The Mets haven’t played in the postseason since 2016. This fact has been established several times since Buck Showalter’s squad clinched a playoff berth in Milwaukee. Since 2017, has New York played in a series more important than the one that’s about to go down in Atlanta at Truist Park this weekend?
No way. The Mets have been one of baseball’s best teams throughout the regular season. And after a slow start, the Braves have also played like the upper-echelon team many expected them to be.
With six regular-season games to go, both New York and Atlanta could finish with 100 wins apiece. Only one of them can win the National League East division, though. It could largely be decided this weekend after what’s sure to be a hard-fought three-game series.
Were the Braves playing mind games?
Hurricane Ian brought some doubt into whether this matchup would happen in Atlanta or not. The Mets tried to be flexible to help make it happen, but the Braves — who had their first off day on Thursday in two weeks — declined all alternatives.
That inflexibility ended up working out, as the weather forecast in Atlanta has dramatically changed from earlier in the week.
The Braves declining alternative options to sidestep potential weather troubles made it look like they were also trying to play some mind games with the Mets. It’s hard to blame them — the defending champs have been hot on New York’s tail for the last few weeks. And prior to Wednesday’s game, both squads were in a tie for first place.
It’s almost like the Braves could smell blood and went for the kill by demanding things go the way they wanted. That changed a few hours later on Wednesday after the Mets pulled out a dramatic extra-inning win against the Marlins and Atlanta lost to the Nationals to fall one game back.
Mets gaining momentum
That’s when the Mets started to play some mind games of their own. Their expected probable starting pitcher lineup for the weekend was originally Chris Bassitt, Jacob deGrom, and Max Scherzer.
Having those three set for the biggest series of the season is what the doctor ordered. After regaining sole possession of first place, Showalter decided to go for the kill himself by bumping deGrom to Friday.
What’s worse than facing Jacob deGrom in a pivotal series? Facing an angry deGrom after his worst start in three years in the opening game of said pivotal series. SNY’s John Harper had some interesting things to say about this, too:
Interesting that Buck is moving deGrom ahead of Bassitt to pitch Friday. So he's 1)going for the kill 2)wary of having deGrom wait a full week after his clunker 3)preparing to have deGrom ready for last day of season in case Mets need to beat Nats to clinch 4)all of the above.
— John Harper (@NYNJHarper) September 29, 2022
Showalter wouldn’t tip his hand earlier this week as to whether he’d rather start deGrom or Scherzer in Game 1 of a postseason series. Favoring deGrom here leads me to believe that’s his preference.
And it’s not just about moving deGrom up. We found out later that Showalter was also pushing Scherzer’s start from Sunday to Saturday. You want to talk about going for the kill? This is exactly how you do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if New York retaking the divisional lead was the first domino that had to fall.
Mets get even more momentum
But wait…it gets better!
The 20-year-old racked up 495 plate appearances (112 games) between Double-A and Triple-A. He slashed .260/.374/.511 with 27 home runs, 22 doubles, and 78 RBI. Álvarez is expected to get an opportunity against left-handed pitching as a designated hitter. He slashed .315/.424/.595 with eight homers and 23 RBI in 132 plate appearances against lefties in the minors this year.
Who is pitching on Friday for the Braves, you ask? That’d be left-hander Max Fried. So, we’re likely going to see him get thrown right into the fire.
All of these moves have a purpose. Even if it doesn’t bother the Braves (which it probably doesn’t), it creates more momentum in the Mets’ clubhouse. They’re in control of their own destiny and have two of baseball’s best pitchers slated for the first two games. Oh, and they just called up the game’s top prospect to inject some life into the offense.
You absolutely love to see this kind of aggressiveness. We’ve seen a true culture shift within the organization this year with Showalter and Billy Eppler now in charge. Moves like this wouldn’t have happened during the Wilpon era. They probably also wouldn’t have made the trip down to Atlanta for this huge series:
I just landed in Atlanta and I’m pumped for the weekend series against the Braves. Baseball doesn’t get any better than this.LGM
— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) September 29, 2022
The Mets have been grinding for the past six months. All of that work toward securing the division could come down to these next three games. This is what every player dreams about, and they’re going to live out those dreams.
Steven Cohen is right — baseball doesn’t get any better than this.