Francisco Lindor
Brad Mills | USA TODAY Sports

The Mets are playing some of their best baseball right now. They’ve won eight of their past nine games and remain 3.5 games up on the Braves in the NL East.

But the Mets picked up a bunch of those recent wins against bottom feeders Miami and Washington. Now, the real test awaits.

This weekend’s five-game set with Atlanta at Citi Field is the Mets’ biggest series of the year. It’s like an NLDS in August. By the end of the marathon, the Amazins could have a stranglehold on the division — or be back in the danger zone.

Here’s what we’ll be watching:

Will the division lead grow? The Mets have been in first place since April 8. So basically the entire season. But the gap has closed with what was once a double-digit lead. The Braves got within a half-game during their hot streak, but the Mets have since regained a sense of control. They’re up 3.5 games in the standings and four in the loss column entering Thursday night. Will the Mets capitalize on a golden opportunity? A series win would give them a five-game edge in the loss column — at least. But if they stumble, the NL East will be even tighter.


Revamped bullpen. The front office did not make a trade deadline move for a lights-out reliever as was expected. While Mychal Givens was brought in from the Cubs to shore up the bullpen, he didn’t exactly impress in his Mets debut. But he excelled in Chicago this season, with a 2.66 ERA across 40 games. So the Mets can’t give up yet.

The bullpen also gets Trevor May back; he just made his first appearance this week since early May. Despite struggles earlier in the season, May may prove one of the Mets’ more reliable arms down the stretch. We all know the Braves lineup can do serious damage. This is the time for the Mets’ bullpen to prove it can handle the pressure of a pennant race.

Daniel Vogelbach. With the Braves expected to start at least a few right-handed pitchers in this series, that likely means Daniel Vogelbach will continue to see more starts in the designated hitter role. After his first home run as a Met on Wednesday – a triumphant grand slam – Vogelbach is putting up numbers from the DH spot that the Mets haven’t seen all season. He’s getting on-base at a .471 clip, a large part due to his ability to draw walks. Vogelbach will be one of the most important hitters in the Mets lineup the rest of the way. Now is the time to continue his hot streak and show he can step up for a contender.

Jacob deGrom. The recently-returned ace is scheduled to make his second start of the season in Sunday’s series finale. DeGrom pitched well in his season debut. It was an impressive outing for someone who had not pitched a big league game in over a year. But he was facing a Triple-A lineup after the Nets were gutted with the Juan Soto trade. This will be deGrom’s real test. An excellent start against the Braves would do wonders for everyone’s confidence in and around Queens.

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