For most of the past four months, the Mets have stood alone atop the NL East, trekking through injuries and mediocrity and a weird number of doubleheaders, threatened by no team in particular as they inch toward October.
With a five-game series against Atlanta — which began Monday with another doubleheader split, a 2-0 loss in the first game and a 1-0 win in the second one — the Mets have a chance to make one of those teams even less of a threat.
Three-time defending division champion Atlanta (49-51) remained five games behind the Mets (53-45), stuck at two games under .500. It is in third place and has not had a winning record at any point this season.
The timing of this series might make it more important than most. With a dominant showing, the Mets could push Atlanta further from first, maybe far enough to turn it into trade-deadline sellers before 4 p.m. Friday. Such an approach would seem to leave the second-place Phillies as the last challenger standing.
"That could swing some things, depending on if you have a good series or not a good series. So it’s important," acting general manager Zack Scott said Monday afternoon, speaking generally of the division this week. "I’m not that focused on that part of it. But I do think the reality is that that could lead that club to take a different approach depending on how things go. That’s definitely something that I’m aware of."
Jeff McNeil’s two-out RBI double in the fifth inning off Luke Jackson provided the only run in the finale. That snapped a 13-inning scoreless streak since his game-winning double Sunday afternoon.
"Hit it as far as I could," McNeil said, smiling about a line drive that bounced on the warning track in centerfield. "A little unfortunate it didn’t go out."
Six relievers held Atlanta to four hits. Anthony Banda was the only one to toss two innings. Seth Lugo escaped a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth by getting Freddie Freeman to fly out to the warning track in left and inducing Austin Riley to ground into a double play.
Edwin Diaz struck out the side for his 22nd save and third in a row, his slump seemingly behind him. He hit 101.4 mph with his final fastball.
"They did an amazing job," said manager Luis Rojas, who is planning another bullpen game Tuesday. "We scored one run in two games and won one. Fundamentals executed."
The Mets managed only five hits (four singles) in the opener. They had the potential tying run at the plate in the seventh inning, but Dansby Swanson made a smooth backhand pick of pinch hitter James McCann’s scorching grounder to shortstop and started a game-ending double play.
Their top scoring opportunity came in the fifth, when they had runners on first and second and one out. On the first pitch of his at-bat, though, Pete Alonso sent a bouncer to third base for an inning-ending double play.
It was that kind of game for the Mets against rookie lefthander Kyle Muller (2-3), who held them to four hits and two walks in five innings. He struck out three.
Muller, 23, has a 2.55 ERA in six games (five starts), a boon to a rotation that, like the Mets’, has been besieged by injuries.
"Muller had really good stuff going on today and kept the guys off-balance," Rojas said. "We just couldn’t get to him."
Marcus Stroman pitched OK, scattering eight hits and allowing two runs in five innings. He walked one and struck out four.
Stroman (7-9) did well to minimize damage, including in the third inning, when three hits — including Joc Pederson’s RBI double into the rightfield corner — put runners on second and third with none out. But Ozzie Albies whiffed on what would have been ball four, and after an intentional walk of Freeman loaded the bases, Riley grounded into a double play to end the inning.
"Stro is a clutch pitcher," Rojas said.
Despite missing several significant hitters that it had at the start of the season — Ronald Acuna Jr., Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna — Atlanta managed 10 hits in the shortened game.
"They still are a good-hitting ballclub," Rojas said. "They’re a good team."
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