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Braves Sweep Mets, Closing in on NL East Title

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ATLANTA — After all it got here right down to the ultimate game of the regular season between the division rivals.

The Mets raced out to an enormous lead within the National League East to start out the 2022 season. And as they cooled off, they still won 59 percent of their games from June 1 on — a rate adequate to win the Central divisions in each leagues.

The issue, after all, is that the Mets play within the N.L. East, they usually simply didn’t do enough. Starting in June, the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves woke from their early-season slumber and won 71 percent of their games, including all three within the critical final weekend of the regular season.

Atlanta tied the Mets within the division race with a win on Friday. It pulled ahead with one other win on Saturday. And on Sunday, Atlanta accomplished the sweep with a 5-3 win, earning the fitting to manage its own destiny and all but assuring that the Mets will play in wild-card round of the playoffs, very likely against the San Diego Padres.

With three games left before the postseason begins on Friday, Atlanta holds a two-game lead over the Mets, and its magic number is at one. In other words, the Braves need just one victory or one Mets loss to win their fifth straight division title. Atlanta’s win on Sunday guaranteed it the season series over the Mets, 10-9, and the advantage within the tiebreaker should the teams have the identical record on Wednesday, the ultimate day of the regular season.

Should Atlanta complete its mission, it might cap a surprising turnaround and a head-scratching collapse by the Mets, who led the division by a season-high 10½ games on June 1.

“They simply flat-out beat us this weekend,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said. “They played well. Good for them. Tip your hat.”

The Mets return home to face the Washington Nationals, the worst team in baseball. And so they may suddenly be rooting hard for one more division rival: the lowly Miami Marlins, who’re only barely higher than the Nationals, as they host Atlanta over the ultimate three games.

The rationale the division title mattered a lot: The prize is a first-round bye. Atlanta and the Mets had already assured themselves of a spot within the postseason, however the difference is getting five days off and advancing straight to a best-of-five division series versus getting one day without work before playing within the best-of-three wild-card round. Waiting within the division series for the wild-card route is the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the best team in baseball with 110 wins entering Monday and owners of the opposite N.L. first-round bye.

“It’s not like they’re not going to get a probability,” Mets Manager Buck Showalter said of his players. “They’ve earned something regardless.”

He added later: “I’m pleased with the whole lot they’ve done. This shouldn’t be conditional. It’s unconditional, the support. And if I do know these guys, they’ll rebound and look to make anyone feel their pain.”

The Mets had reason to be confident entering the series against Atlanta. They’d their best three starting pitchers lined up: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt — with the primary two among the many absolute best pitchers in baseball. As an alternative, each faltered against the third-highest scoring offense in baseball. In 14⅓ combined innings, deGrom, Scherzer and Bassitt coughed up 11 runs and 6 home runs.

A lot of the damage got here from Atlanta’s All-Star shortstop, Dansby Swanson, and its slugging first baseman, Matt Olson. Swanson homered against each starting pitcher while Olson homered in each game.

“Everyone understood what was at stake through the series,” Swanson said, “and we definitely rose to the occasion.”

On Sunday, Swanson gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead with a blast off Bassitt in the primary inning. The Mets quickly recovered, taking a 3-1 lead within the third on a house run by right fielder Jeff McNeil and a run-scoring single by designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who had also homered within the previous frame.

But Atlanta’s hitting and pitching were simply an excessive amount of. Within the third inning, Olson drew a bases-loaded walk against Bassitt, after which catcher Travis d’Arnaud lifted Atlanta to a 4-3 lead with a two-run single. Three innings later, Olson smashed his fifth home run in his last six games and added further misery for Mets fans.

On the mound, Atlanta’s bullpen surrendered only one run over 13⅔ innings within the series. Closer Kenley Jansen earned a save in each win.

“Once you checked out the schedule in spring training, you had us here against the Phillies for 3 and here against the Mets for 3,” said d’Arnaud, referring to a different N.L. East rival, the Philadelphia Phillies, who’re near securing the third and final N.L. wild-card spot. “You knew all three of us were going to be great teams and it might be right down to the wire. It’s pretty cool the way it ended up being the way it was these last three days.”

Given the high stakes of the matchup, Atlanta Manager Brian Snitker said he joked together with his wife on Friday that the playoffs were starting that day quite than on Oct. 7.

“This was about as exciting and emotional a series that I’ve ever been an element of, even all of the playoff series and the whole lot,” he said, adding later, “This has been a really long and stressful series to say the least.”

After he caught McNeil’s fly ball for the ultimate out on Sunday, Atlanta right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. pumped his fist and screamed because the crowed roared. It was Atlanta’s a centesimal win of the season and its first 100-win campaign since 2003. The Mets, who had 98 wins after Sunday and their first trip to the postseason since 2016 awaiting, nearly pushed Atlanta to the brink.

“They’ve been an incredible team all 12 months,” Olson said. “We knew there was nothing we could take them calmly on. They’re about to win 100 games as well.”

But as Alonso said: The Mets played well, however the Braves played higher.

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