It’s not quite “win and they’re in,” as both the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets have essentially been “in” with regards to the postseason for weeks now. But, if we’re talking critical regular season games, it’s hard to find a more fitting example.
Chances are, you know this already. How could you not? MLB’s new playoff format has done the opposite of pay dividends leaguewide — expanding the field obviated most playoff races weeks before the schedule ran out, with jockeying for seeding being the only real activity. But, somehow, the Braves and Mets have become enmeshed in a serious race that, while still for seeding, also determines which team will get a bye and skip the first round of the playoffs, and which team will need to play a three-game set in the Wild Card round starting next weekend. And, towards the end of this race, we were blessed with a head-to-head series between these two teams in Atlanta that could go a long way to deciding the division.
The Braves had a tough test in front of them. Jacob deGrom on Friday, and Max Scherzer on Saturday. If the Braves lost either game, they’d need to beat the Marlins, on the road, more times than the Mets would beat the Nationals at home. Even a tie in the standings wouldnt’ be good enough, because the Mets came into this series having won nine of 16 contests against the Braves, and the tiebreaker (no more Game 163s under the new playoff rules) is head-to-head record. The Braves passed that test with flying colors: they beat deGrom with a final score of 5-2, and then plonked Scherzer and the Mets 4-2 on Saturday. Both games featured come-from-behind wins aided by homers. So far in the series, the Braves have dingered five times; the Mets have two extra-base hits, a double, and a garbage time homer, in two games.
But, none of that really matters if the Braves can’t win tonight, because if they don’t, they’ll be in a disadvantageous place: with the division tied and the Mets holding the tiebreaker (because head-to-head record is currently nine games apiece), their division odds will be fairly low. So, we’re playing for, if not quite all the marbles here, most of them. MLB’s new playoff format has already been a humdrum slog without the playoffs even starting, but it’s also given us this weekend, culminating in this high-intensity, highest-leverage game.
With Spencer Strider on the shelf due to an oblique issue, the Braves tabbed Kyle Wright to successfully outduel Max Scherzer last night, and will be giving the ball to Charlie Morton tonight. That adds even more drama to the proceedings. Morton has had a very mediocre season on the whole: 104 ERA-, 106 FIP-, 91 xFIP-. He really struggled in April and has been better since, but has still been very prone to the longball nuking the quality of his outings, as you can tell by his FIP-xFIP gap. Said nuking has been a problem lately, too: in his last six starts, Morton has allowed eight homers, with two homerless games and three multi-homer games. He’s had eight multihomer games this season, after just one all of last year. In fact, you need to go back from the end of 2021 to September 2017 to find as many multihomer games as Morton has allowed this season alone.
Morton has faced the Mets a few times this season, and the same inconsistency has been as evident in those games as across his whole season. He struggled against them in May in New York, albeit without homers: 3/3 K/BB ratio, five runs (four earned), a 5-4 loss. In July, the Mets hit three homers off of him in Atlanta to deal the Braves a 7-3 defeat. But then, in mid-August, he reeled off one of the best starts of his career, throwing 6 2⁄3 scoreless frames with a 12/1 K/BB ratio as the Braves won 5-0.
A bit more added intrigue: ahead of this series, the Braves announced that they were renewing Morton’s services for the price tag of $20 million. That was already Morton’s salary for 2022; this will be his first start since that renewal.
Oh, but the Mets have a say in this too. They’ll be relying on Chris Bassitt for this one, after deGrom and Scherzer couldn’t stifle the Braves’ bats. Bassitt has been more than solid: 86 ERA-, 91 FIP-, 91 xFIP-. He’s faced the Braves twice: he dropped a 5-2 game in New York despite an 8/1 K/BB ratio, and defeated the Braves and Morton in that July game where Morton allowed three homers.
The Braves will also have an interesting situation to navigate in the late innings, should it come to that. Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen both worked two games in a row, which means some combination of Collin McHugh, A.J. Minter, Dylan Lee, and Jesse Chavez will likely need to nail it down tonight after Morton. The Braves probably could ask Iglesias or Jansen to throw three days in a row, but the chances of diminished effectiveness in that scenario are potentially just as risky as using an alternative reliever in the first place.
In any case, this is kind of a showdown for the ages, and it should be a very exciting time. At least for as long as Morton can avoid a multihomer game, anyway.
New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves
Sunday, October 2, 2022
7:08 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 176