Three months later, the teams have gone in vastly different directions.
The first-place Mets will try to continue their strong play Tuesday when they host the first of three games against the rebuilding Braves, sitting in fourth place after a major trade and some key injuries.
New York (68-57) was a .500 team through the first two months of the season, and one reason for the team’s early mediocrity was its struggles against Atlanta (56-69). The Mets have lost seven of nine to the Braves this season, including a four-game sweep at Turner Field from May 20-22 when they were outscored 27-9.
Mark Teixeira led the way in that series, going 9-for-14 (.643) with six RBIs, but Atlanta’s RBI leader was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on July 29. With the loss of their biggest run producer and a bevy of injuries to their pitching staff, the Braves have dropped to fourth in the East, and they’ve lost seven of eight.
They were outscored 47-22 during their seven-game homestand, which concluded with a 5-0 loss to San Francisco on Monday.
“It’s the point in the season where you’re going bad and you’re falling out of it,” said third baseman Chipper Jones, who leads the majors with a .363 average. “You’ve really got to bear down and take some … pride. We had a couple games this homestand that were pretty embarrassing.”
The Mets, meanwhile, have surged ahead of Philadelphia and Florida in the division by winning six of seven games on their recent road trip. But the loss came Monday in the same manner many New York losses have recently - the bullpen blew a lead.
John Maine tossed five shutout innings before leaving because of a high pitch count - something that’s plagued him often this year - and the Mets’ relievers allowed five runs in the next three innings, sending New York to a 5-2 defeat in Pittsburgh.
Oliver Perez (9-7, 3.91 ERA) will try to go deeper in the game on Tuesday. Perez has lasted at least six innings in nine straight starts, going 4-2 with a 1.97 ERA in that stretch. He allowed three runs in 6 2-3 innings on Thursday at Washington in a 9-3 win.
“We just feel very confident when he takes the mound,” manager Jerry Manuel told the team’s official Web site. “He’s throwing strikes, velocity is good, he’s mixing his pitches. He’s just having a tremendous second half.”
Perez has yet to face the Braves this season after going 4-1 against them with a 3.03 ERA a year ago. Jones, however, has fared well against the left-hander, hitting .389 (7-for-18) with a homer in his career.
Perez has struggled with bouts of wildness in his time in the majors, and Atlanta will counter with a young lefty experiencing similar issues. Jo-Jo Reyes (3-9, 5.33) is 0-5 with a 6.98 ERA since June 18 - with 20 walks in 29 2-3 innings - and was sent to Triple-A Richmond at the end of July to work on his control.
In three starts in the minors, he walked eight in 16 innings.
“I like Jo-Jo. But, dang, there comes a time when you’ve got to be in charge on the mound,” manager Bobby Cox told the Braves’ official Web site. “He better be throwing strikes.”
Despite going 1-4 away from home, Reyes has a respectable 3.61 ERA compared to a 7.14 ERA at Turner Field.