The most exciting division in baseball is the National League East. The Atlanta Braves entered Saturday enjoying a six-game lead on the rest of the division, and the New York Mets entered their three-game series against Atlanta as the hottest team in baseball.
The Mets, who lost the opener, 2-1, in 14 innings, still entered Saturday a majors-best 27-11 since the all-star break, thanks largely to improved defense. According to Sports Info Solutions (via the Athletic), the Mets converted just 70 percent of groundballs into outs, the worst mark in the majors this season. In the second half that had improved to 77 percent as of last week, the best conversion rate since the all-star break.
“When we play baseball the way we’re capable of, we can compete with anybody, and we’ve been doing that lately,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway told MLB.com.
Entering Saturday, the Chicago Cubs held a two-game lead over the Mets in the race for the second wild card in the NL and a 2½-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. According to FanGraphs, Atlanta has an 86.2 percent chance to win the division and is a near certainty to make the playoffs (99.9 percent). New York’s stellar play improves its playoff chances to 44.7 percent, per FanGraphs, up from 5 percent at the start of the second half. The timing couldn’t be better because the Washington Nationals are in the midst of a surge of their own, improving their playoff chances from a season-low 22.2 percent in May to a robust 93.5 percent as of Saturday morning. Philadelphia is still in the mix with a 7.5 percent chance to make the playoffs.
But that all could change very quickly.
The Mets and Phillies start a three-game series at the end of August in Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia will travel to New York five days later for another three-game set. In between those two series, the Mets will have a three-game stint against the Nationals in Washington. The Nationals’ penultimate series of the regular season is a five-game swing against the Phillies. And let’s not forget there are 17 games remaining between these three teams and the division-leading Atlanta Braves after this weekend.
|Dates||Series||Games||Most likely outcome of series|
|Aug. 23 to Aug. 25||Mets vs. Braves||3||Mets win 2-1|
|Aug. 30 to Sept. 1||Phillies vs. Mets||3||Phillies win 2-1|
|Sept. 2 to Sept. 4||Nationals vs. Mets||3||Nationals win 2-1|
|Sept. 5 to Sept. 8||Braves vs. Nationals||4||Split 2-2|
|Sept. 6 to Sept. 8||Mets vs. Phillies||3||Mets win 2-1|
|Sept. 9 to Sept. 12||Phillies vs. Braves||4||Split 2-2|
|Sept. 13 to Sept. 15||Nationals vs. Braves||3||Nationals win 2-1|
|Sept. 17 to Sept. 19||Braves vs. Phillies||3||Braves win 2-1|
|Sept. 23 to Sept. 26||Nationals vs. Phillies||5||Nationals win 3-2|
|Sept. 27 to Sept. 29||Mets vs. Braves||3||Mets win 2-1|
This playoff race could very well come down to which team’s superstars are performing at the highest level. Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard is 3-2 with a 1.82 ERA and 55 strikeouts over 54⅓ innings pitched since the all-star break with an even lower ERA (1.35) in his past five starts. Not to be outdone, teammate Pete Alonso has set the NL rookie record for home runs in a season (40 and counting). Phillies slugger Bryce Harper appears to have turned a corner after an underwhelming start to the season, batting .264 with nine home runs, 20 RBI and a 1.029 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in August entering Saturday. He was batting .252 with an .840 OPS through July. Atlanta’s 21-year-old phenom, Ronald Acuña Jr. — 36 home runs and a league-leading 30 stolen bases with 32 games left in the season — has a chance to be the fifth player to join baseball’s 40-40 club. The Nationals have a young stud of their own in 20-year-old Juan Soto, who entered Saturday ranked sixth in the majors in on-base percentage (.399) and 17th in slugging (.548). Plus, Washington got three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer back for the stretch run after he spent some time on the injured list with a mid-back strain. Scherzer struck out 189 batters in 134⅓ innings while allowing a below-average .603 OPS against before being put on the shelf. He tossed four innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night in his first game back, striking out three and walking one.