NEW YORK -- As it turns out, the schedule maker saved the New York Mets' most enticing midweek afternoon home game of the season for last.
Two of baseball's aces are scheduled to square off Thursday afternoon when National League Cy Young Award contender Jacob deGrom (8-7, 1.71 ERA) takes the mound for the Mets against Madison Bumgarner (4-5, 3.05 ERA) and the San Francisco Giants in the finale of a four-game series at Citi Field.
The Mets assured themselves a split by earning a 5-3 win Wednesday night, when Todd Frazier had a pair of hits, including a solo homer, and two RBIs.
With both the Mets (56-70) and Giants (62-66) skidding toward losing seasons, Thursday afternoon's matchup is probably going to be the closest either team gets to experiencing a playoff-type atmosphere the rest of the way.
"Once they got to see the matchups coming up, that always piques everybody's interest," New York manager Mickey Callaway said Wednesday afternoon. "It's going to be a good game. You've got two very good pitchers going at one another. I think it's going to be fun to watch."
DeGrom, who leads the majors in ERA, has helped his Cy Young Award case by winning his last three starts, including last Saturday when he shrugged off a 41-minute rain delay to toss the Mets' first complete game of the season in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The one run he allowed in that game was unearned, and it marked the 22nd straight start in which deGrom has allowed three runs or fewer.
DeGrom will take the mound just as his two competitors for the Cy Young Award face off against each other in Philadelphia, where Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer is scheduled to face the Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola.
Scherzer, the two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner, leads the Senior Circuit in wins (16), strikeouts (234), WHIP (0.89) and innings pitched (174 2/3). DeGrom ranks second in strikeouts (204), WHIP (0.96) and innings pitched (168). Nola is second in wins (14) and third in WHIP (0.98).
Injuries have limited Bumgarner, a four-time All-Star who has received votes in the Cy Young Award balloting five times, to just 31 starts over the last two seasons. But he has a 3.20 ERA over that span, and his presence on the Citi Field mound will be another reminder that Bumgarner is on the very short list of the game's best pitchers.
Bumgarner will be pitching at Citi Field for the first time since the National League wild-card game on Oct. 5, 2016, when he threw a four-hit shutout as the Giants beat the Mets 3-0. It was the third career postseason shutout for Bumgarner and the sixth time in 13 playoff starts he threw at least seven scoreless innings.
For Bumgarner, Thursday will mark the fifth time in as many starts this month he has opposed a pitcher who has at least one All-Star Game appearance on his resume. Bumgarner took the loss last Saturday, when he gave up six runs (five earned) over six innings as the Giants fell to Matt Harvey and the Cincinnati Reds 7-1.
"Anytime he matches up with the No. 1, it's exciting," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday afternoon. "DeGrom's having just a tremendous year. I'm a fan of a game like that."
DeGrom is 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA in six career starts against the Giants. Bumgarner is 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in six regular-season starts against the Mets. It is his lowest ERA against any opponent he's faced more than twice.