CINCINNATI - What comes next is academic, a mere formality, an exercise in the inevitable. Yes, the Mets have reached the point of the race where they can coast across the finish line, jogging backward, while juggling chain saws.

By virtue of Friday night's 12-5 thumping of the Reds -- and yet another loss by the down-to-their-last breath Nationals -- the Mets have positioned themselves as the champions-elect of the National League East.

The magic number is one.

All that remains is the champagne-soaked coronation, which could take place Saturday, win or lose.

For all the hand-wringing and the fan frenzy about another heart-wrenching collapse, Panic City has emptied out, a once-thriving metropolis reduced to a ghost town. The Mets arrived at the brink of their first division crown since 2006 and did so in style.

Lucas Duda got out of his slump by slamming a pair of homers and knocking in six runs, which equaled his career best.

Noah Syndergaard personified the electric young pitching that has revived the franchise. For the fourth time this season, the rookie Syndergaard reached double digits in strikeouts (11). His two runs allowed in 72/3 dominant innings were a show of force, a glimpse of what the Mets will bring with them into their first postseason foray in nine years.

He retired 16 in a row at one point. Even in the later innings, his fastball crackled at 99 mph.

Syndergaard didn't just pepper the Reds with heaters. He spotted them with precision. He changed speeds. And at the plate, he collected a pair of hits, including a run-scoring single in the second inning that got the Mets started.

The Mets arrived in Cincinnati after winning just three games on their recently completed nine-game homestand. In that span, they scored just 23 runs, making it easy for the more fearful members of the fan base to recount the horrors of 2007.

But after two games here, the Mets have made clear that this is a different year.

"We won," Terry Collins said, still not granting himself any leeway until the Mets clinch. "That's all I give a [damn] about."

The Mets tagged the Reds for 12 runs and 14 hits. Two of them belonged to Curtis Granderson, who ripped a run-scoring double and slammed a three-run homer in the eighth inning to toss another cherry on top of the rout.

Duda had the 12th multihomer game of his career. The first baseman had been flailing, giving the Mets a legitimate reason for concern since his return from a back injury Sept. 8.

In Thursday's series opener, Duda collected a pair of doubles and a pair of RBIs, a mere warm-up for what he unleashed on the Reds Friday night.

Duda gave the Mets a 4-0 lead in the third, going the other way for a three-run shot against Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani. In the seventh, Duda's second three-run shot powered a five-run inning.

By then, of course, it was all cosmetic. As were the four runs the Reds scored in the eighth.

The Phillies had an inside the park grand slam in their 8-2 win over the Nationals, who were supposed to have a charmed season. But it's the Mets who find themselves stocking up on the accessories of a champion: goggles to guard against the sting of champagne, plastic sheeting, and champagne by the crate.

"It's definitely pretty special, a very exciting time," Duda said. "Blessed to be a part of this."