NEW YORK — The New York Mets and Atlanta Braves were each brimming with optimism and the possibilities of the season ahead on April 3 when they faced each other on Opening Day at Citi Field.
Three weeks later, that optimism is in danger of fading fast — almost as fast as the Mets and Braves are fading into the rearview mirror of the National League East-leading Washington Nationals.
Two skidding teams desperately looking to steer themselves out of early season holes will face off Tuesday when the Mets host the Braves in the opener of a three-game series at Citi Field.
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Both teams were off Monday after weekend sweeps at the hands of division rivals.
The fourth-place Mets (8-11) lost three straight to the Nationals to fall into fourth place, 5 1/2 games behind Washington. The last-place Braves (6-12) fell three times to the third-place Philadelphia Phillies to fall seven games out of first place.
The sweeps deepened the malaise for both teams. The Mets have lost four straight and eight of nine since a 7-3 start, and the Braves have lost six consecutive games.
The skids have been frustrating for the Mets and Braves, though the competitive nature of the defeats are filling both teams with a sense of optimism that better days are imminent. Of the Mets’ past eight defeats, seven were by three runs or fewer and the eighth was a 6-2, 10-inning loss to the Phillies.
“We’re a bloop and a blast away in the last 10 games of winning every game,” Mets manager Terry Collins said Sunday afternoon, a few hours before the Nationals finished off their sweep with a 6-3 win. “And we have the kind of team that can do that.”
The Mets’ flagging offense — New York has scored just 26 runs in the last eight games — could get a boost Tuesday if left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and catcher Travis d’Arnaud can return to the lineup.
Cespedes missed the past three games with a left hamstring injury. D’Arnaud hasn’t started since Wednesday because of a right wrist contusion, though he served as a pinch hitter in each of the past three games.
Five of the Braves’ six losses in their streak have been by three runs or fewer, including three by one run.
“That’s the one thing that I respect so much about those guys in that room is they never quit,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Phillies. “They just keep coming at you. And eventually, this thing is going to turn and we are going to get the hits and be on the other end. But you’ve got to handle something like this in order for something good to happen on the back end.”
The Mets’ Robert Gsellman is scheduled to face the Braves’ Julio Teheran in a matchup of right-handers.
Gsellman didn’t factor into the decision in his most recent start last Wednesday, when he allowed three runs, seven hits and one walk while striking out seven in seven innings in the Mets’ 5-4 win over the Phillies. He is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in three games (two starts) against the Braves.
Teheran took the loss in his most recent start last Wednesday, when he gave up seven runs, seven hits and three walks while striking out three in four innings as the Braves fell to the Nationals 14-4. He is 7-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) against the Mets.