NEW YORK -- On paper, the Mets boast Major League Baseball's most favorable schedule down the stretch, playing their final 16 games against sub-.500 opponents. It's their get-out-of-jail-free card, their golden ticket back to October.
But the last-place Braves are doing their best to ensure reality unfolds a bit differently. Atlanta knocked Noah Syndergaard out of Monday night's series opener in the fourth inning, tagging him for five runs in a 7-3 win over the Mets. The loss didn't cost New York any ground against the Giants, who remained one game behind the Mets in the National League Wild Card race after losing to the Dodgers. The Cardinals, however, won their game at Colorado on Monday to pull into a tie with the Giants for the second Wild Card spot.
The Mets fought back on a T.J. Rivera two-run homer but mustered nothing else against Braves starter Aaron Blair. In his 13th career start, the right-hander recorded his first big league win.
"All the hard work he put in, making changes, it's nice to see him get rewarded," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Blair.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Blair's work pays off: The Braves had given Blair three weeks between Major League starts, giving him two starts in the Triple-A International League postseason and time to work on the side with pitching coach Roger McDowell. It seemed to help. Blair didn't allow a hit until Curtis Granderson's two-out single in the fourth inning, and after Rivera followed with a home run, Blair retired seven of the final nine batters he faced.
"Obviously, giving up a run per inning wasn't great, so I was up for any changes [McDowell] suggested," Blair said. More >
T.J. keeps it up: Starting his sixth consecutive game at second base, Rivera drilled his third career home run over the left-field fence in the fourth. That plated Granderson, who moments earlier recorded the Mets' first hit of the night with a two-out single. Rivera has driven in six runs in his last six games, becoming the first Mets rookie to homer in consecutive games since Jordany Valdespin in 2012.
Freddie doesn't sleep, or stop: Freeman estimated that he has had 8-10 hours of sleep, total, in the five days since his wife, Chelsea, went into labor before delivering the couple's first child. He looked fresh enough on Monday, running his on-base streak to 39 consecutive games and hitting streak to 23. Freeman's on-base streak is the longest by a Braves player since Chipper Jones reached base in 41 straight in 2008, and the hitting streak is the club's longest since Dan Uggla hit in 33 straight in 2011.
"The guy's an animal," Snitker said. "He can just hit." More >
Dull hammer: Syndergaard actually opened the game in fine form, hitting 100 mph multiple times in retiring the first four batters he faced. But after Nick Markakis reached base on an infield single in the second inning, Syndergaard walked the next two batters. He never recovered, allowing two runs that inning before Freeman broke things open in the third and fourth. The five runs allowed matched a season high for Syndergaard, who was unable to complete five innings for the first time since before the All-Star break.
"He lost the feel; he lost his rhythm," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "You're looking at 11 pitches to get [the first] four outs, and then the next thing you know, he couldn't throw the ball over the plate. It was completely out of character." More >
Stop right there: Braves left fielder Matt Kemp, who won NL Gold Glove Awards in 2009 and '11, showed flashes of that defensive prowess in the seventh inning, keeping the Mets from putting together a serious rally. Two batters after robbing Michael Conforto of a leadoff hit with a diving grab, Kemp laid out again, taking a hit away from Alejandro De Aza and keeping James Loney on first base.
"I've got nothing left. I left it all out there." -- Freeman
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Freeman also collected four hits in the Braves' last game at Citi Field, on June 19, becoming the first player in the ballpark's history with consecutive four-hit games. Only two hitters accomplished that feat at Shea Stadium: Juan Pierre in 2004 and Rico Carty in 1966.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: Right-hander Julio Teheran (5-10, 3.18 ERA) returns to the scene of his one-hit shutout in June, starting Tuesday night's 7:10 ET game at Citi Field against the Mets. Teheran will face rookie right-hander Robert Gsellman (2-1, 3.08 ERA), who was also his opponent on Sept. 9 at Turner Field, when the Mets rallied against the Braves' bullpen.
Mets: One of the few blemishes on Gsellman's season came against the Braves, who touched him up for four runs in five innings in that Sept. 9 outing. Gsellman will look for better results when he faces Atlanta again on Tuesday.