For the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, the first 156 games of the regular season were just the opening act for this weekend.
The National League East may be decided beginning Friday in Atlanta, where the Mets are slated to visit the Braves in the opener of a three-game series.
Right-handerJacob deGrom (5-3, 2.93 ERA) is slated to start for the Mets against left-hander Max Fried (13-7, 2.50).
Both teams were off Thursday after a pair of chaotic games against NL East also-rans Wednesday night that ended with the Mets alone atop the division.
Host New York overcame a four-run deficit thanks to Eduardo Escobar, who capped a five-RBI evening with a walk-off 10th-inning single in a 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins.
Escobar delivered the game-winning hit fewer than 20 minutes after the Washington Nationals' C.J. Abrams laced a walk-off RBI single to give the hosts a 2-1 win over the Braves.
The Mets (98-58) are one game ahead of the Braves (97-59). The division winner earns the second first-round bye while the second-place finisher will head to a wild-card series scheduled to start Oct. 7 -- two days after the regular-season finale.
"You try not to scoreboard watch, but where we are in the season six games left, neck-and-neck with these guys, we're in here watching it, too," said Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker, who started Wednesday and allowed three runs in five innings. "Us winning the game, it's huge."
With the one-game playoff no longer utilized to break ties, the Mets need to win one game in Atlanta to clinch the season series and ensure themselves the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record. New York enters 9-7 against the Braves.
If the Mets win twice this weekend, the only way the Braves could win the division is if they sweep the Marlins in the final series of the season while New York gets swept by the Nationals. Both those series are slated to begin Monday.
The Mets and Braves have positioned their best starters to pitch this weekend. New York has Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt lined up for Saturday and Sunday, while Atlanta is expected to counter with 20-game winner Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton, respectively.
"It's going to be fun," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It'll be a great series. I mean, it's just two really good teams, obviously, going at it. See what happens."
deGrom had his worst start in more than three years Saturday, when he took the loss after allowing five runs over four innings as the Mets fell to the Oakland Athletics, 10-4. It was the first time deGrom allowed more than three earned runs in a start since Sept. 3, 2019 -- a span of 40 starts, the longest such streak in baseball history.
Fried took the hard-luck defeat Sept. 22, when he gave up one run over five innings as the Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 1-0.
deGrom is 10-8 with a 2.08 ERA in 27 career starts against the Braves. Fried is 6-5 with a 2.84 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) against the Mets.
--Field Level Media