The rivalry between the New York Mets and Atlanta has been dormant since long before Braves superstar Chipper Jones retired following the 2012 season, but might the Mets and Braves celebrate Jones' upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame by finally jostling for National League East supremacy for the first time in more than a decade?
At the very least, the Mets and Braves will play a rare game within the upper reaches of the NL East standings Tuesday night, when the two teams begin a three-game series at Citi Field.
Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 2.86 ERA) is scheduled to start for the hosts against Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb (1-1, 4.23 ERA).
Both teams were off Monday following resounding wins Sunday. The visiting Mets remained in first place in the NL East with a 14-2 thumping of the San Diego Padres. The Braves moved into a tie for second place in the division by cruising past the host Philadelphia Phillies, 10-1.
The Mets (17-9) are 1 1/2 games ahead of both the Braves and Phillies, who are each 16-11. The game Tuesday marks just the third time since Citi Field opened in 2009 that New York and Atlanta will both be within two games of first place prior to a game against each other after April 30.
The Mets, Braves and Phillies were expected to remain on the periphery of the playoff race behind the Washington Nationals, who were heavily favored to win a third straight division title but are instead entered Monday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates mired in fourth place at 12-18.
The Mets and Braves have employed different methods to climb into contention. New York, armed with a loaded 20-something rotation headed by Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, signed veterans Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez and Jay Bruce over the winter in hopes of shoring up a team that was lacking in leadership last season.
Frazier, Gonzalez and Bruce have combined to hit just .246, but they have accounted for nine homers and 46 RBIs in 244 at-bats. Gonzalez had three hits, including a homer, and five RBIs in Sunday's win.
"The life from our players and the way they're playing the game, I couldn't have asked for more this first month," rookie Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters Sunday afternoon.
The Braves, meanwhile, are beginning to bear fruit from a lengthy rebuild. Ronald Acuna Jr., widely recognized as the top prospect in baseball, was promoted to the majors last week and hit .421 in his first five games. The most impressive player for Atlanta, though, has been second-year second baseman Ozzie Albies, who entered Monday leading the National League in doubles (12) and tied for the lead in homers (nine).
Albies and Acuna batted 1-2 on Sunday and are expected to occupy the top two spots in the order again Tuesday.
"I don't see anything abnormally great -- I just see some really good baseball being played," Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday afternoon. "Guys that are preparing well, guys that are working really hard every day and not taking anything for granted. The biggest thing I want them to do is let their talents fly and not be afraid to make a mistake. Trust their abilities, trust their instincts and have fun playing."
Syndergaard didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start last Thursday, when he gave up two runs (one earned) over 7 1/3 innings as the Mets fell to the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3, in 13 innings. He is starting on regular rest but one day earlier than anticipated after scheduled starter Steven Matz was scratched due to a stiff back.
Newcomb also didn't factor into the decision last Thursday, when he allowed four runs over six innings as the Braves beat the Cincinnati Reds, 7-4.
Syndergaard is 0-1 with a 4.05 ERA in five career starts against the Braves. Newcomb is 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in four starts against the Mets.