Whether the series begins in Chavez Ravine or in this corner of Flushing, little doubt exists about Jacob deGrom's standing in the starting rotation.
Once the Mets qualify for the postseason -- a technicality with the way they've exploded past the Nationals -- the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year almost certainly will get the ball within the first two games of the NLDS.
Which is why the only reason for pause to emerge from Tuesday night's 9-3 loss to the Marlins stemmed from the pitcher's mound. Aside from his signature locks, deGrom looked little like himself, retreating after five innings of surrendering loud contact on fastballs that caught far too much plate.
It appears that the Mets will skip -- or at least push back -- his next start because of what they believe could be fatigue.
"Perception is reality," manager Terry Collins said. "Perception is he might be tired. Is it true? I don't know. But it sure looks like it is."
For his part, deGrom downplayed the idea of fatigue affecting his performance. Instead, he chalked up his outing to a simple lack of command. He wants to pitch as scheduled.
For the first time since Sept. 6, also against the Marlins, the Mets lost. Their eight-game winning streak became just another footnote in a magical season.
Though the Mets did not reduce their magic number of 10, the Nationals remain a speck in the rearview mirror, trailing by 81/2 games in the NL East.
But deGrom's struggles carry far more weight than the defeat's impact on the standings.
"I'd like to keep pitching," said deGrom, who is lined up to pitch again Tuesday. "I've had starts before and it's kinda how you react after them. So I'd like to get back out there."
But he also acknowledged another reality. The decision belongs to the organization, which has made no secret of its preference to manage young arms. Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard have had starts skipped.
If the Mets can maintain their comfortable lead in the division, deGrom appears to be a near-certainty to be next.
"We'll see where we are," said Collins, who must balance the Mets' place in the standings with their need to protect deGrom.
For the first time this season, deGrom allowed double-digit hits (10), most of them liners. The only other time he allowed that many hits was when he gave up 12 to the Cardinals in his brilliant rookie season.
Against the Marlins, deGrom allowed three runs each in the fourth and the fifth, departing with the Mets down 6-1.
DeGrom had his worst start since pitching through illness Aug. 24, when the Phillies roughed him up for eight runs in just 22/3 innings.
In his last five outings, which includes a gem against the Nationals, deGrom (13-8) has a 6.41 ERA. His ERA for the season rose to 2.64, its highest point since May.
Though deGrom entered the season without a strict innings limit, his recent downturn has prompted the Mets to examine pushing back his next start to give him extra rest.
Syndergaard's brilliance Saturday -- which came after his previous turn was skipped in the rotation -- only emboldened Collins to push for the same with deGrom.
"That decision's up to them," said deGrom, who pitched well last season after a minor shoulder issue sent him to the DL for two weeks. "I'd like to keep pitching but it's out of my control."
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