The most important series of the 2022 MLB regular season will take place this weekend at Truist Park. The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves will host the NL East rival New York Mets for three games with the division title very much on the line. The two clubs have been virtually side-by-side in the standings for weeks.
Here is the top of the NL East standings. The Marlins, Nationals, and Phillies have already been eliminated from the division race, so it's down to these two teams:Mets: 98-58Braves: 97-59 (1 GB)
Wednesday was a monumental day for the NL East race. The Mets erased a 4-0 deficit to beat the Marlins while the Braves fell to the lowly Nationals in 10 innings. For a few hours it appeared the Braves and Mets would enter this series with identical records, then Eduardo Escobar led the comeback for the Amazin' Mets.
"You try not to scoreboard watch, but where we are in the season, six games left, neck and neck with these guys, we're in here watching it, too," Mets righty Taijuan Walker told MLB.com after Wednesday's win. "Us winning the game, it's huge."
It should be noted both the Braves and Mets have already clinched a postseason berth. The NL East winner will be the No. 2 seed and get a Wild Card Series bye. They go directly to the NLDS while the runner-up is stuck playing a best-of-three Wild Card Series, though they will host all three games. Obviously the bye has enormous value, as skipping an entire round is huge.
Here are the details for this weekend's enormous three-game series at Truist Park. Games on MLB Network, Fox, and ESPN can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free).
Friday, Sept. 30
7:20 p.m. ET
LHP Max Fried (13-7, 2.50) vs. RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 2.93)
Bally Sports Southeast, SNY, MLB
Sat., Oct. 1
7:20 p.m. ET
RHP Kyle Wright (20-5, 3.18) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (11-4, 2.13)
Sun., Oct. 2
7:08 p.m. ET
RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29)
You couldn't ask for better pitching matchups (at least while Spencer Strider is on the injured list). The Braves pushed Fried back earlier this week to line him up for this series, and the Mets rearranged their rotation to allow deGrom to start the opener. Each team is starting their three best this weekend, and because both clubs had an off-day Thursday, both bullpens will be well-rested heading into the series. It's like a postseason series, truly.
"It'll be a really exciting series," Braves center fielder Michael Harris II told MLB.com on Wednesday. "Going into the series, we're still feeling good, regardless of the loss (on Wednesday). We're trying to go in there, take the series, and win the rest of the games so we can get first place in the East."
Here are three things to know about this weekend's supremely important series at Truist Park, with a prediction thrown in for good measure.
1. The weather should be OK
MLB prepared contingency plans in case Hurricane Ian, which was originally projected to hit Georgia sometime Friday, disrupted this weekend's series. Fortunately the forecast has improved and it appears the storm will be a non-issue.
MLB considered moving Friday's game up to the afternoon to avoid the storm that night, and postponing Saturday's game with a doubleheader on Sunday. The weather is unpredictable and things can still change, but right now, it appears none of that will be necessary. They'll be able to play the three games as scheduled.
2. What's on the line
Oh, just the NL East title. The Mets can indeed clinch the division title this weekend. The Braves cannot. Here are all the potential outcomes of this weekend's series:Mets sweep: Mets clinch the NL East title on Sunday.Mets win two of three: Mets have a two-game lead with a magic number of one.Braves win two of three: Tied with 99-60 records, but the Mets hold the tiebreaker.Braves sweep: Braves have a two-game lead with a magic number of one.
As long as the Mets don't get swept, they'll leave the series in control of their destiny. The Braves must win at least two of the three games this weekend to have a realistic shot at their fifth consecutive NL East title. The season series has been fairly even to date, with the Mets holding a 9-7 edge despite being outscored 76-67.
After this weekend's series, the Mets return home for three games against the Nationals and the Braves travel to Miami for three games against the Marlins. There's no real schedule imbalance there as both will both wrap up their regular seasons with three games against a bad team that will have one foot in the batter's box and the other on the plane for their offseason vacation.
3. Who's hot, who's not
The long marathon that is the regular season is down to a sprint. At this point it's not necessarily about which team has the best players, but which team has the hottest players. Timing is everything in this sport. Here are three Mets players entering this series with strong performances in the last 14 days:
Escobar, following a mostly disappointing regular season, has been in a groove the last few weeks as well. The Mets head into the weekend averaging 6.1 runs per game in their last 10 games, though beating up on the Athletics, Marlins, and Pirates inflates those numbers a bit. Still, nothing wrong with building confidence against bad teams. The Mets have swung it well lately.
Now here are three Braves players who have torn the cover off the ball the last 14 days:
Atlanta's hottest hitters have not been as hot as New York's hottest hitters the last two weeks, and in fact they have some important players mired in deep slumps. Matt Olson has been one of the worst hitters in baseball the last few weeks and the middle infield combination of Dansby Swanson and Vaughn Grissom has really struggled the last 14 days as well.
Mets outfielder Starling Marte and Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies will both miss this series with broken fingers after the former got hit by a pitch and the latter slid hard into second base. Marte has been among New York's very best players this season, while Albies, who previously missed close to three months with a fractured foot, can be a difference-maker.
The Mets also made a surprise move late Thursday in reportedly calling up top prospect Francisco Álvarez, expected to take some at-bats against lefties as the DH. The 20-year-old catcher hit .260/.374/.511 with 27 home runs in 130 games split between the Double- and Triple-A levels this season, so he could be a marked improvement over Darin Ruf.
We're going to close with a prediction because why not? The official CBS Sports prediction for this weekend's series: Braves win two of three. I admit that's a hope more than a prediction, because I selfishly want the NL East race to go down to the wire, and Atlanta winning two of three is the best outcome for maximum drama. Also, the Mets are weirdly only 9-8 in deGrom and Scherzer starts since both returned from the injured list. They're formidable, but not invincible.