The Braves still own the Mets

The Braves spent the week giving the Mets hope that they really are on their level, only to take it away. The Braves swept the Mets at Truist Park while coming back to win all three games. The finale was the most embarrassing loss of them all for the visitors.

The Mets sent Spencer Strider to his worst-ever MLB start. They led by as many as seven runs and still had four-run advantage in the sixth inning. And yet the Mets still couldn’t beat the Braves.

Ozzie Albies hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning for a wild 13-10 Braves victory on Thursday. What message did the Braves send to the Mets by rallying to beat them over three straight days?

“It’s the best feeling, and they know the message already,” Albies said. “I don’t even have to say it.”

OK, then, I’ll say it: The Braves own the Mets.

The Braves bested the Mets on the final weekend of 2022 to win the NL East. The Braves won two of three games at New York to end May. And now they’ve beat the Mets three straight times after the visitors held leads.

The Braves came back to win the opener after trailing by three runs in the sixth inning. The Braves rallied to take the lead against Max Scherzer on Wednesday, gave back the advantage and then won the game in the eighth. In the finale, New York’s lead was down to one run after Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run in the eighth inning.

The Mets loaded the bases against Braves reliever Jesse Chavez with one out in the ninth. He got out of that jam by striking out Omar Narvaez and Mark Vientos. That’s when it seemed inevitable that the Braves would beat the Mets, who’d blown so many chances to extend their lead.

Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out homer off David Robertson. Braves closer Raisel Iglesias retired the Mets in order in the 10th before Albies sent Tommy Hunter’s 1-0 pitch to the right-field seats.

“The ball hit the bat and I didn’t feel anything,” Albies said. “That’s how solid it was hit. It’s the best feeling.”

It was a sinking feeling for the Mets, who’d blown another lead against the Braves.

The Mets scored eight runs against Strider over four innings for an 8-2 lead and were up 9-2 in the fifth. The lead never quite felt secure, though. New York scored a run in the fifth inning and another run in the sixth. The Braves matched those scores each time before wearing down the Mets at the end.

After everything that’s gone wrong for the Braves this season, they lead the East by 3 1/2 games over the Marlins with 100 to go. The Mets are now 8 ½ games behind the Braves. Atlanta’s struggles in May never reached panic mode because the Mets were getting little bang from the many bucks spent on player payroll.

Now the Braves have won five games in a row to solidify their status as the NL’s best team. They have the league’s best record (38-24) and run differential (plus-58). Only the Dodgers, who won a series here two weeks ago, are on their level. The Mets are a notch below the Braves because their lineup is so-so. That’s why it was surprising to see them rough up Strider.

Maybe that shouldn’t have been a shock. Strider’s 5.03 ERA in six previous appearances against New York was his highest for opponents he’s faced at least four times. Still, a Braves sweep seemed plausible with Strider on the mound. He was on a streak of three straight starts of six innings with two earned runs allowed.

The odds of a sweep increased when the Braves scored three runs in the first inning against Mets right-hander Justin Verlander. He was the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2022 but has been up-and-down since coming off the injured list in May. Strider entered the game as the betting favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award but allowed a career-high eight runs to the Mets.

He immediately gave back the three-run lead by surrendering five runs in the second. The first three Mets batters in that inning singled. Narvaez drove in one run with a one-out single. Lead-off man Brandon Nimmo cleared the bases with a grand slam.

“I think it’s got to be deflating when we score three in the bottom of the first and I go up and give up five,” Strider said. “That game very easily should have been over after the first inning. I’ll wear that one, obviously.

“Even still, the attitude in the dugout was never that we were out of it.”

That should always be the attitude when the Mets are in the other dugout. Unlike the Braves, the Mets can never be trusted to finish the job. They led the East by 10 ½ games on June 1, 2022. They came to Atlanta with a one-game lead at the end of September and got swept.

The Mets came to Atlanta this week with a chance to get within 2 1/2 games of the Braves in the East. They couldn’t do it because they couldn’t hold a lead. Albies was right that he didn’t have to say it. Everyone can see that the Braves own the Mets.

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