Jacob deGrom, left, and Max Scherzer talk in the Mets'...

Jacob deGrom, left, and Max Scherzer talk in the Mets' dugout in the eighth inning against Atlanta at Citi Field on August 4, 2022. Credit: Getty Images/Jim McIsaac

About an hour after the Mets moved a game ahead of Atlanta in the NL East on Wednesday night, Jacob deGrom sat in front of his locker eating a slice of pizza. The best pitcher on the planet, when healthy, looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world. 

Why should he? As Wednesday turned to Thursday and the Mets readied to fly to Atlanta for a crucial three-game series against the defending World Series champions, two forecasts had improved: The Mets' chances of winning the division and the weather for Atlanta this weekend (no impacts of Hurricane Ian are expected to threaten the series at all). 

Wednesday’s 5-4, 10-inning victory over Miami on a walk-off single by Eduardo Escobar (all five Mets RBIs) and Atlanta’s 3-2, 10-inning loss in Washington combined to give the Mets a one-game lead in the division with six to play. 

Manager Buck Showalter altered the Mets’ rotation to move deGrom to the first game instead of Chris Bassitt. DeGrom will face Max Fried on Friday. Max Scherzer gets Kyle Wright on Saturday night. Bassitt will pitch against Charlie Morton on Sunday night. 

WHAT TO KNOW

Scenarios for the three-game series:

Mets win one of three: The division will be tied entering the final three games of the season, and the Mets will have the tiebreaker. The Mets' magic number would be 3.

Mets win two of three: The Mets will be two games up with three to play and will need one win over the Nationals to clinch. 

Mets sweep: The Mets will clinch the division on Sunday in Atlanta.

Atlanta sweeps: The Mets will be two games back with three to play and Atlanta will have the tiebreaker.

Showalter said his rotation was “subject to change” if Ian messed up the series schedule, as had been feared earlier in the week. But the forecast as of Thursday afternoon called for chances of rain of less than 6% for all three games. 

The Mets go in needing one win to clinch the season series against Atlanta. The Mets hold the divisional tiebreaker at 9-7, which matters if the teams end the regular season tied. There is no one-game playoff to settle the division. 

The division runner-up will end up in the best-of-three wild-card series instead of getting a first-round bye — a significant prize for being one of the teams with the two best records to win a division, which the champion of the NL East will be.  

For the Mets, it’s as simple as 1-2-3: If they sweep the series, they win the division. 

This is the first season MLB has had a three-game wild-card playoff series as part of the expanded playoffs in the collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout.  

Mets reliever Adam Ottavino’s teams played twice in the one-game wild-card playoff, for Colorado in 2018 and last season with Boston. Both times his teams won.  

MLB said it increased the playoff field and the byes in part to give a meatier reward to the top two division winners.

“I think the one-game playoff is scary,” Ottavino said. “I’ve won two of them, but I always felt like that was a scary game. You feel like you played your whole season, had a good season, want to get yourself a series, and that one game, anything can happen. It’s just like a nerve-wracking night for everybody involved. Three games, it’s not like it’s not nerve-wracking, but if you lose the first game, you’ve still got a shot, so you feel like you get to throw at least two starters at them, use your full depth a little bit more.” 

The Mets have two pretty good starters to throw at any opponent in any situation in deGrom and Scherzer. But with the regular season ending Oct. 5, it would be to their benefit to win the East and not have to play a postseason game until the Division Series opens on Oct. 11. 

“Look, we want to win the division,” Ottavino said. “It’s a bye. It’s a whole round you don’t have to win. We want to win it. We’re going to sell out to win it.” 

PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY: Jacob deGrom (5-3, 2.93 ERA) vs. Max Fried (13-7, 2.50)

SATURDAY: Max Scherzer (11-4, 2.13) vs. Kyle Wright (20-5, 3.18)

SUNDAY: Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27) vs. Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29)

GAMES REMAINING AFTER SERIES

Mets: 3 at Citi Field vs. Nationals (54-101)

Atlanta: 3 at the Miami Marlins (64-91)