The New York Mets and Atlanta Braves have taken divergent paths to the same spot — tied atop the National League East — with five games to go in the regular season.
“You’re seeing two teams that have some different skill sets,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said.
But the Braves’ skill set looked a lot more sustainable than that of the Mets in the first game of the biggest series of the season.
The Braves (98-59) and Mets (98-59) will battle for sole possession of first place on Saturday night in the middle contest of the three-game series in Atlanta.
Kyle Wright (20-5, 3.18 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Braves against Max Scherzer (11-4, 2.13) in a battle of right-handers.
The Braves created a tie for first place after Austin Riley and Matt Olson hit back-to-back homers off Jacob deGrom in the second inning in a 5-2 victory over the Mets on Friday night.
The division winner will earn the second bye in the NL playoffs while the second-place finisher will open the playoffs as a host team in a best-of-three wild-card series scheduled on Friday, two days after the regular-season finale.
The Braves, who have spent one day alone in first place this season, rode their usual equation of power and pitching to victory on Friday. Dansby Swanson also went deep in the sixth inning for Atlanta, which ranks second in the majors with 237 homers and a .444 slugging percentage.
Max Fried (14-7, 2.48), one of three Braves starters with at least 10 wins and an ERA below 3.25, threw five strong innings before exiting due to a stomach illness.
“To get the first one is huge,” Riley said. “Try to build as much momentum off of it as possible. You come out fighting, and (the lineup) top to bottom did a great job, Arms did great. Just a solid win.”
The Mets, however, need one win this weekend to clinch the season series and the tiebreaker over the Braves.
New York has relied on a more old-fashioned offensive approach this season, ranking fourth in the majors in runs scored (746) and just 16th in homers (162). But the sustained rallies were nowhere to be found Friday for the Mets, who were limited to four hits over the final seven innings and left the bases loaded in the ninth against Kenley Jansen.
The Mets scored four or fewer runs 12 times in 28 games in September. They also allowed five or more runs 11 times last month after doing so just 12 times combined in July and August.
“You still get to the same end game — you pitch well,” Showalter said. “They just pitched a little better than we did tonight.”
Wright became the majors’ first 20-game winner this season by earning the victory in his most recent start last Saturday. He allowed two runs on as many hits over 5 1/3 innings in the Braves’ 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Scherzer recorded the win Sunday after surrendering one run on four hits over six innings in the Mets’ 13-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Wright is 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in seven career games (six starts) against the Mets. Scherzer is 13-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 30 career appearances (28 starts) vs. the Braves.
–Field Level Media