The date is April 16, 2018, and the New York Mets have raced out to a blistering 12-3 start, good for a three-game lead in a seemingly wide-open NL East. The pitching staff is completely healthy and absolutely dominating opponents, the offense looks rejuvenated behind a resurgent Asdrubal Cabrera and Todd Frazier, and the Mets are the biggest story of the early season.
Meanwhile, the young Atlanta Braves are off to a very respectable 9-6 start while eagerly waiting for Ronald Acuna’s Triple-A batting average to improve the Super 2 deadline to pass. What the Braves roster lacks in experience they more than make up for in potential, as the farm is universally regarded as one of the premier systems in all of baseball.
Vegas isn’t buying the hot start for either team though, as the 8-9 Washington Nationals are still a big odds-on favorite at -600 to capture the division title. The Mets come in with the second-best odds at +150, or 1.5/1, but the Braves find themselves as 25/1 longshots, ahead of only the 150/1 Miami Marlins.
Let’s fast forward back to the present, Saturday, Sept. 22. The Mets are starting Corey Oswalt and his 6.31 ERA against Austin Voth and the Washington Nationals. The casual fan of either team had likely never heard of either starter until 2018, but here we are. It’s an ugly game for the Metropolitans, who manage just a single hit on the afternoon, but it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things. That’s because the Mets have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and, despite the 6-0 Washington victory, the Nationals succumb to the same fate when the St. Louis Cardinals officially knock off the San Francisco Giants 5-4.
Before Voth can even fire the first pitch to Amed Rosario at 4:06 p.m., Atlanta closer Arodys Vizcaino tosses a scoreless ninth against the Phillies to secure a 5-3 victory. Instead of coming out for the customary handshake line, the dugout erupts onto the field as soon as Maikel Franco’s fly ball hits Acuña’s glove. The Braves have won the division title for the first time in five years.
Nothing went as expected for the Nationals this season, winners of the division in three of the past four seasons. Ditto for the Mets, who entered the season with expectations that were completely blown out of proportion after their hot start.
The Braves were simply hoping to develop their young talent into valuable major league contributors in an effort to contend in 2019. Acuña became an immediate star, Mike Foltynewicz became an ace and Nick Markakis found the fountain of youth. Just about everything that could have gone the Braves’ way did in 2018, just like everything seemingly went wrong for the Mets this season.