The Washington Nationals claimed the National League East title last season with 97 wins. The Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Mets each lost at least 85 games. It was one of just two divisions in baseball that featured only one winning team.
If the first full month of the 2018 season was a harbinger, things may be flipped this season. The Nationals, despite their talent, have a losing record while the improved Mets, Braves and Phillies are all above .500.
The Mets (17-10) hold a slim edge atop the N.L. East, but they got another taste of the Braves’ youth-fueled revival in a 3-2 loss. Mike Soroka, the Braves’ 20-year-old prospect making his major league debut, vexed the Mets for six innings, leading the way as Atlanta (17-11) beat its division for the third time in four games this season.
Behind Soroka, the 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies and the 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. both dazzled, combining for three hits and two runs at the plate off the Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, who, at 25, seemed like a grizzled veteran by comparison. Acuña, Soroka and Albies, in that order, are the three youngest active players in the majors, and they represent a strong present and a bright future for Atlanta.
“The division is substantially upgraded,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said before the game. “We’re going to have to play good baseball throughout the season. I think we’ll rise to the situation.”
Against the Braves’ potent lineup of youngsters and veterans, Syndergaard coughed up three runs on a season-high 10 hits over six innings. His command wavered early, when the Braves pounced on him for a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
“This loss is really just on me,” he said, citing a lack of feel for his pitches and the Braves’ aggressiveness.
The Mets’ lone run through the first eight innings came on a solo performance by left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who returned to the lineup sooner than expected. He had exited Sunday’s game early after jamming his left hand sliding into third on a stolen base.
But after playing catch and hitting off a tee during Monday’s off-day in New York, Cespedes was cleared to play. He did not receive further tests, as first expected, beyond an initial X-ray, which showed no breaks.
Any potential Mets’ need will hinge on Plawecki’s return. He will likely need the full four weeks, if not more, to recover. The strength in his hand had not fully returned, Alderson said.
Even without Swarzak, the Mets’ bullpen has performed solidly despite a few blown games during the second half of April. But there was little need for stout relief pitching on Tuesday once the Mets fell behind.
With two men after bloop singles in the bottom of the ninth inning, Amed Rosario failed on two slash bunt attempts before striking out. Then Wilmer Flores drove in a run with a groundout, and Jose Reyes flied out to left field to cap another defeat to the up-and-coming Braves.