10.5 games. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear those two words is the division lead on the first day of June that dissipated come October. That division lead belonged to the New York Mets, a franchise who had made moves in the offseason to become a legitimate contender and were cruising through the first two months of the season. The Atlanta Braves, the defending World Series champions, were on the other end of the stick, having struggled during the first few months of their season.
By the time the postseason arrived, the script had completely flipped for the two teams. The Mets — a team campus correspondent Ava Inesta predicted would win the division — found themselves playing in the Wild Card Series against the San Diego Padres (a matchup that I saw in person back in July) while the Braves rested up until the NLDS. There is no perfect explanation for it except for that it just happened. If any other team was in this position, like the Washington Nationals or Miami Marlins, there would be no rivalry to talk about. But these two teams have a history of playing in big games and going after each other that is only going to get better in the future.
This is a rivalry that has been established since Atlanta moved to the NL East in 1994. Historically, the best moments between these two divisional foes came in 1999. After taking care of their division-winning opponents in the NLDS, the Braves and the Mets met with the pennant on the line. Atlanta won the series after winning the first three games and allowing New York to win the next two to let them think they had a chance. The Mets got their revenge a season later as they took the pennant and won more games in the World Series than Atlanta did the year prior. Between 2001 and 2021, at least one of the two teams made the postseason 14 times, but both never qualified in the same year.
This rivalry has both historical and personal context. In 2004, Hall of Famer Chipper Jones welcomed his third child. Rather than go with a generic name like Larry (his actual name), Jerry or David, Jones decided to name his son Shea, appropriately named after Shea Stadium. The reason for this choice came down to Jones’ 19 home runs, 101 hits and .313 batting average at the ballpark (when the place closed down in 2008). His reasoning has fluctuated in the years since, but the fact that Jones took a jab at his rivals brings a unique aspect that not even the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry can match.
On the topic of clever trolling, I want to bring up “Narco” by Timmy Trumpet and Blasterjaxx, a song renowned for its trumpets. People who know the tune associate it with Edwin Diaz, the best closer in New York (sorry Clay Holmes), and a fireballer who surged back to dominance after three years of mediocrity. The song got so popular this summer that even Timmy Trumpet himself performed the entrance live in a game in late August.
What does any of that have to do with trolling? William Contreras, the younger brother of free agent catcher Wilson, uses the hit piece as his walk-up song when he steps into the batter’s box. The song is also played whenever he hits a home run, but that has nothing to do with the rivalry — what does have to do with the rivalry is that it draws the ire of fans in Queens who believe no one else should use the song but Diaz. Members from Blasterjaxx have agreed and have asked Contreras to stop using the song, but he has not listened.
This is just a bit of the context surrounding this heated rivalry. Without a doubt, this was the best rivalry in the 2022 baseball season, and I think it is time to break down why that is the case. The first thing that needs to happen, however, is that the roster needs to be constructed (follow me on this one).
I have noticed two different ways that the teams built their roster, and both helped them win. The Mets like to spend big on their players, acquiring them via free agency or trade. That proved to be the case this past offseason when New York acquired Chris Bassitt in a trade while signing Max Scherzer, Mark Canha, Starling Marte and Eduardo Escobar. They will call up star prospects such as Jacob deGrom, Francisco Alvarez and Pete Alonso on occasion, but they mostly rely on the strategies the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers use to win. When the team owner is Steve Cohen, it just makes sense to spend for the best.
The Braves, meanwhile, take the prospect route and do it in such a unique style that I could write a separate Coleumn about it. While teams like the Houston Astros let their stars walk so that they can call up their top prospects (see Jeremy Pena and Kyle Tucker), Atlanta admirably lets their prospects develop and then extends them as soon as they thrive in the big leagues. This has happened to the likes of rookies Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom. The Braves also add from the outside to help compete, having acquired Matt Olson by trade and Travis d’Arnaud in free agency, but for now, they rely on their never-ending prospect pool.
These two different team-development styles clashed 19 times throughout the regular season. But there were eight games in the final two months that really present the case as to why this rivalry has just now reached its peak and will continue to stay in that position for a long period of time.
If there was any series that I wish I attended one game for, it was the five-game weekend series at Citi Field in early August. The Mets entered with a 3.5-game division lead, but were looking to state their case as to why they deserved the NL East crown. On the other side waited the Braves, who wanted to snatch the division lead in one fell swoop. New York won four out of the five games, finishing off the series strong after deGrom went 5.2 innings in his first start at Citi Field in over a year while Diaz closed out the ninth. One would think that the division race was over at that point, but it was just heating up.
Fast forward to September 30, where three games defined both team’s seasons. The Mets entered Atlanta with a one-game lead in the division and hoped to lock up the NL East crown with a sweep. They had such a prime opportunity to finish the job and win the division, especially with deGrom, Scherzer and Bassitt pitching in respective order. What happened instead became the Braves’ best dream and the Mets’ worst nightmare.
Behind Dansby Swanson homering in every game, Atlanta swept New York in dominating fashion and took the division lead for the first time all season after the second game. The Braves clinched the NL East for a fifth straight season two days later thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker while the Mets had to prepare for the Wild Card.
Both teams finished with 101 wins in 2022 and were surprisingly ousted before the NLCS, but this showdown is far from over. I do not necessarily care how free agency or the trade market affects both teams this offseason because regardless of the players who put on the jerseys, this rivalry is back.