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Mets-Giants Preview

AP - Sports

While the scuffling San Francisco Giants still sit atop the NL West, they'll surely need to pick up the pace to maintain their lead going forward.

San Francisco tries to avoid a seventh loss in eight games Thursday as it concludes a four-game set with the visiting New York Mets.

The Giants (56-48) haven't played like contenders of late, dropping six of seven - all at home - while batting .212, including a .183 mark with runners in scoring position. San Francisco saw its woes continue during Wednesday's 2-1 loss, going 0 for 3 with men on second or third.

Though the Giants were hoping to get a big boost from newly acquired outfielder Hunter Pence, the former All-Star went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his team debut. Pence is 11 for 65 (.169) with one extra-base hit and 20 strikeouts in his last 17 games.

"There was a ton of excitement," said Pence, acquired from Philadelphia for Nate Schierholtz and two minor leaguers Tuesday. "The fans were great out here. That's pretty cool. They were loud and rowdy. We had a pretty crazy game. Unfortunately I didn't really get to do anything."

With second-place Los Angeles also stumbling this week, San Francisco has been able to hang on to its one-game division lead. Third-place Arizona, though, suddenly finds itself in the thick of the race as well, moving within 2 1/2 games of the Giants with Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Dodgers.

The Mets (51-54) sit 11 games back of East-leading Washington despite winning three of four. Ruben Tejada and David Wright each had three hits Wednesday, with Tejada going deep for the second time in 792 career at-bats.

New York now turns to Chris Young (2-5, 4.58 ERA), who concluded July at 0-4 with a 6.00 ERA in five starts after getting hit hard again Saturday. The right-hander was tagged for a season-high six runs along with seven hits over four innings of a 6-3 loss at Arizona.

"It was just too inconsistent," he told the Mets' official website. "Physically, I felt good. That's what's disappointing, is I felt better than the way I pitched. But that's part of it. I'll keep working and hopefully I'll be better in five days."

Young is 2-2 with a 1.32 ERA over his last five starts against the Giants, though he hasn't faced them since 2009 while with San Diego. Ryan Theriot is the only active San Francisco hitter to have taken Young deep, going 2 for 7 with two homers in their matchups.

Young will also need to be wary of Buster Posey, who homered Wednesday and has gone 29 for 66 (.439) with four homers and 19 RBIs in his last 18 games to raise his average from .288 to .318.

San Francisco counters with Barry Zito (8-7, 3.89). The left-hander is 1-4 with a 4.30 ERA over his last five home starts and wasn't very sharp Saturday, yielding four runs and seven hits over 5 1-3 innings during a 10-0 loss to the Dodgers.

Zito is 3-2 with a 3.35 ERA in seven career matchups against the Mets. He gave up two runs over five innings of a 4-3, 10-inning victory at Citi Field on April 20.

Scott Hairston, who didn't play Wednesday, is 4 for 13 with a homer and four walks against Zito since 2009. Batting .305 with nine homers in 128 at-bats versus lefties this season, Hairston has gone 9 for 18 with a pair of long balls in his last four starts.

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