The Atlanta Braves have alternated between wins and losses since the All-Star break, but they have found themselves falling farther behind the New York Mets, who have also been middling since returning to action 10 days ago.
The Braves will look to begin making up ground on the Mets Monday afternoon, when the longtime division rivals open a five-game series with a doubleheader at Citi Field.
Left-hander Kyle Muller (1-3, 3.20 ERA) and right-hander Bryse Wilson (2-3, 5.34 ERA) are scheduled to start, in that order, for the Braves. Right-hander Marcus Stroman (7-8, 2.59 ERA) is slated to pitch the opener for the Mets, who have not announced a starter for the nightcap.
The Braves missed a chance to take a four-game series from the host Philadelphia Phillies Sunday afternoon, when they were blanked into the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss. The Mets earned a second straight series win Sunday, when Jeff McNeil's tie-breaking two-run pinch-hit double capped a four-run sixth inning that vaulted New York past the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, 5-4.
The Braves, who haven't won back-to-back games since a three-game streak from July 7-10, fell into third place with Sunday's loss, five games behind the Mets. Atlanta, whose longest winning streaks this season are a pair of four-game runs, have not been within three games of New York on consecutive days since a six-day span from May 22-28.
"These guys are grinding through a rough, rough stretch," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We're just going to have to fight our way through it. We've got to win these games. It's a five-game series against a team we're chasing and we can rest in the winter."
Consistency was also eluding the Mets long before the All-Star break. New York, which is 5-4 with a pair of two-game winning streaks and a two-game losing streak in the second half, hasn't won three straight since a trio of wins over the Chicago Cubs from June 14-16.
But with a continuously steady lead atop the NL East - the Mets have been in first place every day since May 8, haven't led by fewer than two games since May 26 and enter Monday four games up on the Phillies - New York is openly thinking of a deep playoff run in October.
"Being in a position to do something special this year - I think that's my main goal as an individual but also as a team to go ahead and take that opportunity to put us in the best position possible to win the whole thing," said Rich Hill, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday and allowed three runs over five-plus innings in his Mets debut Sunday.
Muller took the loss last Wednesday, when he allowed one run over four innings as the Braves fell to the San Diego Padres, 3-2, in the opener of a doubleheader. Wilson, who will be recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett Monday, last pitched in the majors June 20, when he took the defeat after giving up five runs over four innings in Atlanta's 9-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Stroman authored one of the best starts of his career last Wednesday, when he earned the win by tossing eight innings of one-hit ball in the Mets' 7-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
--Field Level Media