The Mets are nearing the end of their 11-game stretch against exclusively National League East opponents.
The way they’ve handled the teams in their division, though, they probably don’t mind the constant run-ins. After beating Atlanta on Thursday to kick off the imperative five-game series with their closest competition, the Mets are 34-13 against the NL East this season. That .723 winning percentage has been aided by a 10-4 record against Miami and 10-3 against Washington, but the Mets are also 9-3 in their tangles with the Phillies and are now 5-3 vs. the Braves too.
Beating the bad teams is typically a great path towards winning a division, but beating the good teams can be indicative of greatness beyond just the NL East walls. So far, the Mets have done both, holding a winning record against each of their eastern neighbors while outscoring them by 90 runs (240 scored vs. 150 allowed) in 47 games.
“Division battles are what baseball is all about,” said Darin Ruf, who only just joined the Mets in the throes of their 11-game NL East tour, but is no stranger to the vitriol. “Playing in Philly my first four years, I know the rivalry there between the Mets and the Phillies.”
Seven games with those Phillies await the Mets in the middle and end of the month, but right now all sights are set on burying the Braves. With one win under their belt already, and Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom starting two of the remaining games, the Mets (67-38 overall record) understand that they could come out of this weekend feeling even better about themselves than they already did.
“It’s always fun,” Chris Bassitt said of high-intensity games within the division. “No matter who we’re playing, it’s a battle, because we know they’re chasing us. It’s a huge series. I think we’re all excited for it.”
Last year, a 9-10 ledger in 19 clashes with the Braves helped the Mets’ season unravel. Going 3-5 against them in the second half removed any chance of the Mets sneaking into the playoffs. After Friday, the Mets still have to see Atlanta ten more times, meaning there will be plenty of chances to revert back to their old ways. Two of the team’s big gets at the trade deadline — who each helped their teams reach the playoffs last season — gave their perspective on how to handle a pennant race.
“I think you just take it as, you’re playing another game,” Daniel Vogelbach said. “You’re playing another series. At the end of the day, no matter if you’re playing the Braves or you’re playing the Nationals, a win is a win and a loss is a loss.”
Ruf was part of a Giants team that won 107 games last year and was 26 games above .500 in August, September and October regular season games. He understands that being high up in the standings invites a lot of pressure and responsibility, but it can and should be enjoyable.
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“The last few months of the season are really fun because you see the division races coming down to the last few games,” he said. “Every game is extremely important. It will be a lot of fun.”
While the players and their manager continually preach the importance of staying present, not getting caught up in what the schedule has in store for them later, they know what the rest of August presents. From Aug. 15-21, they’ll play four games in Atlanta and four more in Philadelphia. A deviation from their winning ways during that week would tighten, or perhaps relinquish, the Mets’ grip on the division lead.
“The season is so long,” Bassitt said. “We’re just looking for tomorrow. We’re not looking for the next series or something like that. It’s literally just preparing for tomorrow and that’s it. We can’t focus on two months ahead, three months ahead. It’s literally tomorrow, that’s literally it. I think our focus has been very, very good.”
Being in a position to play a meaningful game every day for the season’s final months is not lost on the Mets. The team hasn’t been to the postseason since 2016 (deGrom and Brandon Nimmo are the only remaining players from that roster), and has only qualified three times in the last 20 years.
“This is what you play for,” Vogelbach said.
The schedule is the schedule, and it’s not going to change. While the Mets have taken care of business within the NL East thus far, they still have 27 intradivisional games left. A lot can go wrong in that span, but a lot can go right too. Even knowing what his team has done to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington so far, manager Buck Showalter isn’t just assuming they’ll be able to magically keep it rolling.
“The baseball gods, you want to make them laugh?” Show age set up. “Tell them about your plans.”