The Atlanta Braves haven’t spent a single day in first place in the National League East. The New York Mets have been in first for the last 151 days.
But with a month left in the season, the Braves and Mets are poised for a down-to-the-wire finish.
One game separates the two teams in the division standings going into Tuesday’s games. The Braves, 20-5 since Aug. 9, have won five straight and are coming off a sweep of the Miami Marlins. The Mets, who won two out of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers in Citi Field last week in a series that was widely billed as an NL Championship Series preview, stumbled over the weekend, losing back-to-back 7-1 games to the last-place Washington Nationals.
Both teams have 27 games remaining in the regular season. The schedule would seem to favor the Mets. They have 21 games left against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Nationals and Oakland Athletics — teams that are a combined 154 games under .500, though Washington just offered a sobering lesson on why you can’t assume anything.
In the last week, the Braves have had brilliant pitching performances by rookie Spencer Strider, who broke John Smoltz’s franchise record with 16 strikeouts in just his 17th career start, and ace Max Fried, who pitched five hitless innings Sunday against the Marlins but was lifted because of a rain delay.
Meanwhile, the Mets are hopeful that Max Scherzer, who pulled himself out of his last start after just five innings because of what he called “left side fatigue,” won’t miss his next start, and that Carlos Carrasco, who was roughed up Sunday by the Nationals, was just showing the effects of a three-week layoff after returning from an oblique injury.
Atlanta has been energized by the play of two 21-year-olds. Rookie center fielder Michael Harris is the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award with a slash line of .309/.352/.538/.890, 15 home runs, 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts, and elite defense. Infielder Vaughn Grissom, in 24 games since his call-up, has posted a slash line of .310/.362/.506/.867 while more than adequately filling in for the injured Ozzie Albies.
Albies is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett and is expected to return in the next week or two, but manager Brian Snitker will surely find a place in his lineup for Grissom if he keeps hitting. It remains to be seen how the kids respond to their first division race, but they’ve handled everything to date with apparent ease.
The Braves embark this week on an eight-game West Coast swing that will take them to Oakland, Seattle and San Francisco. They will then face a 13-game stretch in which they play Philadelphia and Washington.
The NL East race could be decided in the season’s penultimate series, when the Mets come to Truist Park for a three-game set. And if you doubt that a real rivalry exists between these teams, note that when news reached Atlanta that the Mets had fallen to the Nets on Sunday, the stadium DJ trolled the Mets by playing Blasterjaxx Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco,” the electrifying walk-up song that greets Mets closer Edwin Diaz whenever he enters a game at home.
MLB Power Rankings
Rankings are determined by staff vote
Records and statistics are through Sept. 5
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-42, Last week: 1): They entered the week 47-13 in their last 60 games, a .783 winning percentage. The 2017 Dodgers went 51-9 over a 60-game span. The 1906 Cubs went 52-8 over a 60-game span, the best in major league history.
2. Houston Astros (87-48), LW: 3): Because of the Yankees’ prolonged woes, the Astros have all but locked up the best record in the American League. They’re six games ahead of the Yankees with just 27 games left to play. Third baseman Alex Bregman, the AL’s Player of the Month in August, led the league in OPS (1.133), slugging (.681) and runs (27), ranked tied for third in RBI (22), fourth in batting average (.362) and tied for fourth in doubles (9) and home runs (7).
3. New York Mets (85-50, LW: 2): Back-to-back 7-1 defeats to the Nationals deflated a homestand that began with the Metropolitans taking two of three from the Dodgers in an electric series. Now their lead over the Braves is just one game, the closest the race has been since the Mets held a half-game lead on July 23. Jacob deGrom (4-1, 1.98 ERA, 55 Ks in six starts) can’t do it alone.
4. Atlanta Braves (84-51, LW: 4): Last week, Austin Riley homered in four consecutive games, the second time he has done so this season. The third baseman is on pace to finish with 42 home runs and 44 doubles. The only Brave ever to have that 40-40 combo is Chipper Jones, who hit 45 home runs and 41 doubles in 1999 when he won NL MVP.
