Whatever slim hopes the New York Mets have of making it into the expanded postseason format probably rides on the right arm -- or maybe the right hamstring -- of staff ace Jacob deGrom.
The winner of the last two National League Cy Young awards, deGrom left his previous start in Philadelphia witha right hamstring spasm. But he tossed a bullpen session Saturday and deemed himself ready to go for Monday.
The right-hander will lead the longshot Mets (24-29) into the final week of the strangest regular season ever as they open a three-game home series against the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Rays (35-19), who are chasing down an American League East title.
The Mets suffered a tough loss Sunday, getting trounced 7-0 by the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. New York managed just three hits and was shut out for the fourth time this year.
With a healthy showing on Monday, deGrom (4-1, 2.09 ERA) would make his final start over the weekend in Washington against the last-place Nationals. Any chance the Mets would have of advancing to the playoffs would likely require wins in both of his starts.
He has made two career starts against the Rays, and despite not getting the decision in either outing, deGrom's numbers are as good against the AL East leaders as they are versus all of baseball.
In 14 1/3 innings pitched, he has allowed Tampa Bay's offense 10 hits and three runs -- all solo homers -- while striking out 15 and allowing just one walk. Rays hitters have batted just .196 against deGrom, who grew up in Daytona Beach an interstate highway ride away from St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field.
The Mets' staff lost No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) in spring training and third starter Marcus Stroman opted out while rehabbing a strained calf, depleting a starting rotation that was rounded out by the addition of right-handers Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.
"It's really tough just to go back and try to take off what we did," said first-year skipper Luis Rojas. "There's some things that we can definitely learn from, and we've made some adjustments along the way, but right now it's where we stand."
The Rays had a great trip to Baltimore -- winning four of five games with the Orioles -- and the club holds a 3 1/2-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees. The Rays' magic number to clinch the division shrunk to three with the Yankees' 10-2 loss in Boston.
Manager Kevin Cash's team will have three games against the Mets, enjoy an off day on Thursday and finish the regular season by hosting a trio of home games with the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend.
Despite losing on Sunday, Cash was pleased with the start of left-hander Ryan Yarbrough -- seven innings, five hits and two runs with eight strikeouts -- and said his club was impressive in Baltimore.
"We played a really good series here, really good," Cash said after Sunday's 2-1 loss. "We just went a little bit quiet today, but there are plenty of positives to pull. Yarbs is at the top of the list with that dominating performance."
With Blake Snell slated to pitch Tuesday at Citi Field, Tampa Bay will turn to reliever Pete Fairbanks (5-3, 2.74) to work as the opener in the first game of the series and make his first appearance ever against the Mets.
Fairbanks opened with a scoreless inning against the Washington Nationals in the Rays' 4-2 home loss to the World Series champions on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media