Mets tied again atop East, but fate still in their hands

deGrom battles blister, allows 3 solo HRs as New York drops opener in Atlanta

October 1st, 2022

ATLANTA -- If the Mets celebrate a National League East title this season, it'll have to happen at Citi Field.

New York kicked off its biggest series in recent memory with a 5-2 loss to the Braves on Friday night at Truist Park, erasing any chance to clinch the division this weekend in Atlanta -- but the biggest concern coming out of the series opener may be the status of Jacob deGrom’s right middle finger. deGrom exited after only 86 pitches due to a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand, though both he and manager Buck Showalter called the move precautionary.

Games remaining: 5 (After this series, the Mets play Washington at home, while the Braves play at Miami)
Standings update: T-1st in NL East
Tiebreaker info: If the Mets win either of the last two head-to-head games with the Braves, they will secure the tiebreaker. That would lower New York's magic number to either one (if it wins both games) or three (if it splits them). If Atlanta sweeps this weekend's series, the tiebreaker goes to the Braves, thereby lowering their magic number to one.

With only five regular-season games remaining -- including two more against each other -- the Mets and Braves are tied atop the NL East with identical 98-59 records. deGrom would be in line to start New York’s season finale against the Nationals on Wednesday at Citi Field, but that could obviously change depending on the Mets’ postseason position at that point -- or if the blister that cut short Friday’s outing flares up again.

"It was there a little bit last start, then it popped,” deGrom said. “Now, it's just that dead skin peeling away. So it's kind of working its way back further on my nail. The goal is to get it better, and we didn't want to make it worse where the [next] start is in question."

The good news for the Mets is that the scale still tips slightly in their favor when it comes to the NL East race.

Even if they manage only to split the next two games and remain tied atop the standings after this three-game set, New York would secure the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the head-to-head season series. The Mets are 9-8 against the Braves following Friday's series-opening loss.

As for the pitching matchups the rest of the weekend, Max Scherzer gets the ball opposite Kyle Wright -- the only 20-game winner in the Majors this season -- on Saturday, while Chris Bassitt squares off with Charlie Morton on Sunday. If the Mets were to go a step beyond splitting and instead win both of those games, they would head into next week's three-game series against the Nationals at Citi Field with a magic number of one. 

Still, it’s not the position the Mets hoped to find themselves in, especially with deGrom starting the opener. The two-time Cy Young winner struck out 11 batters over six innings -- bringing his season total to 102 in just 64 1/3 innings -- but he also served up three solo homers, including back-to-back shots to Austin Riley and Matt Olson in the second.

deGrom said he battled the blister in his last start when he allowed a season-high five runs to the A’s. He walked four batters in that game, matching his total from his first nine starts combined (54 1/3 innings) this season.

The right-hander blamed more location troubles -- not the blister -- for the three home runs he allowed to the Braves.

"I don't think it really affected me, I just threw some pitches down the middle,” deGrom said. “I didn't do a good job of locating when I needed to. I left some balls over the middle of the plate, and they did damage on them."

It wasn’t the home runs that prompted Showalter to go to the bullpen, though. It was deGrom’s dip in velocity.

After his fastball averaged 99 mph through the first five innings, deGrom opened the sixth with a 94.1 mph fastball -- two mph slower than any other fastball he threw Friday night. His 10 sixth-inning fastballs averaged 97.2 mph.

"That concerned me,” Showalter said. "[The blister] was getting ready to develop into something that he may not have been able to make his next start, so we want to get ahead of it a little bit. He's been battling that for a little bit, and it got to the point where it probably wasn't smart to continue."

In an ideal world, the Mets would clinch the division at some point over the next four games and deGrom will take the mound Wednesday simply to get in some work ahead of starting Game 1 of the NLDS on Oct. 11.

However, it’s also possible deGrom takes the mound Wednesday with the Mets still needing a win to clinch the NL East title -- and a first-round bye. Another alternative, albeit one the Mets hope doesn’t come to fruition, is the Braves have wrapped up the division title by Wednesday, meaning the Mets hold back deGrom to start Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series next Friday at Citi Field.

Of course, that pesky blister could derail any of those plans, though Showalter is confident the Mets nipped that in the bud with Friday’s early hook.

“Where we are in the season,” Showalter said, “we just don't want that to develop into something that makes him miss a long time.”