With eight days left in the season, the New York Mets are bound for the playoffs and in a tie for the National League East lead with the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves.
The Mets prefer to look at it as the position they would have loved to have been in when spring training began -- and not as the position that would have been hard to fathom for most of the summer.
The Mets will look to at least maintain their tie with the Braves on Wednesday night when they host the Miami Marlins in the finale of a two-game series between the division rivals.
Mets right-hander Taijuan Walker (12-5, 3.53 ERA) is slated to take the mound against Marlins left-hander Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.57).
Miami knocked New York out of sole possession of first place Tuesday night, when JJ Bleday hit a two-run homer, Jacob Stallings had a two-RBI single and Pablo Lopez tossed six solid innings in a 6-4 win.
The loss by the Mets (97-58), coupled with the Braves' 8-2 rout of the Washington Nationals, created a deadlock atop the NL East for the second time this month. Atlanta (97-58) faces Washington in the finale of a three-game series on Wednesday.
Following an off day on Thursday, the Mets are scheduled to visit the Braves for a three-game series starting Friday, though Hurricane Ian might impact when and where the games are played.
The Mets led the Braves by as many as 10 1/2 games in June and by 6 1/2 games after winning four times in a five-game series between the teams in New York in early August. But Atlanta is 33-12 since then -- the best record in the majors during that span.
"If you'd asked me in February -- who knows, some people might have taken you up on that," New York manager Buck Showalter said of the situation facing the Mets over the final seven games. "But our guys have worked hard to create an opportunity. Turn the page and it's about (Wednesday) night and Luzardo. And hopefully Tai can have a good outing, give us a chance."
The Marlins (64-90) may also have a say in who wins the division. Miami finishes the season -- and manager Don Mattingly's seven-season tenure as manager -- with three home games against the Braves starting on Monday.
"We're going to have Atlanta for three at the end of the year and that's important, too," said Mattingly, who announced on Sunday that he would step down at the end of the season. "Obviously, in our situation, we want our guys to play hard. And out of respect to everyone in the game -- out of respect to Atlanta -- it's up to us (to) play hard and give our best effort. So that part feels good."
Walker took the defeat in his most recent start, when he gave up four runs over six innings as the Mets fell 6-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 21. He is 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 10 career games (nine starts) against the Marlins, but he has dominated them this year, going 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in five starts.
Luzardo didn't factor into the decision on Sept. 21, when he allowed one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings in the Marlins' 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He struck out 11 and walked one.
Luzardo is 1-1 with a 6.43 ERA in three career starts against the Mets. He has faced New York once this year, taking a loss on Sept. 11 after yielding five runs on six hits in 3 1/3 innings.
--Field Level Media