ATLANTA — Two months into the Major League Baseball season, National League East was an object of ridicule.

Going into June, the Mets had taken a 10.5-game division lead with a 34-17 record as the rest of the division fell below .500. Then the Braves, who started 24-27, rode a season-high 14-game winning streak, the Phillies’ Bryce Harper began to find his MVP form, and the Mets offense began to grow. collapse.

The Mets and Braves have taken opposite paths over the past five weeks as the divisional race has become the tightest and most intriguing in baseball heading into the second half. Both teams entered their second series of the season starting Monday, with the Mets holding a shaky 1.5-game lead over their NL East rivals.

“We knew this division was not going to be a giveaway from the start,” Pete Alonso said. “There are a lot of great quality baseball teams in this division. I think it’s the toughest division in baseball. Not much is going to separate us in the end, but that’s what we play for. That It’s going to be fun. You want those hard-fought, high-leverage situations, and I think for us, we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Beyond this week’s three-game series, the Mets and Braves will play 12 more times between August and October. As the intensity builds, here’s how we got here and what to look for in the NL East rivals game:

old guard

Max Scherzer of the New York Mets throws in the third inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

The Mets have a pair of proven products in their pitching ranks, but it’s just those two aces that stay on the pitch.

They are still waiting for two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, who is set to make his third rehab start on Thursday, to recover from a right shoulder stress reaction that kept him out since spring training. . A good start from Max Scherzer was halted by a tight oblique, from which he returned on July 5.

In nine starts before his Monday appearance, Scherzer was 5-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 0.88 WHIP.

However, the Mets relied on another group of veterans to keep them afloat during those injuries to Carlos Carrasco, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker.

Basit:Buck Showalter responds to Chris Bassitt’s COVID comments

Walker, the 29-year-old journeyman in his second season with the Mets, tied his All-Star caliber start from 2021. The 10-year-old veteran went 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA and a WHIP of 1.10 in 15 starts. He’ll be looking to avoid a slip like the one he had last year which saw him go 0-8 with a 7.13 ERA in his last 13 starts.

Carrasco and Bassitt have each run hot and cold over the course of the season. Carrasco has eight outings with two or fewer earned runs, but five with five or more earned runs. Bassitt started his season 4-2 in seven starts with a 2.34 ERA before struggling to a 2-3 record with a 4.70 ERA in June.

Will DeGrom and Scherzer be able to come back and provide the boost that was expected at the start of spring training to close out strong?

against the new

September 20, 2020;  New York, New York, United States;  Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) pitches against the New York Mets in the first inning at Citi Field.  Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin - USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, the Braves were solidified by a trio of newcomers, led by 28-year-old left-hander Max Fried, who was 9-2 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.03 WHIP at his full fourth season beginning Monday.

But the upside for the Braves has been the development of 26-year-old Kyle Wright and 23-year-old Spencer Strider.

Wright, who was the Braves’ fifth pick in 2017 over Vanderbilt, has barely played in 2021. He’s pitched just 6⅓ innings while pitching to a 9.95 ERA. He became his in 2022, already surpassing his combined starting total from his last three seasons.

Wright went 10-4 with a 2.97 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 103 innings in 17 games this season.

Strider started the season in the Braves bullpen but has been a revelation since joining the rotation, including three starts with 11 or more strikeouts. The Clemson product is 4-2 with a 2.60 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 65⅔

For the Braves, the question is whether this pair of newcomers can sustain their success in their first real major league overtime.

Different philosophies

Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets reacts after Dominic Smith scored on a James McCann single in the 10th inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday July 6, 2022 in Cincinnati.

The Mets and Braves approach offense very differently.

Going into Monday night, the Mets were second in the National League with a .255 batting average and .325 on-base percentage. The Braves were fourth in the NL in average (.251) and eighth in on-base percentage (.316).

The Mets, while struggling lately, thrive on moving runners in 90-foot increments and “passing the baton.”

The Braves like to score in chunks as they lead the National League with 133 home runs, led by Austin Riley, who broke a team record 23, and Marcell Ozuna with 17. They have seven different players with home runs at two numbers this season. .

The Mets are 11th in the National League with 85 homers. Alonso leads the way with 23 long balls, and Lindor is the only other Mets player in double figures with 15.

Both approaches always work. The Braves are second in the league with 4.78 points per game, while the Mets are tied with the Phillies for third with 4.76.

Join the Rival

The Mets are still paying Robinson Cano about $20 million through 2022 after letting him go when the rosters were cut on May 2.

Now Cano will receive this money to pay off the enemy.

After spending the past two months with the Padres and their Class AAA affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, Cano was acquired by the Braves for cash considerations on Sunday and ended up in the starting lineup at second base. against the Mets on Monday night.

“I don’t want to go back to the past,” Cano said. “I was grateful to have had the opportunity with the Mets when I was traded from Seattle. There are no hard feelings. I have friends on the other side, and I wish them the best. .”

The Braves needed a left-handed bat and they had an opening with Ozzie Albies on the 60-day injured list with a broken foot.

In 21 games for El Paso, Cano cut .333/.375/.479 with three home runs, 20 RBIs and 20 runs.

“I haven’t had the chance to play every day and haven’t had as many at-bats,” Cano said. “I’ve come down and I know I can still play this game and go out there and work.”

The Mets have a former Braves standout in their ranks as Ender Inciarte, who played six seasons for the Braves between 2016 and 2021, has made eight at bats since joining the team in late June.