The Atlanta Braves are hoping Max Fried's return to the rotation Friday night puts him in position to start a potential playoff opener in 12 days.
The New York Mets are hoping Steven Matz's return continues to spark a playoff surge that began percolating in the most unexpected fashion the previous two nights.
The Braves will begin their final road series of the regular season by visiting the Mets in the opener of a three-game set between the National League East rivals. Fried (6-0, 1.98 ERA) is scheduled to come off the injured list and oppose Matz (0-4, 8.63), who hasn't appeared in a game since Aug. 29, in a battle of left-handers.
The Braves were off Thursday after falling to the host Baltimore Orioles, 5-1, on Wednesday night. The visiting Mets earned a second straight unlikely comeback win Thursday night, when Brandon Nimmo hit a tiebreaking homer leading off the ninth inning of a 10-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The division-leading Braves (29-21) actually bolstered their playoff seeding during the off day. Atlanta increased its lead over the second-place Miami Marlins to three games by virtue of the Marlins' 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox and is 4 1/2 games ahead of the Phillies and the idle Reds, who are in a virtual tie for the final wild-card spot.
The cushion allows the Braves to bring back Fried -- who suffered a back injury Sept. 5, when he allowed three runs over five innings and didn't factor into the decision in Atlanta's 10-4 loss to the Washington Nationals -- with the idea of setting him up to start the first game of the best-of-three series on Sept. 30.
"We didn't want to take him any farther than Friday, because he's ready to go," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Fried, who entered Thursday tied for third in the NL in ERA. "I think everything will work out fine."
Things did not appear as if they would work out fine for the Mets (23-27) when two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom exited after two innings Wednesday due to a sore hamstring and No. 2 starter Seth Lugo blew a 3-0 first-inning lead and was chased after giving up six runs in just 1 2/3 innings Thursday.
But the Mets stayed afloat in the playoff race by getting seven innings of one-run relief from a quartet of pitchers as they came back from a 4-0 deficit to earn a 5-4 win Wednesday night before receiving 7 1/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless work from five relievers during the three-run comeback Thursday.
New York enters Friday 1 1/2 games behind the Phillies and Reds.
"Just really proud of this team," Nimmo said. "Had a lot of times where we could have given up and just been like, 'Know what, oh well,' and accepted it. And none of them did."
Matz was demoted to the bullpen after posting a 9.00 ERA in his first five starts and went on the injured list Aug. 30, one day after he threw a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees in his lone relief appearance.
Fried is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 games (seven starts) against the Mets. Matz is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 14 starts against the Braves.
--Field Level Media