With a loss to the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, the Mets dropped into a tie at the top of the National League East with the Atlanta Braves. A series between the rivals looms this weekend, as does the possibility of delays and disruptions caused by Hurricane Ian.
As a result, the next five days form a crucial stretch. The Mets or the Braves can clinch a division title and earn a valuable first-round bye in the playoffs. But things could get complicated, particularly if one of the games between them needs to be pushed until the day after the regular season is scheduled to end.
“We know what’s going on,” Mets Manager Buck Showalter told reporters on Tuesday as he emphasized that the team needed to get through its series with Miami before thinking about Atlanta or the weather. “I really don’t want to put a focus on that, because our guys have done a great job of staying on task.”
What’s next for both teams?
The Mets conclude a two-game series against the Marlins on Wednesday. Jesús Luzardo is scheduled to start for the Marlins against Taijuan Walker of the Mets. Walker has faded some in the second half, just as he did last season, but this may be his most important start for the team. The Mets hope, at the very least, to preserve a tie atop the division before the series in Atlanta.
The Braves, meanwhile, are finishing a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, having thus far outscored Washington by 16-2 over the first two games. Jake Odorizzi of the Braves will face Josiah Gray of the Nationals in an underwhelming matchup of back-end starters.
How bad will the weather be this weekend?
Hurricane Ian could have devastating effects on Florida, with high wind and potentially life-threatening storm surges, according to the National Weather Service. The storm is predicted to head north into Georgia, where it should not be as severe but could generate high winds and a great deal of rain.
Friday night’s forecast in the Atlanta area calls for a 20 percent chance of rain in the afternoon, and a 50 percent chance after 9 p.m., with wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. Saturday has a 50 percent chance of rain all day and night, and Sunday has a 30 percent chance.
Rain delays and postponements happen. Why does this one matter?
With the teams so close to each other in the standings, and so few days left in the regular season, the ability to make up any lost games is compromised. Options to account for the weather include moving Friday night’s game to the afternoon instead — both teams are off Thursday, lightening the burden of such a move — or potentially making up a lost Saturday game by playing a doubleheader Sunday.
Currently there are no plans to move the Mets-Braves series up a day or shift it to an alternative site. But there is precedent for the latter, with games having been moved for hurricanes in the past.
Oct. 6, the day after the regular season ends, is an open day on the schedule and could be used to make up a game should the division not yet be decided, but that would be less than ideal as it would mean the losing team has no rest before a three-game wild-card series is played over three days.
Is that a new wild-card format?
Yes, the postseason format was upended in the new collective bargaining agreement. The single-elimination wild-card game was scrapped, a third wild card was added to each league, and two three-game wild-card series were created: The lowest seeded division winner — the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League — would host three games in three days against the No. 3 wild card, and the No. 1 wild card would host a similar series against the No. 2 wild card.
While it should be less volatile than the previous one-game setup, the lack of rest and the best-of-three format are still undesirable outcomes compared with the relative safety of being one of the top two division winners, both of which will skip that round, get extra rest and advance directly to a division series.
If the series is played as scheduled, who will start?
The fates have aligned in that regard, with three consecutive games in which the pitching should be superb.
On Friday, Chris Bassitt of the Mets is scheduled to start against Atlanta’s Max Fried. Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star with Oakland, has a 3.27 E.R.A. for the Mets and has been heating up with an 8-1 record and 2.25 E.R.A. over his last 10 starts. Fried, who was an All-Star this year (and won the World Series-clinching Game 6 last year), has a 2.50 E.R.A. and has not allowed more than three earned runs in a game since June 14.
On Saturday, Jacob deGrom of the Mets is up against Atlanta’s Kyle Wright. DeGrom is one of the top pitchers in baseball, and has been close to his usual standards since returning from more than a year away with a 2.93 E.R.A. in 10 starts, though he is coming off his worst outing of the season. Wright, at 20-5, is the majors’ only 20-game winner this season and only the 15th pitcher to reach that mark in the last 10 seasons, according to Baseball Reference.
The series would conclude Sunday with Max Scherzer of the Mets facing Atlanta’s Charlie Morton. Scherzer has lived up to his large contract despite a few stints on the injured list, with a 2.13 E.R.A. in 22 starts. Morton can’t match the star power of his opponent, but the 38-year-old in his 15th major league season is known for rising to the occasion — he may have gotten three outs in a World Series game last year despite having broken his leg.