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Braves remind Mets where they stand

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A superior Braves team sweeps the Mets.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In what was probably the roughest patch of the second half so far, the Braves capped off a sweep of the Mets with a 2-1 victory. Dallas Keuchel shut down the Met offense for the second time in three starts, and the Braves as a whole neutered the Met offense for the second time in three games. Steven Matz was brilliant, but was left out to dry by the lacking offensive performance.

Josh Donaldson, who has absolutely demolished the Mets (seven home runs entering play today), struck the first blow in this one. Steven Matz made a good pitch, spotting a fastball on the corner up-and-in. Donaldson hit what looked like a high pop-up, but the wind and the juiced ball meant it just kept carrying, and it snuck over the wall down the left field line for a home run. Things looked like they would get dicey when Adam Duvall followed with a double (which was misplayed in center by Juan Lagares), but Matz stabilized and set the next three Braves down to escape the threat.

That was the start of a dominant run. After Duvall’s double, Matz put down the next eleven Braves in order, racking up strikeouts and weak contact. Tyler Flower snapped that streak with a walk, but Matz came right back and struck out Keuchel to strand Flowers and end the fifth before striking out two more in a 1-2-3 sixth. the lefty finished his outing there, having allowed only two hits, a walk, and the one run in six innings while striking out six, continuing a dominant second half in which he has a 2.81 ERA and a 2.90 FIP.

Like deGrom on Friday, Matz’s dominant start against a rival at the top of the division went wasted because the offense was MIA. Dallas Keuchel, who has been bad against essentially every team that isn’t the Mets, shut the Mets down for the second time in his last three starts. The veteran lefty induced double plays in the first, second, and fifth, as the Mets failed to capitalize on three leadoff baserunners in the first six innings.

With Matz out of the game and out of the running for a win, Paul Sewald entered in relief. Josh Donaldson struck again, greeting Sewald rudely with another solo home run. This one was no cheapy, a screaming line drive out to right-center for Donaldson’s ninth home run against the Mets this season. That’s the most by any one player since Dave Kingman in 1979, and the blast gave the Braves a 2-0 lead.

That home run was the only hit Sewald allowed in two innings of work, but his effort was ultimately irrelevant. Keuchel worked around another leadoff baserunner in the bottom of the seventh, and Sean Newcombe retired the Mets in order in the eighth. Justin Wilson walked Freddie Freeman with one out in the ninth, but the Mets finally managed to neutralize Josh Donaldson, and the game headed to the bottom of the ninth with score unchanged.

Facing their last licks, the Met offense finally decided that scoring runs is a better strategy than not scoring runs. Pete Alonso lead off against Mark Melancon, Pete Alonso doubled down the left field line, and a single from J.D. Davis two batters later put runners on first and third with one out. Todd Frazier then hacked at the first pitch and almost grounded into yet another double play, but beat out Ozzie Albies’ throw at first while driving in Alonso with the first run of the game for the Mets.

Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Wilson Ramos pinch hit and extended his hitting streak to 19 games, but Joe Panik couldn’t keep the line going, grounding out to first to end the game. The 2-1 loss drops the Mets to 67-63, and caps off a series in which the differences between an upper echelon team and the Mets were clearly highlighted. In every facet aside from starting pitching - be it defense, bullpen quality, or offense (particularly for free agent acquisitions) - the Braves’ roster is just better. The front office needs to do better in the future if the Mets are to become more than a fringe contender.

With an off day Monday, the Mets will have a chance to regroup before starting a critical three game set with the Cubs on Tuesday at Citi Field. The Cubs currently sit two games ahead of the Mets in possession of the second Wild Card, with the Phillies and Brewers also in the mix.

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What’s WPA?

Big winners: J.D. Davis, +18.2% WPA; Steven Matz, +15.0% WPA
Big losers: Todd Frazier, -20.7% WPA; Joe Panik, -15.6% WPA; Juan Lagares, -15.5% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: +8.7% WPA
Total batter WPA: -58.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Pete Alonso leads off the ninth with a double, +9.9% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Josh Donaldson homers in the top of the seventh, -12.5% WPA