There was a time when no Atlanta Braves fan would ever root for the Mets. (Even the Amazin' crew of 1969 swept the Bravos in the NLDS, which made that bunch less lovable to those around here.) When we think of the Mets, we think of the swaggering Daryl Strawberry and the pestiferous Lenny Dykstra and, worst of all, the preening Bobby Valentine. But now we Atlantans look at the National League East race and say ...
Let's go, Mets!
An amazin' thing -- pardon the expression -- has happened. The Washington Nationals have, in our civic consciousness, out-Metted the Mets. Nobody around here likes the Nats. Heck, nobody in baseball likes the Nats, except presumably Nat fans, and even Nat fans aren't crazy about Matt Williams, who manages the team .
Think about it. Bryce Harper: Really good player but kind of arrogant. Stephen Strasburg: Really talented player who has turned into a ragingly ordinary pitcher and is still kind of arrogant. Mike Rizzo: Can-do general manager who's kind of arrogant. Scott Boras: Arrogant agent who represents so many Nats -- Harper and Strasburg among them -- that many in baseball consider this Boras' team. (Boras has hinted he does, too.)
And it's not just the outward Natitude, to borrow the team's slogan. It's also the disdain Washington seems to have for the sport -- shutting down Strasburg in 2012, essentially telling the world that this mighty assemblage would have many shots at a World Series -- and even its players. The same Washington that added (Boras client) Rafael Soriano to a bullpen that already had a capable closer in Drew Storen just undercut Storen again, trading for the (kind of arrogant) Jonathan Papelbon and acceding to his demand to be installed as closer.
The Mets, on the other hand, are kind of cool. They have great young pitching, which they need because they can't hit. (A recent outpouring of offense has lifted them from last in the majors in runs to 28th.) The Braves sent journeymen Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to Flushing two weeks ago, and Uribe already has more homers and more RBIs as a Met in 2015 than does the All-Star David Wright. (To be fair, Wright hasn't played since April.)
Last weekend the Mets swept Washington to pull even in the standings, and this week they've nosed a game and a half ahead. As Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote, the new consensus holds that the Nationals, who spent $21o million to add Max Scherzer to Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez, now have the second-best rotation in their division.
That's cool, too. Ordinarily nobody around here would want the Mets to anything but lose -- the memory of them blowing the 2007 division title on the season's final day remains sweet -- but this is different. This is either/or against an even more disliked rival. This is, by process of elimination, a Mets mandate.
And I'm pretty sure it's not just us on the periphery who feel this way. I suspect one or two of the folks who work for the Braves will second that emotion.