NEW YORK — For the first time in 16 years, the Mets have a chance to not only win the NL East, but put it on ice before the start of September.
Their 6-0 win over the Phillies on Sunday was never much in doubt, featuring New York’s usual brand of sharp starting pitching, effective relief work and relentless offensive attack. Chris Bassitt pitched five shutouts to extend his streak of innings without an earned run to 24. Reliever Trevor Williams ran his own such streak to 20 innings. Daniel Vogelbach hit a crowd pleasing homer, Francis Lindor set a single-season record for RBIs by a Mets shortstop, and the club won a rubber game for the 14th time in 18 tries.
The Mets did, in short, what they’ve done all season, and the result allowed them to maintain their 5 1/2 game edge on the Braves heading into another key showdown this week in Atlanta. If the Mets can even split that four-game series, they will squash the Braves’ best chance to come from behind to defend their NL East title. If the Mets win three or four, they will effectively have the division sewn up before school gets back in session.
On Sept. 5, New York will begin a stretch of 13 straight games against clear non-contenders. It’s one of the easiest September schedules in the game, giving the Mets a prime chance to maintain any lead they build here in August.
And build the Mets have. Despite Atlanta’s continued pressure behind them in the standings, the Mets have maintained first place by winning eight of their last nine, 10 of their last 12 and 17 of their last 20 – mostly against division opponents. They are holding off all challengers, including the Phillies, who came into Queens having won 12 times in 14 games themselves.
“They don’t overthink it,” manager Buck Showalter said of the Mets. “These guys get it. They handled the season and the competition and the daily grind with a lot of maturity. … I just think they stay in the moment really well.”
The Mets are now 35 games over .500, which is their highest mark since 2006. Only four Mets clubs have ever topped that mark. They are also 14-0-2 in series against NL East opponents, marking the longest early-season unbeaten streak by a major league team since the 1999 Braves — featuring four Hall of Famers — have also won or tied 16 series in a row. .
Despite having only one certain Hall of Famer in its ranks, the Mets’ rotation of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker still managed a pretty accurate impression of those 90’s Braves. New York pitchers allowed just two runs all weekend against the Phillies, their fewest in a three-game series since 2014.
“I think we’re still very short-sighted in the aspect of not trying to look ahead in any way,” Bassitt said. “I mean, Max throws it to Jake, Jake throws it to me, I throw it to Cookie, now Cookie throws it to Tai. We have five veteran guys who are really, really good and capable of putting up a lot of zeroes.”
Of course, not everything is perfect in Flushing. Just as half of the Mets’ third base squad (Eduardo Escobar) was recovering, the other half (Luis Guillorme) suffered a groin injury that could knock him out for the next Braves series. Brandon Nimmo is down, despite showing signs of life with a leadoff double in Sunday’s win. Left-handed relief remains an unresolved issue for the Mets, who saw Joely Rodríguez struggle in the ninth inning of a six-run game.
But in the grand scheme of things, these are quibbles — at worst, rifts that could widen later. Currently, the Mets are thriving, with a chance to take significant steps toward their first division title in seven years.
In 2015, the Mets took control of the NL East in early August but didn’t wrap things up solidly until mid-September. The last time they did that was back in 2006, when their double-digit August lead allowed them to survive a mediocre September stretch.
Those Mets may block thoughts of similar accomplishments, but with another series win in the books, they understand the opportunity before them.
“It’s a big week for us, playing the Braves and then the Phillies and then the Braves and then the Phillies again,” second baseman Jeff McNeil said. “We’re going to go out there and do the same thing we’ve done all year: come out ready to play, take it one game at a time, and then we’ll see where we are at the end of the week. .”