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Mets' series win over Braves provides hope slow start is behind them

It was the seventh inning on Thursday in Atlanta and the Mets had yet to put the finishing touches on what had to be an immensely satisfying 16-4 beatdown of the Braves. But they had loaded the bases with no outs and a 7-3 lead, a development the seven-time NL East defending champs reacted to with a collective yawn.

That is, the Braves didn’t even bring the infield in, as manager Brian Snitker essentially said he would rather take his chances of coming back from five runs down than gamble by committing to cutting off another run from scoring.

Call it confidence, or even arrogance, but either way, it said a lot about what the Braves think of their ability to beat the Mets, no matter the situation.

And, honestly, you couldn’t blame them, based on their dominance over the years, including the infamous sweep at Truist Park late in the 2022 season to steal the division title and again make Mets fans wonder if their ballclub will ever get the upper hand between these teams.

In truth, it’s almost impossible to believe this will be the year it happens, even after the Mets did the improbable this week by winning the series. Hey, you never know, but the Braves still look like a juggernaut offensively that should roll to 90-plus wins, even if it turns out top starter Spencer Strider is lost for the season with his elbow injury.

Still, let’s not diminish what the Mets accomplished by winning two of three games against their long-time tormentors.

In fact, the series win, capping a 4-2 road trip, surely changed the perception of what this team can do, no small matter after that ugly 0-5 start.

Winning two of three in Cincinnati offered a whiff of hope, but the wins in Atlanta carry much more weight, especially because the way the Mets won potentially says a lot about who they are as a team.

It’s not like the Braves were off to a slow start this season. They were 6-2 coming into the series, putting up gaudy offensive numbers with their loaded lineup. Even after Thursday’s loss they are hitting .303 as a team, the highest average in the majors.

Yet it was the Mets, after ranking at the bottom of so many offensive categories the first week of the season, who broke out the big sticks, scoring 29 runs in three games. Ok, four of them came against old friend Luis Guillorme, a utility infielder now with the Braves who pitched the ninth on Thursday, but even 25 runs is plenty notable.

And, again, it was the way they won.

On Monday, they showed a ton of fight, coming back from an early 4-0 deficit on a night when their top three relievers were unavailable. Same for the loss on Tuesday, when they fell behind 6-0 yet wound up getting Pete Alonso to the plate as the potential go-ahead run in the ninth before losing 6-5.

Then on Thursday, they did what good teams so often do, by laying the wood to a fill-in starter, Allan Winans, and jumping out to an early 7-0 lead. But even more impressive, they showed a killer instinct by adding on to lead after the Braves made it a game at 7-3, cashing in on that bases-loaded situation in the seventh, with Jeff McNeil shaking off his early-season slump to deliver a two-out, two-run line-drive single and make it 10-3.

Ballgame.

And just like that the Mets have won five of their last seven games to get to 5-7 for the season, 2.5 games behind the Braves and one game behind the Phillies. In short, they’ve averted potential disaster and given fans some reason to believe again as they return home to face the surprising Kansas City Royals this weekend.

Maybe a series win in April won’t turn out to be as significant as I’m making it sound. It’s hard to forget the ’22 Mets, on their way to 101 wins, seemed to exorcise those Braves’ demons by beating them four out of five at Citi Field in early August to take a seven-game lead, only to lose three of four in Atlanta two weeks later and get swept there at season’s end when only one win would have pretty much locked up the division.

But this is different. The Mets don’t appear to be in the Braves’ weight class this season yet they smacked them around this week. Snitker’s team played some sloppy defense. Maybe they were a little nonchalant about an April series with a team they’ve owned when it counts.

It mattered to the Mets, however, and they played like a team with something to prove. How it translates remains to be seen but they’re showing signs of being capable of making a run at a Wild Card berth.

Jose Quintana was solid on Thursday and the pitching overall has been better than expected, though the starters have to go deeper into games. Brett Baty has been a revelation so far, with the glove and the bat; Francisco Alvarez appears to have made some offensive adjustments after his poor second half; and most of the core players have shaken off the cold start to take turns delivering big hits.

It doesn’t mean the ’24 Mets are suddenly a legitimate contender. But they didn’t win two of three in Atlanta by accident either. At the very least they’ve earned some benefit of the doubt regarding that 0-5 start in which they barely showed a pulse.

Clearly, they’re better than that. A series win over the Braves offers hope that they’re a lot better.