ATLANTA - The Mets' three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves is going to linger in the recesses of fans' minds until and unless this team can rectify it with a deep playoff run.
Everything was lined up just the way the Mets wanted it. They came in with a one-game advantage in the National League East. They needed just one win from a pair of Cy Young winners in Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer or their most dependable starter of the season, Chris Bassitt, to control their own destiny in the division.
The Braves buried those hopes and caused some distress for the Mets' playoff push with the three-game sweep.
The Mets now need something just shy of a miracle - sweep the Nationals and have the Marlins take down the Braves for three - to grab the division crown and a bye through the Wild Card round. But it seems like a forgone conclusion that they will have to take down the Padres, who they lost four out of six against during the regular season, to advance to the NLDS.
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"Stranger things have happened. Guys are going to try to get a few hours sleep tonight, come back tomorrow and see if we can make it still happen," manager Buck Showalter said following Sunday night's loss. "We're going to need some help now. That's what's frustrating. I'm very proud of them. They've won 98 games and have got a chance to win 101."
It was painstaking because of the journey to this point.
Pick a random date over the course of the season. It would be a wise bet that the Mets were atop the NL East on that date. There have been just four days when the Mets were not leading the division since Opening Day on April 7.
As the playoff excursion commences this weekend, the Mets' coaches and players will focus on the majority of the season.
"In the game of baseball, there's a lot of doubt that can creep in if you let it," Showalter said. "Our guys are not going to. I've got a long memory. They do. We know what they're capable of, it just wasn't there the last three days."
The fans? They were all crammed with anticipation at the finish line.
The prosperity of Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson and a Braves sweep to steal control of the division will haunt them until they have a chance to wash those memories away.
Swanson and Olson awakened past demons as they became the first Braves players to homer in each game in a three-game series against the Mets since Andruw Jones in 2006.
Meanwhile, some of the Mets' own bats went cold over the course of the series, with Francisco Lindor finishing 2-for-13 and Mark Canha going 2-for-11.
"The guys, they hit. They drove more runs in," Lindor said. "At the end of the day, they outplayed us. They played very good. Hats off to them and that's all I can say. It's another regular-season series and they played better than us. Overall, they beat us one more time (during 2022) than we beat them."
Jeff McNeil was one of the lone major bright spots, finishing 7-of-12 with a home run, two runs and two RBI over the weekend. With a .326 average, McNeil is only one point behind the Dodgers' Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. That might be one of the only pieces of intrigue from the Mets' final series.
For all of the 2022 season's highlights, whether it be the six-run comeback against the Phillies, series win over the Dodgers or the combined no-hitter, the Mets' empty trip to Atlanta has magnified an autumnal pothole, even despite a chance to still eclipse the 100-win mark.September was supposed to be when the Mets gained separation as their schedule eased and the Braves' slate tightened. But after edging the Dodgers, the Mets went 11-9 in series against the Nationals, Marlins, Pirates and A's.
The series against the Braves was supposed to serve as an opening for another clubhouse celebration before the postseason begins. Now despite 98 wins - the Mets' most victories since 1988 - the only feeling is what could have been and concern for what's around the corner.
Mets fans were hoping that they could finally shed those feelings of dread in 2022, but the optimism has become clouded by three gut-punches at Truist Park.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: New York Mets swept by Braves, NL wild card vs. Padres might be next