Losing most of the NL East lead isn’t a sign of the “same old Mets,” the Braves are just winning at a historic pace

The National League East standings might try to tell you otherwise, but the Mets aren’t falling apart.

Granted, there’s still plenty of time in the regular season for them to fully blow it up, but just going 9-8 over their last 17 games doesn’t constitute a complete collapse.

The Mets hold a half-game lead in the division heading into Thursday, a day when both Buck Showalter’s club and the Atlanta Braves have a shutout. The story shouldn’t be about the much-hyped demise of the Mets, but how well the Braves played. The Braves were 24-27 entering the June 2 game, 10.5 games behind the Mets. Since then, Atlanta has played like one of the best teams of all time. This is no exaggeration either. The Braves’ 62-24 record over their last 86 games is good for a ridiculous .720 winning percentage, which equates to 116 wins in a full season, the current major league record.

Essentially, it took one of the greatest heaters in sports history to catch the Mets. Unlike the Braves, the Mets have been consistently solid all season, never stringing together particularly long winning or losing streaks. The Mets’ hitting streak from Saturday to Tuesday matched their longest of the season, and they rebounded to outscore the Pirates by a combined score of 15-1 in Wednesday’s doubleheader. Their longest hitting streak lasted a respectable seven games before ending, in funny fashion, in Jacob deGrom’s first start of the year.

Such things conjure up feelings of “the same old Mets,” but we have too large a sample to know that the 2022 team has exorcised many of those demons. In a somewhat refreshing change, the creeping anxiety that comes with watching the Mets this year is due to another team, not the Mets constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Atlanta’s season took off thanks to a 14-game winning streak in early June. After going under .500 in April and May, the Braves were 21-6 in June, 36-18 in July and August and have yet to lose in September.

While the Mets just went a disappointing 3-3 against the Nationals and Pirates, emphatic wins in the last two games were the perfect send-off on a precious day off in September. Now, if the Mets continue to slide over their next ten games — three in Miami before a seven-game homestand against the Cubs and Pirates — they have some problems.

Atlanta faces its toughest remaining stretch of the calendar as its West Coast warriors travel to Seattle and San Francisco. The Braves will then board a cross-country flight and prepare for a three-game homestand against the Phillies, a team desperate to hold onto the wild-card spot. With a touch of help from the Mariners, Giants and Phillies — as well as taking care of their own business — the Mets could emerge from these next ten days with some new breathing room.

Any confidence in the Mets, which should still be felt in the crowd, comes from the fact that they have proven to be one of the most talented teams in the league. This is not a group of lucky young players coming together to exceed their projections, confounding statisticians and analysts. This is a team that was supposed to be good, got a late-season boost from the most unhittable pitcher alive, and was good the entire time. There’s no reason to think he’ll disappear over the next three weeks, even if the recent injuries to Max Scherzer and Starling Marte are less than ideal.

Consider that while Atlanta had to hit .720 ball to score them, the Mets hit .630 ball all season. More of the same, which would be a 15-9 record to close out the season, would be enough to win the division. Especially with the teams on their schedule (the Braves and Brewers are the only teams left still trying), accomplishing that feat is very possible, and it’s not out of the question for the Mets to win 17 or 18 of the final 24.

What we’re seeing is a team that, unlike the Yankees, has never really slumped or been exposed for an extended stretch. It was a solid ship, albeit one trying to hold back a burning speeder from Atlanta. We also see the luxury of bankrolling early season wins, the one clear advantage the Mets have over the Braves. The Mets’ 34-17 start is poised to be one of the sneakiest difference makers in the NL East race, as it has given them a tremendous head start while the Braves have sputtered.

Even better for the Mets, they control their own destiny. They have the lead, they have the horses to finish it off and even if they fall a bit, they can get back up when they play Atlanta on the first weekend in October. Things may be a little too close for comfort, but the Mets and their fans should feel safe enough to avoid a meltdown.

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