By any measure, the New York Mets and San Diego Padres had regular seasons that stand among the finest in their respective histories.
The Mets spent 175 days in first place and reached 100 wins for the first time since 1988. The Padres won 89 games, a total surpassed by only four previous incarnations of the club, and made the playoffs in a full season for the first time since 2006.
But now their seasons will be defined by how they fare over the next two or three games.
The Mets and Padres are slated to begin a best-of-three National League wild-card series Friday night in New York.
Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.29 ERA in the regular season) is scheduled to start for the Mets against Yu Darvish (16-8, 3.10 ERA) in a battle of All-Star right-handers.
"Every day feels like a must-win game, whether it's an elimination game or not," Scherzer said Thursday afternoon. "You always show up to the park like, 'We've got to win today.' That's the beauty of the postseason. This is what you play the game for, is to be in these types of moments."
The Mets (101-61) earned the top wild card in the NL and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Padres (89-73) are the fifth seed after finishing second in the NL West, 22 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets won 24 more games than last season -- a year-to-year improvement exceeded only by the Baltimore Orioles -- but were surpassed in the NL East last weekend while being swept by the Atlanta Braves, who won the division by virtue of a 10-9 edge in the season series.
"That was yesterday's news -- it's in the past, everybody starts 0-0, it's a new time of the year," Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "It's an honor, it's a privilege to be here. I have a lot of friends that are on the way home right now and I get to put on a hat and a hoodie that says 'Postseason.'"
The Padres went 4-2 this season against the Mets but are a much different team than the last time the squads squared off in New York July 22-24. San Diego acquired All-Star closer Josh Hader and superstar outfielder Juan Soto in blockbuster deals on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2, though the club went just 31-27 following the deadline.
"Some of these guys weren't there when we played them earlier in the season," Padres manager Bob Melvin said. "And once you get to the postseason, teams are playing differently to get there. I think in our case, you try to bring that momentum with you. But it's a different ballgame now."
The teams have until 10 a.m. Friday to finalize their rosters. Outfielder Starling Marte, who hasn't played for the Mets since Sept. 6 due to a broken right middle finger, participated in some baseball activities Thursday but appears questionable at best to be active for the series.
Padres pitcher Mike Clevinger (non-COVID illness) and outfielder Trent Grisham (personal) are expected to rejoin the team Friday.
Scherzer is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in 17 career starts against the Padres. He took the loss in his lone meeting this season with San Diego on July 22, when he allowed two runs over six innings as host New York fell, 4-1.
Scherzer is 7-6 with a 3.22 ERA and one save in 26 postseason games (21 starts).
Darvish is 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in eight starts against the Mets, including 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA in two starts this season. He outdueled Scherzer on July 22, when Darvish allowed one run over seven innings.
Darvish is 2-5 with a 5.18 ERA in seven postseason starts -- but 2-3 with a 3.33 ERA outside of two World Series starts in 2017 against the Houston Astros, who were later punished by Major League Baseball for stealing signs.
--Field Level Media