Atlanta (65-82) at New York (82-63)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: New York, NY
Temp: 29° F
  • Game info: 3:55 pm EDT Sat Sep 13, 2008
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Nobody stepped up to be a stopper for the New York Mets during last season’s meltdown. That may not be a problem this year with Johan Santana on the pitching staff.

The final 17 games of 2007 doomed the Mets, but they’ll begin their stretch run of this season with a red-hot Santana on the mound in the opener of a doubleheader with the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

After letting the NL East title slip away last season, the Mets (82-63) had to wait a day to begin this year’s stretch drive due after Friday’s matchup with the Braves (65-82) was postponed by rain.

Last year, New York wasted a seven-game lead in the NL East with 17 games to go, losing out to Philadelphia on the final day of the season. At the same point this year, the Mets are trying to hold onto a three-game lead over the Phillies.

“The demons that have haunted us for a whole year,” New York manager Jerry Manuel said. “Even if you were not a part of it, you knew about it. It’s probably something that gets expressed daily here.”

Poor starting pitching was a large contributor to New York’s 2007 skid. Mets starters had a 6.49 ERA in the final 17 games.

With Santana (13-7, 2.70 ERA) appearing strong during this stretch run, however, New York has every reason to feel confident that a similar letdown won’t curtail its playoff hopes. Santana is 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his last 13 starts, including two complete games, and the Mets have won each of his last seven outings.

The left-hander earned the win in his last start, giving up two runs and five hits in 7 1-3 innings as New York beat Philadelphia 6-3 on Sunday night in the second game of a doubleheader.

Santana, though, has lost each of his two starts against Atlanta this season despite posting a 2.57 ERA. He is 0-3 with a 2.81 ERA in four career starts versus the Braves.

Jonathon Niese will take the hill for New York in the second game. The 21-year-old left-hander struggled in his major league debut Sept. 2 at Milwaukee, allowing five runs and seven hits in three innings before the Mets won 6-5 in 10 innings.

Niese will get the start instead of Pedro Martinez, who was slated to start but will pitch on seven days’ rest Monday.

New York will try and continue its momentum at the plate. The Mets swept a two-game set with Washington, winning the opener 10-8 on Tuesday night and the finale 13-10 the following evening.

They will now face a couple of struggling Braves starters, with Mike Hampton (2-2, 5.60) pitching the opener and Jo-Jo Reyes (3-10, 5.26) matching up with Martinez.

Hampton gave up five runs - four earned - and eight hits in seven innings as Atlanta lost 8-5 in 11 innings to Washington on Saturday night. He is 10-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 27 starts and two relief appearances versus the Mets.

Reyes made his first career appearance against New York on Aug. 19, allowing two runs and four hits in six innings in a 7-3 Atlanta loss.

The left-hander is coming off one of his best starts of the season, giving up one run and four hits in six innings as the Braves lost 7-4 in 14 innings against the Nationals on Sunday.

Atlanta is trying to win four straight for the first time since a five-game run from May 18-22.

The Braves have won six of nine following a four-game skid. They’ve also won seven of 12 games against the Mets this season, but have lost the last three.

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Starting Pitchers

M. Hampton Ari vs. J. Santana Tor
3-4 Record 16-7
4.85 ERA 2.53
38 K 206
28 BB 63
1.42 WHIP 1.15

Scoreboard

Saturday, Sep 13