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Mets series vs. Braves crucial for NL East rankings

This story was taken from the Mets Beat newsletter by Anthony DiComo. To read the full newsletter, click here. and Subscribe to to get it in your inbox regularly.

In a way, today is the start of the 2022 Mets season proper.

Over the past six weeks, the Braves have shattered the Mets’ National League East lead that was once as high as 10 1/2 games. That’s not the fault of the Mets, who continue to win regularly despite an offensive display that has cooled off somewhat as the weather warms. The defending World Series champions have simply been playing otherworldly baseball and pressuring the Mets without seeing them since the first week of May.

The last part will change. Monday marks not only the first of three Atlanta games for the Mets this week, but also the first of 15 remaining between the two clubs. Whoever wins more of these has a good chance of winning the division as well.

“It’s an exciting time,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor. “We’re past the middle of the year. So I think every game now, especially in the division – I don’t want to say it means a little bit more, but they should be more intense. … It’s still a long season, but now it’s a shorter season. The best teams always come out on top.”

While it’s possible the Phillies or Marlins could still make noise in NL East, with Philadelphia in particular looking like a wild-card threat, the division will most likely come down to the Mets and Braves. Those teams came out on Monday with a combined 98.4% chance of winning it, according to Fangraphs predictions, with the Mets a slight favorite to prevent the Braves from clinching their fifth straight NL East title .

“I expect the division to be very tight,” Lindor said.

Most of the optimism in New York stems from the fact that the Mets built their lead without the services of Jacob deGrom and – for a period of seven weeks – Max Scherzer, so it stands to reason that they’ll be better with those two will start two of five games in the second half. Scherzer is already off the injured list, and the Mets’ decision to give him an extra day off resulted in his lining up for Monday’s series opener in Atlanta.

While manager Buck Showalter insists this is a coincidence and that he would never intentionally switch his midsummer rotation to score matchups — “You can’t make a game more important than any other at this stage of the season,” Showalter said — The Mets will benefit independently.

Lindor disagrees, arguing that the rhythms of the season present different challenges. While it’s true that April games count the same as July games in the leaderboard, player mentalities are changing. The pressure increases. That’s why Lindor expects even more one-run games and late-night drama in the second half of the season, which starts this week.

The Mets will enter the series short-handed, with both James McCann and Starling Marte injured and Jeff McNeil going on the paternity list. But New York will still be ready for this showdown with the Braves.

“You’re going to get the best punch of all,” Lindor said. “They are the target. They are the last champion team. They are the team that everyone wants what they have. And we understand how good they are.”