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Morning Briefing: Magic number down to 12

ATLANTA --

FIRST PITCH: Make it a 9 1/2-game lead for the New York Mets over the Washington Nationals.

While the Mets now own a six-game winning streak, the Nats' skid has hit five games, beginning with that sweep by the Amazin's in D.C.

"I'm not shocked in the sense that I've been around long enough to know baseball is baseball. So nothing surprises me," ex-Nat Tyler Clippard said about the size of the Mets' division lead. "But I think everybody in the baseball world thought the Nationals were going to be better than they have been this year."

The Mets remained politically correct after Saturday's 6-4 win against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Asked about the division race and the Nats, Kelly Johnson said: "We have a substantial lead right now, but if they win every single game there's no telling what can happen. It's only half in our control. This is still Major League Baseball. To reel off however many games we have left and go undefeated is kind of unrealistic. At the same time, though, if we just keep doing what we're doing, I think we're confident as a group that we're going to win a lot more than we're going to lose."

Manager Terry Collins suggested his players are not starting to sniff the Mets' first division title since 2006 just yet. The magic number is down to 12.

"Not yet, I don't think. We better not," he said. "We better worry about playing tomorrow."

Still, Collins said, the players are scoreboard watching. Collins added that he is managing based on the Nats' scores, too. If Washington is down, Collins is more apt to go for the jugular and use Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia late -- such as with a four-run lead -- to try to pick up another game.

"They're looking at the scoreboard the entire game," Collins said about the players in the dugout. "There was a running dialogue about the Nationals being behind. Somebody said, ‘The Marlins have two guys on, nobody out. Get one across.' So they're into it."

On Sunday, the Mets (81-61) aim for their first four-game sweep in Atlanta in 30 years. Jonathon Niese (8-10, 4.36 ERA) opposes right-hander Ryan Weber (0-1, 3.00) at 1:35 p.m. ET.

Niese has allowed a five-run inning in each of his last three outings. The Mets still won two of those three games.

SATURDAY'S NEWS REPORTS:

  • Clippard allowed a three-run homer to pinch hitter Adonis Garcia in the eighth that evened the score, but Johnson had a tiebreaking RBI single a half-inning later and the Mets beat the Braves, 6-4, on Saturday. Collins faulted heavy recent usage for Clippard's blemish. Yoenis Cespedes homered and drove in two runs, but will finally get a day off on Sunday. Cespedes' eight homers in September are tied with Colorado's Nolan Arenado for the most in the majors during the month. Cespedes' 18 RBIs this month lead MLB. Noah Syndergaard dominated, allowing one run and two hits, but was capped at seven innings. Seven innings per starts also will be his cap during his final three outings of the regular season. As for the Mets' resilience, Collins said: "They don't think they're out of a game. And they just know, with our lineup, there's no holes." Read game recaps in the Post, Daily News, Times, Newsday, Record and at MLB.com.

  • Anthony McCarron in the Daily News notes it will be an uphill battle for Cespedes to win the NL MVP award. Writes McCarron: "No player switching leagues has ever won an MVP award and only one, Rick Sutcliffe of the 1984 Cubs, has won a Cy Young. Sutcliffe went 16-1 in 20 starts after the Cubs acquired him from Cleveland. Only five players have finished among the top 10 in MVP balloting after going from one league to the other, according to a Foxsports.com report that credited STATS LLC for that information. The five were Manny Ramirez (fourth with the 2008 Dodgers), Sabathia (sixth with the '08 Brewers), Sutcliffe, Sal Maglie (second with the 1956 Dodgers) and Hank Borowy (sixth with the 1945 Cubs)." Columnist Mike Lupica in the Daily News nonetheless stumps for Cespedes to create precedent and win the award.

  • The Mets have committed to starting rookie Logan Verrett in place of skipped Matt Harvey against the Miami Marlins on Monday at Citi Field.

  • How frustrating was the two-run homer Drew Storen surrendered to Cepedes on Wednesday in D.C. as the Mets completed a sweep? Well, it turns out that Storen broke the thumb on his pitching hand in frustration after the appearance and likely is lost for the season. Read more in The Washington Post.

  • Curtis Granderson is worthy of the NL Comeback Player of the Year award, columnist Mike Vaccaro writes in the Post.

  • Columnist David Lennon in Newsday reviews the Mets' handling of Syndergaard and their other young pitchers down the stretch.

  • Lennon in Newsday also reviews the progress with Wilmer Flores.

  • Read more about Clippard getting a day off Sunday in Newsday.

  • Gabriel Ynoa allowed four runs in the opening two innings and defending-champion Binghamton was swept out of the Eastern League playoffs with a 4-2 loss at Reading. Casey Delgado took a scoreless effort into the eighth inning before surrendering a two-run homer and Savannah was ousted in the opening round of the South Atlantic League playoffs with a 2-1 loss to Asheville in Game 3. The Gnats will relocate to a new ballpark in Columbia, South Carolina, next season and be called the Fireflies. Read the final minor league recap of 2015 here. Read more on the Gnats' relocation in the Savannah Morning News.

  • From the bloggers … Mets Report suggests the club should ride Cespedes, not rest him. … Blogging Mets says even if the Mets could sign Cespedes, maybe they should not.

BIRTHDAYS: Daisuke Matsuzaka turns 35. ... Grant Roberts is 38. ... St. Lucie reliever Kelly Secrest is 24. ... 2015 third-round pick Max Wotell is 19.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU'RE UP: When do you think the Mets will clinch the division -- against the Yankees (Sept. 18-20), against the Braves (Sept. 21-23), at Cincinnati (Sept. 24-27), at Philadelphia (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) or against the Nats (Oct. 2-4)?