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Mets, Braves ready for key NL East battle

Jul 5, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer (21) pitches during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Only one division in the major leagues has two teams with more than 50 wins. Those teams meet Monday night in Atlanta.

And it’s a pitching showdown as well when the New York Mets visit the Braves to begin a three-game series.

The Mets will use right-hander Max Scherzer (5-1, 2.26 ERA) for his second outing since returning from the injured list. The Braves have lefty Max Fried (9-2, 2.52) ready to go.

Scherzer was in fine form in his first game back since mid-May — other than some minor league rehab starts — following an oblique injury. He struck out 11 without a walk last week at Cincinnati, throwing 79 pitches.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to that 99-pitch count next time out,” Scherzer said.

And by all accounts, Scherzer could be even better.

“As I get further away from the injury, it allows me to be even more aggressive with the fastball and be able to step on it even more,” Scherzer said.

Mets manager Buck Showalter said the team wants to keep close tabs on Scherzer even as he seems to be in a groove again.

“We want him there for the long haul,” Showalter said.

The surging Braves have pulled within 1 1/2 games of the NL East Division-leading Mets entering this series. Atlanta won for the sixth time in its last seven games with Sunday’s 4-3, 12-inning outcome against the visiting Washington Nationals.

“Just trying to build that momentum and confidence, putting together good team wins,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good series.”

Riley produced the game-winning single Sunday after a game-tying home run in the eighth inning and the game’s first RBI earlier in the game.

The Mets dropped a 2-0, 10-inning decision to the visiting Miami Marlins on Sunday, splitting the four-game series. Three of New York’s last five games have gone 10 innings.

The Mets don’t want to be caught up in too much drama just because they’re playing the Braves.

“We played well against them last time,” Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side. We’ve got to go out there and give it our best.”

The teams split four games in early May in New York.

Fried, who on Sunday was named one of 12 NL pitchers for this month’s All-Star Game, is trying to reach a double-digit win total for the third time in four seasons, while he was 7-0 during the shortened 2020 campaign.

Fried hasn’t suffered a loss since April and the Braves have won in his last nine starts. Before that stretch, he posted a victory against the Mets, giving up two runs in six innings.

Fried is 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA all-time in 17 games, including 12 starts, against the Mets.

Scherzer holds a 10-9 career record with 3.88 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) against the Braves. With this outing being his 28th outing against Atlanta, it will match his 28 games against Philadelphia for the opponent he has faced the most. The Braves have delivered more defeats on Scherzer than any other opponent.

The Mets have concerns about outfielder Starling Marte, who is dealing with groin inflammation. Showalter said he won’t go on the injured list right away.

–Field Level Media