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The Atlanta Braves are in first place, folks

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The standings on May 3 don’t mean much of anything, but it certainly is something to look at them and see that the Atlanta Braves are in first place in the National League East. The only teams with better records than Atlanta: the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Diamondbacks. The Braves offense leads the National League in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Their starting pitching, which began the season poorly, has been fantastic over the past three weeks or so. The Braves are not in first place by default. They have earned their place at the top of the standings.

The last time the Braves were in first place beyond the second week of the season was back in 2014. That also happened to be the last time the Braves were actually trying to win as opposed to tearing down and rebuilding. They found themselves in first that year, off and on, until July 20, after which they went on a skid, finishing the season 25-39, in second place, but 17 games behind the Washington Nationals. The Braves would go 207-278 over the next three seasons, trading off veterans — and acquiring some other, lesser veterans for payroll purposes —  and going all-in with a youth movement. In the meantime they experienced the worst front office scandal since integration, resulting in the firing of their previous general manager and the forced surrender of multiple prospects. They’d also move into a new ballpark, abandoning the city of Atlanta for the suburbs to no small amount of controversy. It’s been a rough few years.

While most people expected the Braves to improve this year, it was expected to be incremental improvement due to the maturation of some younger players and some better health. That maturation has come more quickly than expected, with young players Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña playing fantastically in the early going and some slightly older building blocks like Dansby Swanson transforming from liability to asset. Beyond that team health has been good and, let’s not delude ourselves, they’ve had a lot of good luck in the form of some guys playing well over their head in the early going (I’m looking at you Nick Markakis and Ryan Flaherty). Of course, all winning teams experience some good luck from time to time, so that good luck should not be discounted. The wins are in the bank.

I don’t think that the Braves will hold on to first place all season. The Nationals are too good, the Phillies are pretty darn good themselves and even if the Mets are dealing with injuries and their general Metsiness, they’re a more talented team. That’s before you get to the part about the Braves pitching not being good enough and, over the course of a 162 games and hot, hot weather, young players often wilt. It was supposed to be a year of moving forward and the Braves have moved forward, but I certainly expect them to move backward a bit after this early season surprise.

But it’s certainly neat in the meantime, ain’t it?

 

Gomez HR sinks Nats after Martinez ejection, Mets sweep

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NEW YORK (AP) Turns out, the only thing Mets manager Mickey Callaway lost this week was his voice.

Days after New York’s front office declared support for its criticized, second-year skipper, Callaway’s players rallied for another startling victory Thursday and a four-game sweep of the division-rival Nationals.

Carlos Gomez slipped out of his shoe during an early dash, then hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning that helped the Mets overcome a comeback that started after Washington manager Dave Martinez’s heated ejection for a 6-4 victory.

Gomez bolted around the bases, smacking himself in the helmet and letting out a few joyous shouts after his two-out shot against Wander Suero (1-4). Players jumped out of the dugout and danced on the warning track while he rounded the bases, greeting him with flying handshakes and hugs.

Callaway was already hoarse Thursday morning when he met with reporters. After Gomez’s stunner, he could hardly get his pipes working.

“Sorry for the voice,” he said. “I’ve been screaming and yelling (through) these crazy games.”

Gomez delivered his first homer of the season in his seventh game. The 13-year major league veteran opened the year with Triple-A Syracuse, hoping to extend his playing days at Citi Field after breaking into the majors with the Mets as a 21-year-old in 2007.

“I’m blessed,” Gomez said. “Came back here in this situation and play the way that we’re playing right now with a lot of energy, you know, I’m enjoying every single time. You guys can notice when I’m in the dugout or playing defense like a little kid. I’m enjoying every single moment.”

It was the third straight game New York beat Washington in its final turn at-bat.

The Nationals seemed as if they’d snapped from their funk after Martinez’s ejection in the eighth. Plate umpire Bruce Dreckman rang up Washington’s Howie Kendrick for a strikeout as he tried to check his swing leading off, then tossed the veteran infielder. Martinez charged from the dugout, spiked his hat and kicked dirt on home plate while barking relentlessly at Dreckman.

“I just didn’t think he swung,” Martinez said. “We just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire is there. He didn’t like it.”

Juan Soto then walked against Robert Gsellman (1-0), Victor Robles singled, and Yan Gomes brought in Soto with a double. Gerardo Parra followed with a pinch-hit, two-run single for a 4-3 Washington lead.

The Nationals have lost five straight and six of seven. Washington dropped to 19-31, a record better than only the Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals.

Hardly the kind of start expected from an NL playoff hopeful.

“You can’t put a blame on one thing,” Martinez said when asked where culpability fell. “You really can’t. This is a team thing.”

The Mets swept the Nationals/Expos franchise over four games for the first time since July 1-4, 1991. It was the first four-game home sweep by New York in the series since May 15-18, 1972.

New York is 18-13 against the NL East and 24-25 overall. The Mets enter a three-game series against Detroit hoping to climb over .500 for the first time since May 2.

“Now we’re winning ballgames, there’s definitely a different air because of that,” Callaway said. “But these guys have not quit one time. They’re tremendous. That’s an unbelievable comeback right there.”

Edwin Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 12th save.

Mets starter Steven Matz allowed 10 hits over six innings of one-run ball. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings.

Starting with an unusual 12:10 p.m. first pitch, both teams looked short on caffeine. New York had two errors, Washington had one and both teams had players thrown out on the bases.

SHOE FLY DON’T BOTHER

Gomez stole second in the fifth inning and took third on catcher Gomes’ throwing error, and his left shoe flew off in the process. Gomez never broke stride and scored two batters later on Juan Lagares‘ sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

IT’LL BE ALL RIGHT

New York placed infielders Robinson Cano (left quad strain) and Jeff McNeil (tight left hamstring) on the injured list prior to the game, leaving the team without two regular position players. The Mets went with an all right-handed lineup against a right-handed starting pitcher for the second time in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis in right foot) has experienced some pain running in recent days and will back off. He was still expected to hit in a batting cage Thursday.

Mets: Luis Guillorme and Ryan O’Rourke were recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. … New York claimed former Phillies OF Aaron Altherr off waivers from San Francisco and designated RHP Tim Peterson for assignment.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Open a four-game home series against Miami with RHP Kyle McGowin (0-0, 6.00) set to make his second career start. RHP Pablo Lopez (3-5, 5.06) is up for the Marlins.

Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard (3-4, 4.50) starts the opener of a three-game home series against Detroit, opposing LHP Gregory Soto (0-2, 10.80).

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