The Mets take on the Braves in Atlanta tonight, which prompted a question (to myself): Who is the Mets' top rival? Not just right now, but over the course of their 50-year existence?

It's a tough question, because of these factors:

A. The Mets, as we know, have enjoyed an up-and-down existence (their all-time record is an underwhelming 3,738-4,073), and you don't experience the same kind of intensity with your opponents when you stink.

B. The National League as a whole has been more fluid than the American League.

C. The 1994 realignment impacted this question dramatically for the Mets, as the Cardinals and Cubs ceased being their NL East neighbors while the Braves moved in and became far more relevant.

So let's give this a whirl. We'lll take history, frequency, intensity and recency into consideration as we try to determine, in order, the Mets' top five rivals.

1. Braves. They get the top prize for two reasons. First, they offered an endearing (as enemies), enduring cast of characters: The whiny Bobby Cox, whom Bobby Valentine loved to tweak. The fan-baiting Chipper Jones, who named his child Shea! The disgusting John Rocker. The three pitching amigos Tom Glavine (until he switched sides), Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Second,, the 1999 NLCS didn't end as Mets fans would have liked. But have Mets fans ever had more fun along the way in a non-championship season? Ever derived more enjoyment (besides 1969) scaring the daylights out of a opponent that was largely regarded as the favorite?

As another selling point, the Braves were the Mets' very first postseason opponents, back in the 1969 NLCS.

The Braves might not pose the greatest threat at the moment, but they're still a good team, coming off a playoff appearance. And Chipper is still around to remind us of the old days.

2. Phillies. Since 2007, they've owned the top spot, thanks to their consistent excellence and, of course, Jimmy Rollins. So why don't they get the number one spot? For the first 45 years of the Mets' existence, they and the Phillies were neighbors who had very little to do with each other. Whenever one team was competitive, the other one wasn't.

3. Yankees. No, they're not even in the same league, but how much does that really mean for this list? First of all, thanks to Major League Baseball's integrity-free schedule, the Mets play the Yankees as many times per season (six) as they play most of the teams in the NL Central and NL West.

Second of all, let's not ignore the obvious. The Mets and Yankees are fighting over the same turf - even though yes, absolutely, the New York area is big enough for both and possibly even a third team - and he development of the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) seems to have increased the tension between the two fan bases. Back when I was a young 'un, most of us rooted for both teams to wins, particularly in the mid'80s when both teams were competitive. It seems to be different now.

Throw in the underrated 2000 World Series, and a couple of guys named Clemens and Piazza, and you've got yourself a bona fide rivalry.

4. Cardinals. If you're not old enough to remember the 1985-89 rivalry with the Cardinals, then that's your loss. Those were fantastic. No team plays now like those Cardinals did, with all of the switch-hitters who could run and play defense. And manager Whitey Herzog filled the villain's role quite capably with his spiked haircut and scowl.

When you throw in the more recent 2006 NLCS, there's some good ("good" as in "entertaining") history there. As long as Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols are wearing Cardinals uniforms (which might not be too much longer, in either case), there'll always be something special when the Cardinals come to Flushing.

5. Cubs. This has the longest life span, dating back to the "black cat" moment of 1969 and the Mets' subsequent overtaking of the Cubs for the NL East title, their first playoff appearance. You never forget your first, after all.

Throw in the memorable 1984 season, when Davey Johnson's upstart Mets fell short to the powerful Cubs team, and there's still a spark when you think "Mets-Cubs."

Friday Feedback: Last week, I did top five Yankees-Red Sox regular-season games from 2002 until now, and I received multiple e-mails (when I write "multiple," I mean "two") from readers who wondered, "How could you not include the July 1, 2004 game at Yankee Stadium, with Derek Jeter's dive into the stands?"

My response: Good Lord, did I goof. Total brain cramp. I was trying to pick out no more than one game per season, and the July 24, 2004 game at Fenway was the first one that popped into my brain. Probably, in part, because I was trying to pick some Yankees victories and some Red Sox victories, and I knew I had Yankees victories from 2003 and 2005.

I was fortunate enough to cover that July 1, 2004 game. It was an all-timer. Should've been on the list.

--Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier 64 years ago today. Happy anniversary to the Robinson family. Tomorrow on the MLB Network, at noon and at 6 o'clock, you can see the special "Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson." It's hosted by the Yankees' Curtis Granderson, and actor Dennis Haysbert narrates actual letters that Robinson wrote, and they focus on Robinson's work in civil rights, mostly after he retired from baseball. Looks pretty cool.

--The Yankees won, but Phil Hughes' lack of velocity remained a concern. Back in spring training, did you ever think that Bartolo Colon would become Hughes' pitching partner? Very odd. If Hughes can't solve this soon, a trip to the minor leagues seems quite feasible.

--As the news hit that Pedro Feliciano will likely miss the year (and likely more) due to left shoulder surgery, Brian Cashman argued that he tried to get Joe Torre to stop abusing relievers, back when Torre was running Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone and others into the ground. I believe this to be true. Bullpen management was unquestionably Torre's worst attribute as a manager.

--Jesus Montero is off to a good start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barres, and yes, Montero is the Yankees' most obvious, major trade chip. Here's a question, though: Cashman has displayed a consistent values system when it comes to trade value. Even if he needs a starting pitcher, would he trade Montero for whoever becomes available? Or would it have to be for someone good enough?

For instance, would Cashman really trade Montero to Houston for someone like Wandy Rodriguez or Brett Myers? Or to the Mets for Mike Pelfrey?

For Seattle's Felix Hernandez? Of course. But I'm still skeptical that Seattle will seriously consider trading King Felix.

Here are two more questions: How much will Hal Steinbrenner's value judgment differ with Cashman's regarding Montero? And how much will Steinbrenner impose his will on this issue come July?

--The Mets' increased focus on patience at the plate has produced some interesting results, David Lennon writes.

--Jenrry Mejia is off to a good start.

--Another contest here later today, and then I'll be at Rangers-Yankees tonight.

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