ATLANTA — The Mets’ pursuit of the NL East title boils down to this: Win Sunday or start preparing to host the best-of-three wild-card round of the playoffs.
For a second straight night, the Mets sent an ace to the mound Saturday and were left disappointed. But much of the blame needs to be shared by a lineup that has looked feeble against Braves pitching.
Max Scherzer allowed two home runs and the Mets didn’t hit any in a 4-2 loss at Truist Park that left the Braves in first place by one game in the NL East. That lead is the largest this season for the Braves, who have been chasing the Mets virtually all year.
Chris Bassitt will be entrusted with keeping the Mets’ NL East title hopes alive on Sunday. A victory would even the race and give the Mets the season series over the Braves, which serves as the division tiebreaker. But a loss would all but bury the Mets. It would leave them two games behind with three remaining in the regular season and the tiebreaker would belong to the Braves.
After showing brilliance in his first two starts back from his second trip to the injured list this season, Scherzer had his worst start of the season. The right-hander was knocked out in the sixth inning after allowing four earned runs on nine hits, including two homers. Scherzer had allowed just one run over his previous 12 innings in beating Milwaukee and Oakland.
But these Braves, with a stacked lineup, are a different beast.
Dansby Swanson delivered a key blow in the fifth inning with a two-run homer against Scherzer to put the Braves ahead, 3-2. The home run was the second in as many nights for Swanson, who was among the three players to homer against Jacob deGrom on Friday.
Scherzer’s hole became deeper in the sixth on Matt Olson’s leadoff homer, which extended the Braves’ lead to 4-2. Olson also homered against deGrom a night earlier.
Offensively, the Mets barely mounted a fight after the fifth inning. Dylan Lee, Jesse Chavez, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen dominated in relief, holding the Mets to one hit over the final four innings. It was the second straight night the Mets were held to two runs.
The Mets scored a run in the first inning on Eduardo Escobar’s RBI groundout with the bases loaded against Kyle Wright, but missed an opportunity for a big inning. Brandon Nimmo singled leading off the game and Pete Alonso walked before Jeff McNeil’s single with one out loaded the bases. After Escobar’s ground out, Daniel Vogelbach grounded out to Wright to end the inning.
Scherzer avoided trouble in the third as Nimmo sprinted to left-center and grabbed Michael Harris’ 106-mph line drive for the third out. Swanson’s single off Francisco Lindor’s glove had put runners on the corners.
Olson’s RBI single in the fourth tied the score 1-1. Austin Riley doubled leading off the inning before Olson delivered to left field for his 98th RBI of the season. But any thoughts of further Braves damage in the inning were largely undone by Travis d’Arnaud’s double play grounder. Scherzer surrendered a double to Marcell Ozuna, but escaped the inning.
Jeff McNeil, who entered the night with a .322 batting average (second to Freddie Freeman’s .327 in the National League) stroked an RBI single in the fifth for his second hit of the game, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead. Alonso and Lindor singled in succession ahead of McNeil to start the two-out rally. McNeil was 2-for-4 on Saturday to raise his average to .323.