There was a point at the start of June when the New York Mets were 10.5 games ahead of everyone else in the NL East, and better even than the Los Angeles Dodgers. There was another point, four weeks ago to be pedantic about it, when they beat Atlanta four times in a five-game series and led the division by 7.5 games. They looked pretty damned pedigree-able by any account.
Today, they are tied with the Atlanta Braves, in part because they have recently been a .500 team and not a very interesting one, but also because the Braves have been absurdly good (21-5), more so than even last year when general manager Alex Anthopoulos traded his way to a World Series nobody thought them prepared to attend, let alone win.
This being the cusp of the NFL season, everything else gets crowded off the calendar. But this is also the month in which baseball becomes its most fun—well, after most folks have already condemned it for being your late Uncle Henry’s game. It’s an annual dance, and then culture being what it is, we know what we like so we can better hate everything that isn’t on that list.
As for baseball … well, it looked for a while like it was going for the whole New York–Los Angeles thing: the Dodgers with all their toys, the Angels with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, the Yankees winning five out of every four games and the Mets winning more often than that. Then May happened, the Angels fell off the back edge of the world, and we were down to three. Which in many ways we still are.
But as the summer progressed and then became Hell’s receptionist, the quietly sneaky Braves, who did the very same thing, got involved, and in a way that now must be acknowledged. It started back in June with a 14-game winning streak aided mightily by the abandoned coal mines of Colorado, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Washington, but since that streak ended they are still 48-24, so with the prying eyes of nobody upon them, the Braves have been the best team in baseball for three months and a week. Between what they came into the season with, including Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson, and Ronald Acuna, and the additions of Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, and Vaughn Grissom, they have become the team that we all thought the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, and Houston Astros were destined to be. Now it is a group of five, and maybe not even that many given the way the two New York sides have become ordinary or, in the Yankees’ case, worse.
And now Atlanta has arrived, dead even with the Mets for the first time all year, and the smart money suggests that they will soon pull away and finally be noticed for who they really are: the scariest team in the game, for the second autumn in a row. Plus, they close the regular season with three against the Miami Marlins, who even more quietly have been the ghastliest one, averaging barely two runs per game since the end of July and 1.3 runs over their last nine. In a field of awful teams, of which there are easily nine, the Marlins may end up as the worst of them all.
But by the time New York fans will truly need to notice the Braves, the NFL season will be four weeks in, and they can go from hating the Yankees and Mets for disappointing again to hating the Giants and Jets for meeting expectations with an unpleasant vengeance. It is who they are, and what they deserve.