Mets will need a special finish to catch surging Braves

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The perfect storm has been swirling for three weeks, upsetting the balance of power in the NL East.

As stunning as the Mets’ free fall has seemed for the players, less shocking is the rise of the rival Braves, who are off and running in their attempt to win a fourth straight NL East crown.

During a stretch in which the Mets have disintegrated, with a 6-15 record in August that included five losses in seven games on their just completed West Coast swing, the Braves have become the toast of baseball. They had won 16 of 18 entering Monday to build a seven-game lead on the Mets in the division. The Phillies were sandwiched in between, five games behind.

“We knew the Braves were going to get hot, it didn’t matter if they lost [Ronald] Acuna,” J.D. Davis said, referring to the All-Star outfielder who was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. “Freddie [Freeman] was going to get hot, even though they lost Acuna. We knew they were a good enough team to get on a run, especially with the way they handle themselves and the culture over there.”

Edwin Diaz (left), Jorge Soler (right)
AP

The Mets’ hopes for a late surge will hinge largely on what occurs over the next 19 games. There’s a three-game series against the Giants to survive beginning Tuesday at Citi Field, before the Mets play 16 straight against the Nationals and Marlins, two teams long removed from the postseason chase and whom the Braves beat up on for the first six wins in the nine-game win streak they carried into Monday.

If the Mets can’t dominate during that stretch, there is little reason to believe they will be playing for much by the time they return home to face the Yankees on Sept. 11 weekend. As it stands, Fangraphs gives the Mets a 5.5 percent chance to reach the postseason.

“We have got a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, there is some hope,” Davis said, referring to the upcoming schedule.

As of Monday the Mets’ remaining opponents held a .496 winning percentage, for the 16th toughest remaining schedule. The Braves’ opponents were slightly tougher, owning a .504 winning percentage. The Phillies had the easiest remaining schedule, against teams with a .440 winning percentage.

The Mets’ toughest remaining games are these three against the Giants — who won two of three in San Francisco last week — along with the Subway Series and a trip to Milwaukee in late September. The realistic goal might be to pick up enough ground on the Braves to make the final series of the regular season, in Atlanta, meaningful.

The Mets regained a key piece Sunday when Javier Baez was activated from the injured list. Another important player, Francisco Lindor, could return as soon as Tuesday and the Mets are still hopeful they will see Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in September.

“We’re trying to get everybody healthy, get back out here and then just make kind of one final run at it,” Davis said. “Atlanta is Atlanta, but if we can catch them or we can catch one of those two wild-card spots then we are going to be all right, especially if Noah [Syndergaard] comes back. Jake is another wild card.”

The wild card isn’t any easier a path to the playoffs for the Mets, who trailed Cincinnati by seven games for the second wild-card spot — with San Diego, St. Louis and Philadelphia also ahead of them — entering Monday.

Davis said he wouldn’t have believed it a month ago if you told him the Mets would be facing such long odds to reach the playoffs.

“But I probably wouldn’t have said that Jake would have been out, either,” Davis said. “But nobody would have guessed what is going on right now.”

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