Even with six wins in their past seven games, the Braves find themselves 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Phillies in the NL East race and in a marginally better position in the Wild Card race.
The frustrating aspect of this position rests in the fact that they may not gain the chance to compete in October with a talented rotation that has been significantly enhanced by Hanson, who limited the Mets to three hits and recorded eight strikeouts over seven scoreless innings.
"I feel with this staff, we could go a long way in the postseason," LaRoche said, referring to a starting rotation that has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of the past eight games.
Hanson, who had surrendered just one hit before the Mets tagged him with a pair of seventh-inning singles, hasn't allowed a run in his past 17 innings. More impressive is the fact that the 23-year-old rookie right-hander has given up just two earned runs in his past 24 innings.
This marked the second consecutive start that Hanson has been simply dominant. His eight scoreless innings against the Astros last week went to waste when closer Rafael Soriano's inability to preserve a 1-0 lead accounted for the only loss the Braves have suffered since being swept by the Reds on Sept. 6.
"He's been everything that everybody thought that he would be," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of his highly touted rookie hurler, who has now notched 10 wins since making his Major League debut on June 7.
With 12 homers in the 40 games he's played since being acquired from the Red Sox, LaRoche has equaled the total that Mark Teixeira compiled during that same span after his arrival in Atlanta midway through the 2007 season. The 29-year-old first baseman gave Hanson an early lead with a second-inning solo shot off Pat Misch, and then began the bottom of the sixth with his 25th homer of the season.
"I couldn't be happier with the way everything has gone. I've already learned a lot, and I still have a lot to learn. So hopefully I'll just keep going at this pace and everything will be good."
-- Tommy Hanson
"I think I took five swings today and fouled off one pitch," LaRoche said. "When you do that, you're feeling just about as good as you can be feeling. I got some pitches to hit, so that always helps."
LaRoche's fourth-inning double accounted for the second of his three RBIs, and his eighth-inning double marked the first time a Braves player had recorded four extra-base hits in a game since he'd last achieved the feat with three doubles and a triple against the Giants on Aug. 30, 2006.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marked the sixth time that a Major Leaguer has had four extra-base hits in a game this year.
"He's just been crushing the ball and he's a really great teammate," Hanson said of LaRoche. "He's fun to have around."
While hitting .351 since coming back to Atlanta for the first time since the 2007 trade that sent him to the Pirates, LaRoche has given the Braves more reason to ensure that he doesn't exit via free agency at the end of this year.
"It is up to me in some sense with what I do in the field," LaRoche said. "When it comes down to it, it's all in what their plans are. I've said it before. I love playing here and my family loves it here, which is just as important. So if something works out, that would be the best case for me."
With Hanson, the Braves know that they have the potential to have a top-notch ace for many years to come. His 2.65 ERA ranks first among all NL rookie starters who have completed at least 100 innings, and his 10 wins ties him for the lead with Philadelphia's J.A. Happ and Chicago's Randy Wells.
"He looks like a very good young pitcher," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "They'll probably be battling him for a long, long time here in this division. It seems like he has command of all his pitches and he'll throw them at any time, and that's the sign of a good pitcher."
Having grown more comfortable with his curveball than he was earlier this season, Hanson has gone 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his past eight starts. In addition, he's shown no signs that he's fatiguing, despite the fact that he's already thrown 26 more innings than he has during any previous professional season.
"I couldn't be happier with the way everything has gone," Hanson said. "I've already learned a lot, and I still have a lot to learn. So hopefully I'll just keep going at this pace and everything will be good."