Playing their best baseball so far this year has helped the New York Mets start to pull away in the NL East.
The division-leaders will try to extend their season-high wining streak to six games and complete a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
New York (78-60) continued its surge toward a second straight division title with an 11-7 win on Tuesday. Paul Lo Duca had two three-run homers and drove in a career-high seven to help batterymate Oliver Perez win his 13th game.
“It’s amazing,” said Lo Duca, whose last multihomer game was in June 2001 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Unbelievable. I’m really proud of this team, especially with what happened in Philadelphia. To play the way we have these last five days is huge.”
Last week, the Mets had their division lead cut to two games after being swept in a four-game series by the Phillies. Since then, New York swept three straight from Atlanta and won the first two games of this series to open up a five-game division lead and reduce its magic number to 20.
“They’re the best team in the league, from what I’ve seen,” Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said of New York. “They’ve got depth in their pitching. They’ve got speed and power. They’re in good shape. They’ve got a lot of the things necessary to win a lot of games.”
New York’s John Maine (14-8, 3.57 ERA) will try to win his third straight road start, and tie for the major league lead in road wins as he makes his first career appearance at Great American Ball Park.
The right-hander had his worst outing of the season away from Shea Stadium on Aug. 4, when he gave up six runs in 2 2-3 innings of a loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Since then, however, he’s allowed a total of four runs and eight hits in 12 innings en route to road wins at Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
Maine, though, lost his only career start against the Reds earlier this season in New York. He had won four straight outings heading into that matchup on July 13, but was tagged for a first-inning grand slam by Brandon Phillips, and left after only 4 2-3 innings in an 8-4 loss.
Phillips hit his 27th homer Tuesday to tie the Reds record for homers in a season by a second baseman set by Hall of Famer Joe Morgan in 1976. Against the Mets, Phillips has an eight-game hitting streak, batting .412 (14-for-34) with three homers and 11 RBIs in that span.
Tom Shearn (1-0, 4.76), a 30-year-old rookie, will make his first career start for the Reds (62-77) against the Mets. It’s just his third overall since being recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 26, when he defeated Florida at home in his big league debut.
He followed that on Friday by giving up three runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings, and didn’t get a decision in Cincinnati’s 8-5 loss to St. Louis.