What will matter more: the Mets’ schedule or the Braves’ sizzle?
No one has an easier slate remaining than the Mets. No one is playing better than the Braves.
With 24 games left, the Mets have the smoother course ahead. The Braves, with 25 games left, have a seven-game winning streak and momentum that has not waned since June.
The home stretch is here for baseball’s best divisional race.
There are under four weeks remaining to settle an NL East that the Mets have let slip and the Braves have tried to grab. A Mets lead that was 10 ¹/₂ games on June 1 will be a half-game as Buck Showalter’s crew heads to Miami and the Braves head to Seattle for series that begin Friday.
FanGraphs estimates the Mets have a 63.5 percent chance of winning the division, which seems more confident than most fans around Queens. Here is a primer for what lies ahead in another classic Mets-Braves battle:
— According to Tankathon, the Mets have the easiest schedule remaining in the majors — but that was true for their past two series, too, when they went 3-3 against the Nationals and Pirates. The Mets have 10 in a row against sub-.500 clubs until three games in Milwaukee. After the Brewers series, the only quality team the Mets will play will be the Braves themselves, from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, in Atlanta.
A potential break: For their upcoming series, the Mets will miss Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara.
— Entering play Thursday, the Braves’ remaining schedule was the 12th-easiest in baseball. Brian Snitker’s crew is amid a West Coast trip that will go from Seattle to San Francisco. Upon returning to the East Coast, the Braves will play seven of 11 games against Bryce Harper and the Phillies, who are fighting for a playoff spot.
A potential break: The Braves will dodge Mariners ace Luis Castillo and are set up to avoid Giants standout Logan Webb in the ensuing series.
— The Mets have several significant worries. Max Scherzer will miss at least two starts with what the team termed left oblique irritation. The Mets are trying to avoid placing Starling Marte on the IL and — for now at least — are hoping their most consistent hitter can manage a broken right middle finger.
Infielder Luis Guillorme (hamstring strain), who is in the middle of a rehab assignment and should be nearing activation, leads the reinforcements. Trevor May (COVID-IL) is expected to return this weekend. The Mets have several rehabbing relievers who could become September options, including Tylor Megill, Drew Smith and Joey Lucchesi.
— The Braves are getting healthier. All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies, who broke his foot in June, began a rehab assignment last week and is nearing a return, which could push breakout rookie Vaughn Grissom to left field. Righty starter Mike Soroka, an All-Star in 2019 before a series of injuries struck, is building up in Triple-A and could be an option soon.
The rotation help could be important. Jake Odorizzi did not take his most recent turn in the rotation because of arm fatigue.
The largest concern for Atlanta’s position players belongs to Ronald Acuña Jr., who is being careful with his surgically repaired right knee. Acuña, normally a right fielder, has served as the DH in the Braves’ past seven games because of knee soreness.
— The Mets’ other bats. Eduardo Escobar owns a six-game hitting streak in which he is batting .526 with three home runs. James McCann is showing more life than he has since signing with the Mets. Previously struggling Tyler Naquin has filled in nicely for Marte.
Jacob deGrom (1.66 ERA) has returned as a superhuman, and Chris Bassitt boasts a 1.75 ERA in his past seven starts.
— The Braves have scored 34 runs in their past seven games, so much of their lineup is hot. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, hitting .438 this month, has caught fire; Grissom, hitting .347, has played like a star since his August call-up; and outfielder Michael Harris II owns a 14-game hitting streak.
Atlanta’s rotation has a worry in Odorizzi but a warrior in Spencer Strider, who has 25 strikeouts in his past two outings.
— The Mets’ most important bats, Pete Alonso (.646 OPS in September) and Francisco Lindor (.609), are having their worst months of the season. Daniel Vogelbach (3 for his last 30) and Darin Ruf (batting .163 as a Met) have not helped enough at DH.
The Mets’ rotation has the same second-half concern as it did last season: Taijuan Walker (6.25 ERA since the break) has fallen off for a second straight year.
— Dansby Swanson was a first-time All-Star this season, but the Braves shortstop’s play has dipped in the second half. Outfielder Robbie Grossman, a deadline pickup from the Tigers, has yet to hit.
Fourth starter Kyle Wright has been excellent this season but has surpassed his career-high in innings, which bears watching. He was roughed up by the A’s offense Tuesday.