As the regular season nears its conclusion, the playoff picture has mostly come into focus. Of the 12 teams currently in playoff position, 10 have a cushion of at least 4 1/2 games. The Padres and Phillies are working to hold off the Brewers for the final two Wild Card spots in the National League, but the rest of the teams currently in playoff position have put themselves in a great spot to reach the postseason barring a major collapse. There’s an outside shot the White Sox track down the Guardians in the AL Central or the Orioles get back into the AL Wild Card race, but it’d take a major turn of events over the next two weeks.
There’s a similar lack of intrigue in most of the division races. The Astros and Dodgers have already clinched their respective divisions. The Yankees, Guardians and Cardinals all hold leads of six-plus games in theirs. The only division race that promises plenty of intrigue down the stretch: the battle for the NL East.
Both the Mets and Braves are already guaranteed to make the postseason. They’re each likely to surpass 100 wins. Yet one of those teams will come up just shy of a division title, leaving them as the #4 seed in the National League. That means a three-game series against the #5 seed in a first-round Wild Card set under the playoff format introduced in this spring’s collective bargaining agreement. Obviously, both teams would much prefer to secure the division title (and almost certainly the NL’s #2 seed and accompanying first-round bye). Which one is the frontrunner for the division crown? Let’s take a look at the remaining road for each and their current health outlook.
Mets (95-56 record, +147 run differential)
Remaining schedule: at Oakland (three games), vs. Miami (two games), at Atlanta (three games), vs. Washington (three games)
The Mets have 11 games remaining. Eight of them are against teams 28 games or more below .500. The other three: a crucial series next weekend in Atlanta. New York welcome back Max Scherzer from a brief injured list stint on Monday. He came out with six perfect innings against the Brewers, striking out nine, before being lifted due to a pitch count limitation. The Mets rotation is at full strength at the right time, pushing players like Taylor Magill oath David Peterson into the bullpen.
The biggest current injury for the Mets is on the position player side. Right fielder Starling Marte has yet to return after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right middle finger two weeks back. Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweeted this afternoon that the All-Star outfielder is hopeful he’ll be back in time for next weekend’s series with the Braves. Center fielder Brandon Nimmo, meanwhile, left today’s game with left quad soreness. Mike Puma of the New York Post relays that he’s likely to go for imaging tomorrow but Nimmo downplayed the severity of the issue postgame.
Braves (93-56 record, +171 run differential)
Remaining schedule: at Philadelphia (four games), at Washington (three games), vs. Mets (three games), at Miami (three games)
The defending champions dug themselves an early hole with a mediocre first two months, but they’ve been incredible since the calendar flipped to June. They’re a staggering 70-28 over the past three and a half months, nearly erasing a deficit that was once as high as 10 1/2 games in the process. They’ve pulled even with the Mets in the loss column but have two fewer wins, leaving them with a bit more work to do to get ahead in the standings.
The Braves kick off a four-game set with the Phillies tomorrow. That’s a much more difficult series than any the Mets will play (aside from the Braves themselves), but Atlanta just swept Philly last weekend.
Like the Mets, Atlanta doesn’t have any key starting pitchers currently on the injured list. Rookie star Spencer Strider is battling some oblique soreness and had today’s scheduled start pushed back slightly, but there’s no indication an IL stint is currently under consideration. As with New York, Atlanta is down one star position player thanks to a fractured finger though. The Braves lost Ozzie Albies to a right pinky fracture over the weekend. There’s a chance he returns in the postseason, but he’s not expected back before the end of the regular season. Rookie Vaughn Grissom filled in well in recent weeks while Albies was rehabbing a broken foot; he’ll be asked to do the same for the stretch run.
The final three games between the Mets and Braves obviously loom as the largest remaining on the schedule for both clubs. Not only are they the most directly influential in the standings, they also carry implications for the tiebreaker. The new CBA did away with the traditional Game 163 in favor of a tiebreaker system. If two clubs finish the season with the same record, the team with the better head-to-head mark gets the nod in the standings. The Mets lead this year’s season series 9-7, meaning Atlanta would need to sweep their final meeting to secure the tiebreaker.
How does the MLBTR readership expect things to play out? Which team will celebrate an NL East crown two weeks from now?
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