The stretch run of the 2022 MLB regular season has finally arrived, and there are a few must-watch division races. Among them, the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves are battling it out for the top spot in the National League East.

At one point earlier in the year, it seemed as if the Mets were going to run away with the NL East and thus snap the Braves’ four-season run atop the division. On May 31, they held a 10.5-game lead over Atlanta in the division, as the reigning World Series champions were looking for answers due to their 23-27 start to the campaign. Since then, the Braves have turned around their early season woes, as Ronald Acuna Jr. and company now sit at a mere 1.0 game back of the first place Mets.

The Mets will have an uphill battle from now until the final day of the regular season to fend off the Braves to lock up the NL East for the first time since the 2015 campaign. Overall, they should go on to clinch the division due to three notable factors that fall in their favor.

3. Mets’ turnaround in situational hitting

Not much went the Mets’ way on offense over the 2021 season. They ended up finishing the year ranking at 27th in total runs scored with 636. Their woes with runners in scoring position held back their production on offense, as they logged a lowly .238 batting average coupled with a wRC+ of 94 in such situations.

The Mets are enjoying a turnaround when it comes to delivering with runners in scoring position. Ahead of their home series finale against the Washington Nationals on Sunday, the current NL East leaders posted a .268 batting average and an OBP of .338 with RISP this season.

Multiple factors can be credited to the Mets’ improvement with RISP. Among them, manager Buck Showalter’s squad has mainly had a slow and steady approach at the plate. For one, even as the strikeout rate across the majors has risen as of late, they do boast an NL-best 19.9 percent strikeout percentage.

Braves manager Brian Snitker has had a front-row seat to watch Mets hitters agitate pitchers with their patient approach.

“When you put the ball in play, good things can happen, especially with two strikes,” Snitker said following the Braves’ 5-3 loss to the Mets on Aug. 7. “[The Mets] fight balls off and foul balls off. They get your pitch count up, and they’ve got experienced hitters now.”

Even in RISP situations when the pressure is upped, the Mets have remained cool, calm, and collected during such at-bats.

2. The Jacob deGrom factor

There was much uncertainty about just which Jacob deGrom the Mets would see upon his return from injury. To the sure delight of their front office, deGrom continues to showcase that he still can perform at a high-level.

What sure has caught the attention of rival teams in the NL East is that deGrom’s secondary pitches continue to produce quality results for him. For one, he has enjoyed formidable success with his slider pitch, which showed vast signs of improvement in previous years. The late break on deGrom’s slider has helped him tally 37 strikeouts to go along with a .157 batting average against the pitch this season.

As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted following deGrom’s home start against the current NL West leaders last Wednesday, the left-handed pitcher’s secondary pitches sure can cause problems for hitters.

“He went more 50-50 with his secondary versus the fastball tonight,” Roberts said. “It’s something that we need to keep in the back of our minds that, yeah, he can go to the secondary [pitches] if needed.”

With deGrom back in the fold and Max Scherzer continuing to prove that he has plenty left in the tank at this stage in his career, the Mets sure boast a potent one-two punch atop their rotation.

1. Favorable schedule

The Mets will not have many arduous series clashes over the rest of their regular season schedule. Taking out their three-game road series against the Braves later in the month, the Mets have a mere three contests left against clubs that currently hold a winning record. On the other hand, without including its home series with the Mets, Atlanta has 10 matchups remaining against teams that have a current record over .500. More so, one can not overlook its three-game road set with the San Francisco Giants coming next week.

In the big picture, the Mets have all that they need to soon win the NL East and also secure the second-best record in the NL. For now, they are set to meet the Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game road set beginning on Monday.