team has played .721 ball over a full season. That was Cleveland in 1954, which went 111-43. Being Cleveland, it was swept by the New York Giants in the World Series. Willie Mays made a nice catch.

ExploreBraves are tied for first place after outlasting the A’s

These Braves needed two months to win three consecutive games. They’ve since seen winning streaks of 14, eight and six. They’ve all but stopped losing to anybody who’s not any good. Since June 1, they’re 41-6 against teams now below .500. Since July 1, they’re 29-3. Baseball doesn’t work this way – the worst team occasionally takes a series from the best – but the Braves have become Alabama against the Vanderbilts of MLB.

They’re 7-0 against Pittsburgh, 6-1 against Colorado, 3-0 against Oakland. They’re 12-4 against Miami, 10-3 against Washington. Of those eight losses, six came before June. The Mets haven’t collapsed – they were 36-19 in July/August – but they finally stumbled. They lost to Washington on Saturday and Sunday. They lost to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Running against these Braves, that’s all it took.

The 2021 Braves won 88 regular-season games. The 2022 Braves have won 85 with 26 remaining. This team mightn’t win a second consecutive World Series – postseasons are weird – but this bunch is a cut above its immediate predecessor. Last year’s Braves finished eighth in the majors in runs, OPS and ERA; this team is second, second and sixth.

The Braves won on a Tuesday night when Kyle Wright yielded eight earned runs over four-plus innings. Forced to cover five innings, the bullpen allowed four hits, one run and no walks. Four relievers struck out nine batters. The A’s tied the game in the fifth. Three batters into the sixth, the Braves had their winning run.

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Meanwhile, the Mets were outscored 22-4 over three games by bottom-feeders. That can happen. It hasn’t happened, at least not lately, to the Braves. The standings will change today: The Braves play an afternoon game in Oakland; the Mets work a day-night doubleheader in Pittsburgh. Assuming no rainouts, one team will be in second place by midnight EDT.

The Mets have spent nearly 30 years casting anxious glances at the Braves. Since joining the NL East in 1994, the Braves have won it 16 times. The Mets have won it twice. For much of the summer, this appeared to be the New Yorkers’ breakout moment. They had, for once, a smart manager. They had lots of pitching and enough hitting. The Braves took two months to rouse themselves. But look now.

No matter who wins the East, its runner-up – and probably its second runner-up – will make the playoffs. Wild cards can and do win the World Series. There is, however, a tangible benefit to winning your division in this latest manifestation of postseason baseball. The division champs with the top two records earn a Round 1 bye. The wild card with the best record becomes the No. 4 seed and, should it beat No. 5 in Round 1, figures to face the top-seeded Dodgers in the NLDS.

Should the Braves finish second in the East, they’d face a best-of-three against the No. 5 seed (Philadelphia or San Diego) in Round 1. The winner would get the Dodgers in a best-of-five NLDS. The winner of that might get another 100-win team (the Mets) in the NLCS.

Should the Braves finish first, they’d skip Round 1 and face the 3-versus-6 winner (St. Louis against the worst wild card) in the NLDS. They wouldn’t see the Dodgers or the Mets until the NLCS. Overthinking October is a fool’s errand, but the NL East runner-up’s playoff road could, if it stretches into the World Series, run through three 100-game winners.

We’ve got a few weeks to ponder that. For today, let’s underscore what has happened over the past three months. The Braves opened their World Series defense as if they were still watching highlights of that giddy triumph. With three wild cards per league, they were never in real trouble; neither were they playing anywhere near peak capacity. They are now.

The Dodgers have won 60 games since May 31. The Astros have won 55, the Mets 51, the Yankees 47. The Braves have won 62. They won’t finish with baseball’s best record, but nobody else is playing like this.