Cardinals-Mets Preview

The Associated Press

For a second straight start, Jonathon Niese must follow a pair of dominant performances from the top two pitchers in the New York Mets' rotation.

After shutting out St. Louis in the first two of this four-game set, the Mets hope Niese can help them hand the Cardinals a season-high fifth straight loss Sunday night at Citi Field.

Less than 24 hours after Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey allowed seven hits and struck out nine while going the distance in Saturday's 5-0 victory over the Cardinals.

It was the eighth win in 11 games for New York (30-23), which trails Washington by one game for the NL East lead.

"That's how you're going to be successful,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It starts with pitching and it will always be pitching, and when those two guys go out there, we think we've got a chance to win."

The Mets, who last shut out three straight opponents May 25-27, 2010, blanked San Diego last Saturday and Sunday behind strong efforts from Santana and Dickey, respectively. Niese (3-2, 4.55 ERA), however, allowed four runs and a season-high five walks in five innings while not factoring in the decision of an 8-4 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.

"It's one of those things where I didn't have my good stuff," Niese told the Mets' official website. "That's the way it goes."

The left-hander is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA in three starts versus St. Louis - all in Queens.

Hoping to avoid being shut out in three straight games for the first time since Oct. 2-3, 1976, St. Louis (27-26) has dropped four in a row and seven of nine. The Cardinals are 11-18 over the past calendar month.

"We will get it going here,'' said infielder Daniel Descalso, who had two hits Saturday and is batting .368 (7 for 19) in his last five games. "We just need to bounce back and make some adjustments.''

Former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran doubled in the second inning Saturday for St. Louis' first hit of the series. Beltran hit a line drive over third base during Friday's sixth inning that hit the foul line, but third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul to keep Santana's no-hitter intact.

David Wright homered Saturday for the Mets, who have won 17 of their last 24 regular-season home games versus St. Louis. Wright is a career .372 hitter with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 27 home contests against the Cardinals including postseason.

However, he's 0 for 7 versus scheduled St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook (4-4, 3.84).

The right-hander opened the season 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA, but is 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in his last four starts. He's yielded 11 runs and six walks over 8 2-3 innings in his last two outings, and four of the five runs he allowed Tuesday in five innings of a 5-4 loss at Atlanta came on two homers.

"That's a couple of games in a row I've put us in a hole,'' Westbrook said. "I've got to do a better job. With the sinker that I have, that should keep the ball in the yard.''

He is 1-1 with a 3.43 ERA in three career starts versus the Mets.