Honest question: when’s the last time the Mets played any game as important as the ones they’ll be playing against the Braves during this five-game series? As we get later and later into this 2022 season and the NL East continues to be a close contest between these two teams, these head-to-head matchups become more and more crucial. However the race ends up turning out, there is every chance we will look to these games as the difference makers. The Mets took care of business the last time they faced their NL East rivals by winning two of three in Atlanta last month, and they got this series started off strong by beating the Braves 6-4 on the backs of several homers, a solid Carlos Carrasco performance, and yet another dominant outing from Edwin Díaz.
This series was bound to be a stressful one from the get-go, but the Mets helped to ease those worries initially by getting a bunch of early runs against Kyle Wright. After Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor got on base in the first inning with an infield single and a walk, respectively, Pete Alonso got things started with an RBI single to left field. The Mets failed to score any additional runs in that frame, but they made up for it in the following innings, as Tyler Naquin—in his first at-bat at Citi Field as a Met—hit a solo shot to right field in the second to give the Amazins a 2-0 lead. Then, after Wright got the first two outs in the third inning, Lindor worked another walk, and Alonso once again did some damage, crushing a laser beam homer to left to make it 4-0. Not to be outdone, Daniel Vogelbach—one day after hitting his first home as a Met—quickly followed with a solo homer of his own, making it 5-0 for the home squad.
Meanwhile, Carrasco took the mound for the Mets to get the series started. Cookie was coming off an outstanding July in which he put up a dominant 0.90 ERA across 30 innings in five starts. He looked equally sharp in the early parts of the game while the Mets offense gave him a big lead, as he shut the Braves down for the first four innings while allowing a mere two baserunners (a single in the third and a walk in the fourth).
The Braves got back into the ballgame in the fifth inning. After Travis d’Arnaud started the inning with a leadoff single, he moved to second on a ball that got under the glove of James McCann (who made his return from the injured list). The ruling was a wild pitch, but it was a ball that McCann almost certainly should have been able to keep in front of him. In any event, moving up to second allowed d’Arnaud to move to third on a sac fly, and he then scored on a single to right by Michael Harris II. Ronald Acuña Jr. then put an exclamation point on the inning by hitting a two-run shot to dead center, making it a 5-3 ballgame. Despite these struggles, Carrasco rebounded with a perfect sixth inning to end his night on a high note, and his final line—six innings, four hits, one walk, six strikeouts, three runs—was solid despite the one rough frame.
It looked like Kyle Wright was settling in at this point in the game; he threw his first clean inning of the ballgame in the fifth, and then recorded the first two outs of the sixth without much difficulty, and at this point the SNY booth was openly speculating that he might be thrown back out there for the seventh. But Naquin put an end to his good stretch by taking him deep for the second time, with this solo shot being an opposite field blast to left to put the Mets up 6-3. This made it four home runs against Wright—the first time he had ever given up that many home runs in a start in his career, according to the booth. The fact that the Mets were able to put up this impressive an offensive performance against a very good starting pitcher was certainly an encouraging sign, and the fact that three of those homers came from the team’s deadlines acquisitions certainly didn’t hurt either.
The Braves got the one run back quickly, as Adam Ottavino came on for the seventh and, after getting the first two outs, gave up a single, threw a wild pitch, and then allowed another hit to Harris for his second RBI single of the day. He rebounded with a big strikeout against Acuña, who represented the tying run at the plate, but the Mets were still back to just a two-run lead and still needed two more innings out of the bullpen—a bullpen which, let’s be honest, does not have a ton of options that inspire a lot of confidence against a powerhouse lineup like this Atlanta one.
With arguably the three best Braves hitters—Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson, and Austin Riley—due to come up in the eighth, Buck Showalter made a move that he has made previously by choosing to go to his closer before the ninth to get through the most dangerous part of the opposing team’s order. Thus, after Tyler Matzek tossed a scoreless frame in the bottom of the seventh, Díaz came in and did exactly what he was supposed to do, retiring those three dangerous Braves hitters 1-2-3 on eleven pitches with two strikeouts. Perhaps in part because of that low pitch count, in part because he was working on several days of rest, and in part because of the importance of this game, Showalter elected to keep Díaz on for the ninth after the Mets failed to score any insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. As he started his second inning of work, the dominant Mets closer did the unthinkable—he allowed a hit, a leadoff single by Eddie Rosario to bring the tying run up to the plate. He subsequently retired d’Arnaud on a flyout and Marcell Ozuna on a strikeout, but then fell behind 3-0 to Orlando Arcia. Then, on the next pitch, Arcia checked his swing and nubbed the ball softly towards first base, and Díaz easily made the play to bring the game to a close.
Thus, the Mets got another crucial victory against their top division rivals. They are now four and a half games up on the Braves, meaning that even if they lose all four remaining games of this series, they will exit the weekend at the top of the NL East standings. They will try to expand on their current lead tomorrow, weather permitting, with Taijuan Walker facing off against Ian Anderson.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Pete Alonso, +25.3% WPA
Big Mets loser: Daniel Vogelbach, -6.5% WPA
Mets pitchers: +21.9% WPA
Mets hitters: +28.1% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Pete Alonso two-run homer in the third, +13.4% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Ronald Acuña Jr. two-run homer in the fifth, -11.2% WPA