ATLANTA – By the weekend that would effectively settle the National League East, New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso wondered if he had ever played in a series with so much at stake. Since his debut in 2019, the Mets have not made the postseason, finishing at least nine games back every year, and so this would certainly be the biggest of his MLB career. Twice he led his Florida Gators to the College World Series.
Based on that experience, he said that when so much is at stake, less is more. “Smaller thoughts equal big results.”
Maybe the Mets let their thoughts be too big this weekend in Atlanta, because the results were ultimately too small. Across three games, they managed just four extra-base hits, left 22 runners on base, and went a combined 5 for 18 with runners in scoring position. Unhappy with the production and their options at DH, the Mets called MLB.com’s top prospect 20-year-old Francisco Álvarez will make his debut on the pressure stage, only for him to faint in the deciding series. The pitchers, who are supposed to be lights out, may have cracked, but it was the lineup that crumbled.
After spending 175 days in first place this season, they will go into the final series two games behind the reigning. Atlanta Braves. A single win at the weekend would have given them the chance to control their own destiny. Now, to win the division, they will have to sweep the Washington Nationals and hope the Miami Marlins can sweep the Braves. Anything less, and they’ll go straight into the wild card round while the Braves await the division series.
Weekend flex of the reigning champions
People will talk about how the Mets were 10.5 games up in the division on June 1st, a high mark that was diminished over the next three months. But they didn’t collapse — going 63-44 later — so much as they were caught. In that same span, the Braves were 76-32, a 114-win pace and second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball.
But I imagine that’s cold comfort as you watch what started as a charmed season slip away in the final stretch. The Mets went from comic relief to easy favorites in the span of a single ambitious offseason. With a new general manager, a new manager, a famous new clubhouse culture, and the kind of payroll that used to make people accuse the yankees of buying rings, the Mets boasted into the season. Fans may not have admitted it out loud — they watched a smaller version of the team go from first place in mid-August last year to missing the postseason entirely — but the 2022 Mets were one of the Great Teams in baseball. And for most of the season, they played that way.
Zoom out, and you’ll see a team with 98 wins and the chance for a few more. The Mets were able to finish with 100+ for the first time since 1988 and only the fourth time in franchise history. Hosting the new three-game wildcard series will put a strain on their pitching plans at the start of what will be a tight month if they’re lucky; but it is still their first postseason berth in six years.
“What I reminded them and will remind them is how good they are,” manager Buck Showalter said. “And what a good year they’ve had and we’ll still have a chance to accomplish their goals.”
The Mets’ power is missing
Zoom in, though, and there’s concern.
Even the great pitchers’ good starts include some bad pitches. You hope to miss out of the zone, or sneak one off the hitter, or have him waste it on a pop-up. But sometimes, you get hit on your bad pitches. That’s what the best lineups do: punish mistakes.
It takes a bit of luck to win a World Series like the Braves did last year, putting down pickups like the Dodgers and Houston Astros on the way But it also takes the ability to hone in on however many opportunities elite pitchers allow. Sure it’s a bit reductive, but home runs are a terribly efficient way to make the most mistakes.
The difference in the National League East this season will likely end up being just a handful of pitches thrown by the Mets’ top three pitchers through three games in Atlanta. The Braves’ lineup turned three into home runs against Jacob deGrom (two Cy Young awards) on Friday night, two into home runs against Max Scherzer (three Cy Young awards) on Saturday night, and two into home runs off a pair of pitchers on Sunday. amid a not-so-good start from Chris Bassitt. In all, the Braves outscored the Mets seven to three in the sweep that reversed the fortunes of the two teams. Shortstop Dansby Swanson and first baseman Matt Olson each homered in all three games.
That dichotomy is no accident. While the Braves have the second-most home runs in baseball this year — and the most since that pivotal June 1 date — the Mets are 16th. Their offense is built around the second-best on-base percentage in baseball, which works better if you don’t fail the guys who get. And their wins are built around getting better-than-good starts from deGrom and Scherzer and handing them over to their feel closer, Edwin Diaz, who made just one appearance over the weekend and never got a chance to protect a lead.
Perhaps the most sobering part is simply the reminder that even a 98-win team can be swept – especially when it meets another playoff-caliber club. The big picture won’t save you in a postseason series, you have to rise to the occasion. The Mets can cite their determination and resilience and everything they’ve won so far — but remember, the reward will be more of a series like the one they just lost.
“It was intense,” Alonso said of his first taste of nearly postseason baseball, “but I feel like we got a pretty good feel for what it’s going to be like in October.”