Remember when that once-favorite NL East team lost its MVP candidate to injury, weighed its choices, and opted to take a chance on despair? For more than a month, both the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets have been missing their top players. Their reactions to the crises, on the other hand, explain how their fortunes have shifted in a way that Mets fans will be all too acquainted with.
How the Braves reasserted their dominance in the National League East
The Braves were on the verge of being eliminated from the playoff race in the days following Ronald Acua Jr.’s season-ending knee injury on July 10. On July 9, they were one game behind him. According to FanGraphs’ postseason odds, the team had a 14.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Their odds had plummeted to 8% the day after his injury, despite the fact that they were still a game under.500. Meanwhile, all-star Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom has been out since July 7. Even still, when Acuna went down, the Yankees had a three-and-a-half game lead over the league’s worst division and 76.8% playoff odds. Projection systems, on the other hand, can only function with what they know. DeGrom seemed significantly more likely than Acua to return this season in any manner at the moment. Another assumption that bolstered the Mets’ position as the NL East frontrunner was baked into the public consciousness: contenders that lose considerable productivity usually make moves to compensate. Only one, it turned out, had done so.
At the trade deadline, the Braves beat the Mets.
Count this summer as just another proof of the Braves’ unwavering competence, which keeps them (at least) one step ahead of the Mets and Phillies. The Braves have stormed to a four-game division lead and are now -225 favorites to win the NL East at BetMGM, riding a six-game winning streak heading into Friday’s play. Freddie Freeman, the reigning MVP, is hitting.377 with four home runs in August, while shortstop Dansby Swanson has joined third baseman Austin Riley in the breakout brigade, hitting.364 with 15 RBIs. The Mets, who were favorites for much of the season, are suddenly +600 long bets in the division after trading places with the Braves in less than a month. The Phillies were momentarily in first place as well, but we’re going to concentrate on the massive difference between the preseason favorite Braves and the midseason kings of Queens. Atlanta’s surge began on July 30, the day before the MLB trade deadline.
The Braves and Mets effectively made different calculations about how to best invest in seasons significantly affected by injury in a close competition for one playoff slot, the division crown. Atlanta’s outfield was depleted, while New York’s starting rotation, which had carried the team to that point, required reinforcements. Braves outfielders hit.236/.272/.387 from July 11 through the trade deadline, good for the fifth-worst offensive production in the majors according to FanGraphs’ park-adjusted wRC+ measure. As a result, GM Alex Anthopoulos made some astute, albeit minor, moves to fill those enormous holes with serviceable major-league talent. Atlanta’s Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Adam Duvall have combined for 11 home runs, with Pederson and Soler also hitting over.360 on-base percentages. Since the deadline, the Braves’ outfield productivity has been not just above average, but also better than that of the Mets and Phillies. They paid up very little prospect capital in order to make that upgrade. (They also paid next to nothing for reliever Richard Rodriguez and outfielder Eddie Rosario, who has yet to play for them.) New York’s troubled rotation had a 5.21 ERA in the 18 games without deGrom leading up to July 30, a mirror picture that the Mets front staff — led by interim GM Zack Scott and president Sandy Alderson — apparently failed to notice.
There were genuine doubts about Taijuan Walker’s ability to keep up his incredible first-half stats in the second half (through no fault of his own, he was both unaccustomed to pitching this much and likely to regress results-wise). And everything about Carlos Carrasco’s experience in New York thus far indicated that he shouldn’t have been trusted with innings. Despite this, the Mets only added Rich Hill and Trevor Williams (who they demoted to the minors and have started only once). Since deGrom’s last appearance, they have a 5.09 rotation ERA, which ranks them 21st in the majors. For a squad that has failed to score all season, that won’t cut it. New York did get Javier Baez from the Cubs, a big name with a whiff-prone bat who delivered only a modest upgrade. They handed up by far the best prospect either team had in Pete Crow-Armstrong.
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