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Six crucial days for the Mets


Pete Alonso’s three-run blast on Tuesday gave him 40 home runs and 131 runs batted in this season — the 125th 40-130 season since R.B.I. became an official statistic in 1920.

By Benjamin Hoffman


With a 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday, the New York Mets led the Atlanta Braves, who fell to the Washington Nationals, 3-2, by a game atop the National League East. A series between the rivals looms this weekend, as does the possibility of delays and disruptions caused by Hurricane Ian.


As a result, the next six days form a crucial stretch. The Mets (98-58) or the Braves (97-59) can clinch a division title and earn a valuable first-round bye in the playoffs. But things could get complicated, particularly if one of the games between them needs to be pushed until the day after the regular season is scheduled to end.


“We know what’s going on,” Mets manager Buck Showalter told reporters Tuesday as he emphasized that the team needed to get through its series with Miami before thinking about Atlanta or the weather. “I really don’t want to put a focus on that, because our guys have done a great job of staying on task.”


How bad will the weather be this weekend?


Hurricane Ian has had devastating effects on Florida, with high wind and potentially life-threatening storm surges, according to the National Weather Service. The storm was on track to head north into Georgia, where it should not be as severe but could generate high winds and a great deal of rain.


Friday night’s forecast in the Atlanta area calls for a 20% chance of rain in the afternoon and a 50% chance after 9 p.m., with wind gusts of up to 25 mph. Saturday has a 50% chance of rain all day and night, and Sunday has a 30% chance.


Rain delays and postponements happen. Why does this one matter?


With the teams so close to each other in the standings and so few days left in the regular season, the ability to make up any lost games is compromised. Options to account for the weather include moving Friday night’s game to the afternoon instead — both teams are off Thursday, lightening the burden of such a move — or potentially making up a lost Saturday game by playing a doubleheader Sunday.


As of press time Thursday, there was no word of plans to move the Mets-Braves series up a day or shift it to an alternative site. But there is precedent for the latter, with games having been moved for hurricanes in the past.


The Mets are scheduled to wrap up their regular season with a three-game home series against the Nationals culminating next Wednesday, while the Braves are slated to play three in Miami against the Marlins.


Next Thursday (Oct. 6), the day after the regular season ends, is an open day on the schedule and could be used to make up a game should the division not yet be decided, but that would be less than ideal, as it would mean the losing team has no rest before a three-game wild-card series is played over three days.


Is that a new wild-card format?


Yes, the postseason format was upended in the new collective bargaining agreement. The single-elimination wild-card game was scrapped, a third wild card was added to each league, and two three-game wild-card series were created: The lowest seeded division winner — the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League — would host three games in three days against the No. 3 wild card, and the No. 1 wild card would host a similar series against the No. 2 wild card.


While it should be less volatile than the previous one-game setup, the lack of rest and the best-of-three format are still undesirable outcomes compared with the relative safety of being one of the top two division winners, both of which will skip that round, get extra rest and advance directly to a division series.


If the series is played as scheduled, who will start?


The fates have aligned in that regard, with three consecutive games in which the pitching should be superb.


On Friday, Chris Bassitt of the Mets is scheduled to start against Atlanta’s Max Fried. Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star with Oakland, has a 3.27 ERA for the Mets and has been heating up with an 8-1 record and 2.25 ERA over his last 10 starts. Fried, who was an All-Star this year (and won the World Series-clinching Game 6 last year), has a 2.50 ERA and has not allowed more than three earned runs in a game since June 14.


On Saturday, Jacob deGrom of the Mets is up against Atlanta’s Kyle Wright. DeGrom is one of the top pitchers in baseball and has been close to his usual standards since returning from more than a year away with a 2.93 ERA in 10 starts, though he is coming off his worst outing of the season. Wright, at 20-5, is the majors’ only 20-game winner this season and only the 15th pitcher to reach that mark in the last 10 seasons, according to Baseball Reference.


The series would conclude Sunday with Max Scherzer of the Mets facing Atlanta’s Charlie Morton. Scherzer has lived up to his large contract despite a few stints on the injured list, with a 2.13 ERA in 22 starts. Morton can’t match the star power of his opponent, but the 38-year-old in his 15th major league season is known for rising to the occasion; he may have gotten three outs in a World Series game last year despite having broken his leg.

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