The New York Mets have feasted on teams with losing records lately to take control of the NL East. A team hovering around .500, however, has given them plenty of problems this month.
The Mets look to avoid their fifth loss in six August games against the Houston Astros as the clubs continue a four-game series Sunday at Shea Stadium.
New York (72-58) went 9-1 from Aug. 12-21, winning series against Washington, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, each of which is at least 15 games under .500.
The Mets continued their hot streak by beating the Astros 3-0 in the series opener Friday night, but they fell 8-3 Saturday night for their fourth loss in five games in the season series, which began when New York was swept in a three-game set in Houston from Aug. 1-3.
Saturday’s defeat, combined with Philadelphia’s win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, sliced the Mets’ division lead to 1 1/2 games.
The Mets are averaging 2.6 runs and batting .228 against the Astros (65-64) this year. Houston, meanwhile, is batting .278 in the series, including .355 (11-for-31) with runners in scoring position.
“The key for us was to continue to give ourselves a chance with runners in scoring position,” first baseman Lance Berkman said after going 3-for-4 with a home run, four RBIs and two runs scored Saturday. “Somebody is eventually going to get a hit.”
Berkman is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts in his career against New York starter Oliver Perez (9-7, 3.93 ERA). The Mets have won eight of the last 10 games started by the left-hander, who’s 4-2 with a 2.19 ERA in that stretch.
One of those losses came against the Astros on Aug. 3. Perez gave up four runs in six innings of that game, falling to 2-2 with a 3.31 ERA in five career starts against the Astros. He has 42 strikeouts in 35 1-3 innings against them, including a career-high 14 in a Sept. 9, 2004 win, while with Pittsburgh.
The Astros will hand the ball to Randy Wolf (8-11, 4.81). After going 2-0 with a 3.63 ERA in his first four starts with Houston - all Astros victories - the left-hander gave up six runs in four innings of a 9-3 loss to Milwaukee on Monday.
Wolf has a good chance to bounce back by meeting the Mets. His team has won each of his last six starts against New York, and Wolf is 5-0 with a 3.18 ERA in those games. Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, who’s 7-for-18 (.389) against Houston this season, is 5-for-26 (.192) with 11 strikeouts against Wolf.
The Mets, though, could get an offensive lift from catcher Brian Schneider, who’s batting .333 (11-for-33) with four homers and nine RBIs in his last 11 games. He had only two homers in his first 73 games of the year.
“I haven’t changed anything except the results,” Schneider told the Mets’ official Web site. “But that’s what you want to do, get results.”