Three reasons why Mets-Braves NL East showdown series is so important

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Jacob deGrom and Max Fried
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The Dodgers have won 108 games this year, 10 more than any other team in the National League. Their run differential is a jaw-dropping +325 — meaning they’ve scored 325 more runs than they’ve allowed, which hardly seems possible in 155 games. 

They are the overwhelming favorites to win the World Series, according to Vegas oddsmakers. Nobody in their right mind wants to face the Dodgers in the postseason until they absolutely have to. I mean, nobody’s going to admit that, but it’s true. 

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And that’s why this weekend’s series between the Mets and Braves in Atlanta is so very fascinating. Both played extra-inning games Wednesday — the Mets beat the Marlins and the Braves lost to the Nationals — and had Thursday off, so here are the updated division standings heading into the three-game series.

1. Mets, 98-58, —
2. Braves, 97-59, 1 GB

The Mets, by the way, currently lead the season series against Atlanta 9-7, meaning they own the division tiebreaker unless the Braves sweep this series. 

The pitching matchups are just delicious:

Friday: Jacob deGrom (Mets) vs. Max Fried (Braves)
Saturday: Max Scherzer (Mets) vs. Kyle Wright (Braves)
Sunday: Chris Bassitt (Mets) vs. Charlie Morton (Braves)

How great is that? A classic “our best vs. your best with everything on the line” matchup. 

It’s also worth noting that both teams are way ahead of the Cardinals (90-66) in the overall NL standings, but as the NL Central division winners, the Cardinals will be the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. That’s locked in. The NL East winner will get the No. 2 seed and the runner-up will get the No. 4 seed. That’s a really, really big difference. 

And here’s why.

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1. Bye vs. no bye

You can argue the benefits of rest vs. the benefits of maintaining momentum, but having asked dozens of players about it over the years, I’m not sure it matters. What I do know is this: You cannot get eliminated when you’re on a bye.

With the new 2022 playoff scenarios including an expanded field, the No. 2 seed gets an opening-round bye, and the runner-up has to play a best-of-three wild card series as the top wild-card team, the No. 4 overall seed. Hey, at least the one-game playoff “series” is a thing of the past (good riddance), right? The No. 4 seed will host the entire series (Oct. 7-9), which is nice.

Barring something dramatic, the NL East runner-up will play a San Diego team that has won eight of its past 12 games. And because the Padres will almost certainly have locked up the No. 5 seed before the season’s final days, they’ll be able to set up their rotation, with Joe Musgrove (3.03 ERA), Blake Snell (2.75 FIP) and Yu Darvish (3.05 ERA) ready to go. 

2. Nobody loves (playing) L.A.

Let’s get back to how we started this piece. Because of how the field is set up, if the NL East runner-up wins that wild-card series they’ll get the Dodgers in the Division Series. 

As the No. 1 overall seed, the Dodgers will play the winner of the wild-card series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, regardless what happens in the other wild-card series, between the No. 3 and No. 6 seed. There is no re-ordering in a way that would allow the best seed remaining to face the worst seed remaining.

Look, there are no “easy” playoff series, but which path would you rather have to the National League Championship Series?

NL East winner: Opening-round bye, then face winner of Cardinals (90 wins) vs. No. 6 seed (Phillies/Brewers, both 83 wins) in Division Series

NL East runner-up: Opening-round best-of-three vs. Padres (86 wins), then face Dodgers (108 wins) in Division Series

3. Setting up the rotation

This just might be the very biggest thing, especially with the Dodgers looming. While the NL East runner-up is fighting to stay alive vs. the Padres, the NL East champs will get to take a few days to rest and reset the rotation.

Look at how this works for the Mets. If they win the NL East, they go into the best-of-five NLDS vs. the Dodgers with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom starting Games 1-2 in Los Angeles. It’s hard to imagine a better way to try to negate home-field advantage for a club with an historic win total, right? 

That’s the ideal scenario. But what if the NL East race goes right down to the wire, and the Mets have to start deGrom on the final day of the season? 

Then, their opening-round rotation setup looks like this:

Oct. 7 vs. Padres: Max Scherzer
Oct. 8 vs. Padres: Chris Bassitt

And if it goes three games, the Mets’ win-or-go-home starter would be: 

Oct. 9 vs. Padres: Carlos Carrasco (9.00 ERA past two starts) or Taijuan Walker (5.26 ERA since start of August).

Now, if the Mets are somehow relegated to second place before the last day of the regular season and they don’t have to throw deGrom in Game 162, that would actually be better. Well, “better.” In that scenario, they could throw Scherzer and deGrom on full rest in Games 1 and 2 vs. the Padres. Bassitt would get the all-important Game 3 start, if necessary.

And if it does go all three, that would mean either Carrasco or Walker goes in Game 1 against the Dodgers, in Los Angeles. Not ideal. 

That’s not to say the Mets can’t beat the Dodgers if deGrom and Scherzer don’t start Games 1 and 2 — or the Braves can’t beat the Dodgers if Max Fried and Kyle Wright go 1-2 — but it feels safe to say that either team would rather just avoid the “facing the Dodgers without a lined-up rotation” thing as long as possible. 

Anyway, this is all a very long-winded way of saying this weekend’s series in Atlanta should be all kinds of fun, even if you’re not a fan of either team.

Author(s)
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Ryan Fagan, the national MLB writer for The Sporting News, has been a Baseball Hall of Fame voter since 2016. He also dabbles in college hoops and other sports. And, yeah, he has way too many junk wax baseball cards.
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