The Atlanta Braves don’t have Chipper Jones anymore, but still represent the yardstick in which the Mets like to measure themselves.
There is no longer a rivalry for National League East supremacy, and what there once was had been dominated by the Braves. Kenny Rogers’ wildness and Armando Benitez ensured trumped Robin Ventura’s grand slam single.
Arguably, the Mets’ greatest moment in the rivalry – outside winning the 1969 NLCS – was Mike Piazza’s thunderbolt after September 11.
The Braves, who paid no attention to preseason speculation of Washington running away with the division and going straight to the World Series, are in first place, 4 ½ games ahead of the Nationals and 10 up on the Mets.
Atlanta is in for the start of a three-game series tonight, and it will be odd not to have Jones around to boo. Even so, the Braves might be the best run team in the National League and they have the same blueprint.
Gone are Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, but this weekend the Mets skip Tim Hudson, but get Kris Medlen (1-5), Mike Minor (5-2) and Julio Teheran (3-1). If they get through them, the Braves (2.79) have the third-ranked bullpen behind San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and might have the league’s premier closer in Craig Kimbrel.
The Braves have always been about fundamentals, pitching and power, and this season is no different with Justin Upton (14 homers), B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward, an outfield the Mets could only dream about.
Meanwhile, the Mets have been listless offensively, scoring more than four runs only once since beating the Braves, 7-5, on May 3. Their hitters are striking out roughly ten times a game and it is only a matter of time before Ike Davis (.147 and on a 1-for-38 slide) is shipped out to the minors.
The Mets, losers of 10 of their last 12 games, have Jeremy Hefner, Dillon Gee and Shaun Marcum, who are a combined 2-15 going for them. Hefner and Marcum comprise 40 percent of the rotation and have no victories.
Once 10-9, the Mets are 17-27 and in a free fall towards irrelevance. Prior to the Pirates series, when the Mets were 13-17, I wrote where the next two weeks could define their season and that is coming to fruition.
The Mets lost three of four to Pittsburgh and St. Louis in consecutive series, won two or three in Chicago, and swept in a three-game series at home by Cincinnati.
After the Braves come four straight with the Yankees, before closing the month at Miami.
June doesn’t get easier as the Mets have six games against the Nationals, three with St. Louis, five in Atlanta (includes a make-up game), three in Philadelphia, two in Chicago against the White Sox, and they fly to Colorado for a one-game make-up on an off-day.
By the time they conclude a nine-game road trip leading into the All-Star break, there is a very realistic chance the Mets could be 20 games under .500 if not 20 games out of first place.
The Mets’ long summer is getting longer and we’re not even through with May.