Three weeks ago in Houston, the New York Mets’ season appeared to be slipping away. Now they seem to be in complete control.
The NL East-leading Mets look to continue their surge in the standings when their four-game series against the Astros continues Saturday at Shea Stadium.
After being swept in a three-game series at Houston (64-64) to open August, New York (72-57) is a major league-best 14-4 since Aug. 4. The Mets were in third place in the East, three games behind first-place Philadelphia following their 4-0 loss to the Astros on Aug. 3, but now own a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Phillies.
New York took Friday’s series opener 3-0, and has won four in a row and 10 of 11.
“Everybody’s on a roll now,” said Johan Santana, who earned his 12th win of the season Friday. “We’re having fun in everything we’re doing.”
Friday’s victory was sparked by Brian Schneider’s two-run homer. Schneider is 5-for-17 (.294) with three home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games after going 11-for-43 (.256) with a double and no RBIs in his first 16 games after the All-Star break.
“Schneider, every year, starts to turn it on at the end and that’s key for us,” said right fielder Ryan Church, who returned to New York’s lineup Friday after being out with post-concussion syndrome since July 5.
John Maine (10-7, 3.82 ERA) looks to help the Mets win their fifth straight on Saturday when he makes his third start since coming off the disabled list with a mild strain to his right rotator cuff.
Maine has allowed three hits and eight walks in 10 scoreless innings in his first two starts off the DL, but has been unable to go deep into games because of his sore shoulder. On Monday, the right-hander gave up two hits and four walks in five innings of a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh, but was not a factor in the decision. He was lifted after throwing 96 pitches.
Maine hopes to build off his last two starts in his first game of the season against Houston. He has posted a 1.57 ERA in winning his three career starts against the Astros, and in his only start against them at Shea Stadium on July 21, 2006, Maine threw a four-hit shutout.
While New York has been nearly unbeatable lately, Houston has lost five of seven following a season-high eight-game winning streak.
The Astros had several scoring opportunities Friday, but left nine runners on base. They are averaging 2.9 runs in their last seven games after averaging 7.5 during their winning streak.
“You’ve got to get hits in key situations, the clutch hits. We’ve been scratching the last few days,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said.
Lance Berkman left three runners on base Friday, and has not driven in a run in his last five games after amassing 10 RBIs in his previous five. Berkman is 2-for-15 with a double and no RBIs in four games against the Mets this season, and is 2-for-11 (.182) with a solo homer lifetime against Maine.
Houston counters with Brandon Backe (7-12, 5.62), who has alternated solid and awful performances in his last four starts, and is hoping to bounce back from yet another dreadful outing.
In his two respectable August starts—both Astros wins—Backe yielded four runs in 13 innings, but in his two losing efforts, he was pounded for 22 runs in nine innings. The right-hander was tagged for 11 runs, nine hits—including three home runs—and five walks in 5 2-3 innings of an 11-5 loss to Arizona last Saturday.
Last Saturday’s performance was significantly different than Backe’s start against the Mets on Aug. 1, when he allowed three runs and 10 hits in six innings of Houston’s 7-3 victory. He is 1-1 with a 4.43 ERA in four career starts versus New York.