Losing most of NL East lead isn’t a sign of the ‘same old Mets,’ the Braves are just winning at historic pace

The National League East standings may try to tell you something different, but the Mets are not collapsing.

Granted, there is still enough time in the regular season for them to fully blow it, but the 9-8 stretch they just turned in over their last 17 games does not constitute a full-fledged collapse.

The Mets lug a half-game lead in the division into Thursday, a day that both Buck Showalter’s club and the Atlanta Braves have off. The story should not be about the Mets’ much-exaggerated demise, it should be how well the Braves played. The Braves were 24-27 entering play on June 2, sitting 10.5 games behind the Mets. Since then, Atlanta played like one of the best teams of all time. That’s not hyperbole, either. The Braves’ 62-24 ledger over their last 86 games is good for a ridiculous .720 winning percentage, which computes to 116 wins over a full season, the current major league record.

Essentially, it took one of the greatest heaters in the history of the sport to catch the Mets. Unlike the Braves, the Mets have been consistently solid all season, never stringing together particularly long winning or losing streaks. The Mets’ three-game skid from Saturday to Tuesday matched their longest of the season and they rebounded to clobber the Pirates by a combined score of 15-1 in Wednesday’s doubleheader. Their longest winning streak lasted a respectable seven games before, hilariously, coming to an end in Jacob deGrom’s first start of the year.

Things like that invite feelings of “same old Mets,” but we have a more-than-large-enough sample size to know that the 2022 squad has exorcised many of those demons. In a somewhat refreshing change, the creeping anxiety that comes with following the Mets this year is due to another team, not the Mets constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Atlanta’s season took off thanks to a 14-game winning streak in early June. After going under .500 in both April and May, the Braves were 21-6 in June, 36-18 in July and August, and have yet to lose in September.

While the Mets just went a dispiriting 3-3 against the Nationals and Pirates, the emphatic victories in the final two games were the perfect sendoff into a precious idle day in September. Now, if the Mets continue to underwhelm in their next ten games — three in Miami before a seven-game homestand against the Cubs and Pirates — they’ve got some problems.

Atlanta is facing their hardest remaining stretch of the calendar, as their West Coast trip soldiers into Seattle and San Francisco. The Braves will then board a cross-country flight and gear up for three home games vs. the Phillies, a team desperate to hold on to their wild card spot. With a touch of help from the Mariners, Giants and Phillies — plus taking care of their own business — the Mets could emerge from these next ten days with some newfound breathing room.

Any confidence in the Mets, which should still be felt in droves, comes from the fact that they’ve proven to be one of the most talented teams in the league. This is not a group of plucky young players banding together to overperform their projections, confounding statisticians and analysts. This is a team that was supposed to be good, got a late-season boost from the most unhittable pitcher alive and has been good the whole time. There’s no reason to believe that will just vanish over the next three weeks, even if the recent injuries to Max Scherzer and Starling Marte are less than ideal.

Consider that while Atlanta had to play .720 ball to flag them down, the Mets have played .630 ball all season. More of the same, which would be a 15-9 record to close out the season, should be enough to win the division. Especially with the teams on their schedule (the Braves and Brewers are the only teams left that are still trying), accomplishing that feat is very doable and it’s not out of the question for the Mets to win 17 or 18 of their final 24.

What we’re seeing is a team that, unlike the Yankees, has never seriously regressed or been exposed over a prolonged stretch. They’ve been a steady ship, albeit one trying to hold off a flaming speedboat from Atlanta. We’re also seeing the luxury of banking wins early in the season, the one clear advantage the Mets hold over the Braves. The Mets’ 34-17 start is poised to be one of the sneakiest difference makers in the NL East race, as it gave them a tremendous headstart while the Braves sputtered.

Even better for the Mets, they control their own destiny. They have the lead, they have the horses to finish this and even if they fall a little bit, they can get themselves back up when they play Atlanta head-to-head in the first weekend of October. Things may have gotten a little close for comfort, but the Mets and their fans should feel secure enough to avoid disintegration.