Opening Day foes Mets, Braves have high expectations
NEW YORK — For a pair of teams associated with a heated rivalry, the truth is the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves rarely fought for a playoff berth at the same time over the past 15 seasons.
Perhaps that will change beginning Monday when the Mets host the Braves in the season opener for both teams at Citi Field.
Right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who has an 0-1 record with a 5.22 ERA in three career starts against the Braves, is scheduled to take the mound for the Mets, who are trying to reach the postseason for a franchise-record third straight season. New York lost to the San Francisco Giants in the National League wild-card game last year after falling to the Kansas City Royals in five games in the 2015 World Series.
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“It’s been our goal since the first game of spring training — try to get to the playoffs, go to the playoffs and try to win the World Series,” Mets third baseman Jose Reyes told Newsday on Friday. “With the talent that we have, we should win a lot of ballgames this year.”
While the Mets advanced further in the postseason in 2015, manager Terry Collins hopes their finish last year — New York was two games under .500 on Aug. 19 but finished on a 27-13 kick to earn home field in the wild-card game — results in a carryover.
“I think, certainly, we learned a lot about the makeup of this team last year in the second half of the season,” Collins told reporters Friday. “When they had an opportunity to kind of let down because of everything that happened, they actually went in the other direction and picked it up. I think that’s going to lead to a pretty successful season this season, because when things are tough, we know they’re going to be able to respond.”
Right-hander Julio Teheran, who has a 7-3 career record with a 2.36 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) against the Mets, is scheduled to pitch for the Braves, who are also hoping to parlay some late-season success into a good start in 2017. Longtime manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired following a 9-28 start, but Atlanta went 59-65 under interim skipper Brian Snitker, including 12-2 in the final 14 games.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said there was a renewed sense of comfort during the final week of spring training, when Atlanta’s optimal lineup was finally together following the World Baseball Classic.
“It was pretty much our first time playing together and we pretty much picked up right where we left off,” Freeman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “Everybody’s getting back into it the last week of spring training. Everybody’s going, ‘OK, I guess it’s time to really start trying here.'”
Last year was the third straight losing season for the Braves, who embarked upon a massive rebuilding plan midway through the 2016 campaign with the plan that they would compete shortly after moving into SunTrust Park, which opens next week.
The 61-year-old Snitker, who had the interim tag removed shortly after the season and will manage a major league team on Opening Day for the first time in a coaching and managing career that began in 1981, said at the winter meetings he hopes the Braves can contend for the NL East crown this season.
“Our goal is going to be to win the division, and I don’t see why it should be anything other than that,” Snitker said.
The Braves and Mets engaged in fierce NL East races in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as a classic six-game NL Championship Series in 1999. But both teams have not finished above .500 and within 10 games of the division lead in the same season since 2007, when New York (one game behind the NL East-winning Philadelphia Phillies ) and Atlanta (five games back) finished second and third, respectively.