5. New York Yankees (81-54, LW: 5): Only the Marlins (.570) have a lower OPS over the last 30 days than the Yankees (.603), who have an abominable slash line of .203/.277/.326 in that span. Their 10-18 record in August was their worst month since going 9-19 in September of 1991. Losing Andrew Benintendi to a broken wrist with Matt Carpenter (foot) and Anthony Rizzo (back) already hurting leaves the Yankees even more vulnerable from the left side.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (79-56, LW: 6): No one was sorrier to see August go than Albert Pujols. The 42-year-old put up astonishing numbers for the month, batting .361 with eight home runs, .803 slugging percentage and 1.224 OPS, the best numbers in the majors for players with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. His pinch-hit, two-run homer on Sunday gave the Cardinals a 2-0 win over the Cubs and was the 695th of his career, one behind Alex Rodriguez.
7. Seattle Mariners (76-59, LW: 9): Ten games under .500 on June 19, the Mariners have gone 47-20 to contend for the AL’s top wild-card spot. Raise your hand if you had catcher Cal Raleigh leading all big-league catchers in home runs with 22 after hitting three in a weekend sweep of Cleveland.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (75-58, LW: 8): They’re peaking at the right time. Since the start of August, they have the AL’s best record (21-10) and are 17-5 in their last 22 games. Four of their five losses in that stretch have been by one run, including Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Yankees. Wander Franco, out since July 9 with a fractured hamate bone in his right hand, began a rehab assignment Sunday in Durham and is on track to rejoin the club against the Blue Jays next Monday.
9. Toronto Blue Jays (75-59, LW: 10): Coming off a sweep of the Pirates, the Blue Jays have a chance to douse the wild-card chances of the surprising Orioles. In the first of four games this week and 10 meetings this month, they beat Baltimore 7-3 and 8-4 on Monday.
10. Philadelphia Phillies (73-61, LW: 7): The Phillies have to make do without Nick Castellanos, who went on the 10-day injured list with a mild oblique strain after a productive August (.833 OPS). The Phillies called up utility man Dalton Guthrie, son of former MLB reliever Mark Guthrie. He is expected to start in Castellanos’ spot in right field.
11. San Diego Padres (74-62, LW: 11): The adjustment period continues for Juan Soto, who entered the week having collected only two home runs and four RBIs while batting just .196 over 17 games. The Padres are tied with the Phillies for the second NL wild card while going just 13-16 in the 29 games since Soto made his Padres debut. Last season’s 6-19 September collapse can’t happen again, can it?
12. Baltimore Orioles (71-64, LW: 13): With last week’s callup of infielder Gunnar Henderson, who homered in his first game, the Orioles have their top three picks in the 2019 draft playing together in the big leagues. Henderson joins catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Kyle Stowers.
13. Milwaukee Brewers (71-63, LW: 14): The free fall continues for the Brewers, whose fans have suffered whiplash watching their team go from four games ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central to 7 1/2 back in just over a month. Two games out of a wild-card spot, they’re in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time in five seasons.
14. Cleveland Guardians (69-64, LW: 12): The AL Central leaders will play the Twins eight times in an 11-day span beginning Friday, including a doubleheader. They’ll do so without starting pitcher Zach Plesac, who broke his pitching hand pounding the ground in frustration after giving up a home run. Not a good look for a guy who last season broke his thumb while “aggressively” taking off his uniform after a poor start.
15. Minnesota Twins (68-65, LW: 15): The trade-deadline pickup of Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle, who was expected to add a quality arm to the team’s rotation, has been short-circuited by the right-hander’s continued shoulder issues. Mahle has made just four starts and pitched 16 1/3 innings for the Twins, and he went back on the 15-day injured list after lasting just two innings in his start on Saturday with what was termed as shoulder inflammation.
16. Chicago White Sox (68-67, LW: 17): The team is offering few details about the medical condition of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who hasn’t managed the club since last Tuesday. The team will only say that La Russa’s absence is indefinite pending the results of tests. Bench coach Miguel Cairo has been filling in as the White Sox picked up four games in four days in the standings before Sunday’s loss to the Twins. They improbably remain just two games out of the AL Central lead.
17. Boston Red Sox (67-69, LW: 16): J.D. Martinez hit two home runs in the last week but has gone deep just three times in 64 games since June 14 with an OPS of .593 in that time. Meanwhile, team president and CEO Sam Kennedy said he plans for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and manager Alex Cora to return next season.
18. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-69, LW: 19): They will spend the season’s last month giving an extended look to center fielder Corbin Carroll, a 2019 first-round pick who is already regarded as possibly the best homegrown product in franchise history. He came back from shoulder surgery that cost him the 2021 season to post a slash line of .307/.425/.610 between Double A and Triple A, with 24 home runs and 31 steals in 36 attempts.
19. San Francisco Giants (65-68, LW: 18): With 10 strikeouts in six scoreless innings against the Phillies on Sunday, Carlos Rodon crossed the 200 K threshold for the first time in his career. His fielding independent percentage of 2.34 leads the league, and his .208 opponents batting average ranks second among San Francisco pitchers all time, according to STATS, behind only Sergio Romo (.205).
20. Los Angeles Angels (59-76, LW: 21): Shohei Ohtani held the Astros to one run over eight innings last Saturday. In 14 starts since June 9, Ohtani has allowed two or fewer runs 10 times, posting a 1.83 ERA while holding opponents to a .199 average and a .549 OPS. On Monday, he hit his 31st and 32nd home runs of the season.
21. Texas Rangers (58-76, LW: 20): They have lost a season-worst nine in a row and are 7-13 since manager Chris Woodward was fired and replaced by interim manager Tony Beasley. They’ve been outscored 58-29 during their losing streak.
22. Colorado Rockies (57-79, LW: 24): The Rockets just went 3-7 on their 10-game trip, longest of the season. They are 21-46 (.313) away from Coors Field this season, the worst road record in the majors and second worst in franchise history behind only the 2014 team that went 21-60.
23. Chicago Cubs (56-78, LW: 22): Incredibly, Marcus Stroman comes into the final month of his first season with the Cubs without a win at Wrigley Field. He’s 0-4 with a 6.92 ERA in eight starts at home, compared to 3-2 with a 1.84 ERA in a dozen starts on the road. He is due to get another shot this weekend against the Giants.
24. Miami Marlins (55-78, LW: 23): They have dropped seven straight games, their longest losing streak of the season. Since Aug. 28, the Marlins have gone 3-for-34 with runners in scoring position. They’ve also lost 29 games this season by one run, most in the majors.
25. Kansas City Royals (55-81, LW: 25): According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals on Saturday became the first team in major-league history to have four different rookies hit a home run in the same game when Nick Pratto, Bobby Witt Jr., Kyle Isbel and M.J. Melendez all went deep. Isbel hit the team’s first grand slam of the season.
26. Cincinnati Reds (53-79, LW: 26): He already has one of the best names in baseball. Now, Reds right-fielder Aristides Aquino has put himself on top of one statistical leaderboard with 11 assists, most in the NL and just one behind Myles Straw of the Guardians. Aquino has thrown out six runners at the plate, two with throws clocked at better than 100 miles an hour.
27. Oakland Athletics (50-85, LW: 28): They’re 37 games behind first-place Houston in the AL West. The only time the A’s have finished further out of first during their time in Oakland was in 1977, when they finished 38 1/2 games behind. They were officially eliminated from the division race on Aug. 28, their earliest elimination in Oakland franchise history.
28. Detroit Tigers (51-84, LW: 27): Big decisions are ahead for Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers. Cabrera has declared his intention to return next year at age 40 for the last year of his contract, but his second-half fade (.135/.238./.441), ongoing knee issues and most recent injury — a biceps strain that placed him on the IL — calls into question his fit on the club in 2023.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates (49-84, LW: 29): They have to go 14-15 in their last 29 games to avoid a second consecutive 100-loss season. That won’t be easy, After not facing the Mets all season, the Pirates play the NL East leaders seven times in the next 14 games.
30. Washington Nationals (48-87, LW: 30): You can’t make this stuff up. The Nationals trade Juan Soto and replace arguably the best player in baseball with 30-year-old Joey Meneses, who between the minors and the Mexican League had 5,492 plate appearances but had never played in the majors. Meneses homered in his first game, hit five more home runs in August, then last Thursday had four hits and a walk-off home run to beat the A’s. His slash line is .339/.371/.568/.939. So what if it doesn’t last. He has a story he can tell forever.