ATLANTA — The Mets' season is not over, but their psyche for the most critical part of the season will be tested following three straight defeats to the Braves in the penultimate series of the regular season.
The Mets had a trio of chances to grab control of their own destiny ahead of their final three-game series against the Nationals beginning on Monday. They came up empty in each.
Now, the Mets hopes of grabbing the National League East title and a bye through the Wild Card round have all but slipped away following a 5-3 loss to the Braves in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,713 fans on Sunday night at Truist Park in Atlanta.
"They pitched a little better than we did and they swung the bats a little bit better," Buck Showalter said. "We had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, but that’s been the case with them all year. They beat us one more time than we beat them this year. Our guys are having a good year, it didn’t work for us the last three games."
With three games to go, the Braves secured a two-game lead in the NL East and grabbed the all-important tiebreaker if the teams finish with identical records, by winning the season series, 10-9.
The Mets' first trip to the playoffs since 2016 is right around the corner, but the sweep at the hands of the Braves has them on the brink of a tougher playoff path and a drastic turn from what they originally anticipated it could be.
Division chances crumble
The door is ever-so-lightly open for the Mets to still grab their first division title since 2015, but it would take an epic collapse from the Braves for that to come to fruition.
The Braves need just one more win or Mets loss to clinch the division for the fifth season in a row.
"They haven’t won the division yet," Pete Alonso said following the loss.
Despite an early-morning arrival back in New York, the Mets will shift their attention to their quest to eclipse the 100-win mark against the Nationals. They will rely on the Marlins to notch a sweep against the Braves without Cy Young candidate Sandy Alcantara taking the ball after manager Don Mattingly said he would not make another start in 2022.
"We’ve got no other choice (than to move on,) right?" Alonso said. "Obviously, we want to win the first game of the series tomorrow and put our best foot forward going into postseason. As much we want to remember and learn from outr mistakes, you can’t dwell on it. Just learn from it and move forward."
Likely road ahead
Despite posting their most wins in a season since 1988, the Mets (98-61) are now more than likely going to host a best-of-three Wild Card round beginning on Friday.
The Mets are already a lock to grab the fourth seed and will host either the Padres, Phillies or Brewers at Citi Field. The Padres have a one-game advantage over the Phillies, who lead the last spot in the playoffs by two games over the Brewers.
"We’re still in a good spot. We’re in the playoffs," Francisco Lindor said. "Yeah, (the Braves) have more wins than us right now. They played very well. When it comes to the season, it’s a long season, it’s a long year. We have 98 wins, so to me that’s a pretty good year so far. We’re still not done. The season’s not done."
The bigger blow what would lie ahead if the Mets can get past the Wild Card round. Despite holding a better record than the Cardinals (92-67), the Mets would concede home field and have to begin the best-of-five National League Division Series on the road against the Dodgers, who hold the best record in baseball at 110-49.
For now, the Mets will choose to dwell on the positives that have come with this season as they turn the page.
"Our guys have answered a lot of challenges and will again," Showalter said. "They’re going to chance to roll the dice in October regardless. I know these guys will feed off the last three days and be better as a result of it."
Lessons from the sweep
The narrative surrounding October baseball is that power prevails. One big swing can change the direction of a game or a series.
That proved to be the case, at least for the final three-game set between the Mets and Braves. The Braves collected seven home runs, including three apiece from Swanson and Matt Olson, to change the course of the series, while the Mets received three.
The Mets outhit the Braves, 11-5, in the final game of the series but could not scratch across enough runs to stave off their opportunistic offense.
"I feel like we did a good job with getting hits," Alonso said, "but I feel like if we get a couple more timely hits and some big hits, having quality at-bats with guys in scoring position, I feel like we can be a little bit better with that."
On Sunday, Daniel Vogelbach knocked his first home run since Sept. 16 — and 18th of the season — in the top of the second inning, and Jeff McNeil boosted the Mets in front momentarily, 2-1, with a solo shot to lead off the third.
The Mets grew their lead to 3-1 with three straight hits, including an RBI single by Vogelbach, later that inning, but could not add on any more on a pop-up by Mark Canha, strikeout by Luis Guillorme and groundout by James McCann.
The Mets stranded two runners on base in each of the first three innings and ended up leaving nine players on base in the game.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Here’s what Mets’ playoff road looks like after being swept by Braves