5 things to watch as Mets and Reds play three-game series in Cincinnati

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Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo celebrate win July 2021
Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo celebrate win July 2021

The Mets and Reds play a three-game series in Cincinnati beginning on Monday.

Here are five things to watch...

Who gets the ball for the Mets on Tuesday?

With Jacob deGrom out until at least July 25, the Mets have Jerad Eickhoff starting the series opener on Monday night but have yet to announce a starter for Tuesday.

Things got a bit tougher when the Mets were forced to get 8.2 innings from their bullpen on Sunday against the Pirates after Taijuan Walker recorded just one out.

New York has the option of activating Carlos Carrasco from the IL for Tuesday's start, but he isn't yet stretched out.

If Carrasco isn't activated, the Mets could conceivably attempt to cobble things together with a bullpen game -- perhaps using Yenssy Diaz and Seth Lugo (both of whom didn't pitch on Sunday) to try to get at least some length.

If the Mets don't go the bullpen route, options in Triple-A include Robert Stock (who pitched just 1.0 inning on July 18) and Vance Worley. Stock is on the 40-man roster, while Worley isn't.

Is Michael Conforto about to heat up?

Going back to the last game before the All-Star break, Conforto has gone 5-for-15 with two homers, two doubles, and five RBI.

For a player with the credentials of Conforto, the above positive blip would ordinarily be nothing special. But with how badly Conforto has struggled this season (.675 OPS), it could prove to be notable.

Jul 18, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman (left) and first baseman Pete Alonso (20) and catcher Tomas Nido (3) congratulate right fielder Michael Conforto (30) after Conforto hit a two run game winning home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Mets won 7-6.
Jul 18, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman (left) and first baseman Pete Alonso (20) and catcher Tomas Nido (3) congratulate right fielder Michael Conforto (30) after Conforto hit a two run game winning home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Mets won 7-6.

Conforto's enormous two-run homer on Sunday against the Pirates in Pittsburgh was the exclamation point on his recent mini hot streak.

Can he build off of it starting Monday in Cincinnati?

With Francisco Lindor out for at least a matter of weeks, Conforto heating up would be ideal.

Can the Mets hold down the villainous Jesse Winker?

During the Mets' series against the Reds at Citi Field in 2019, Winker became a villain as he taunted Mets fans and generally acted afool.

Back then, Winker was in the midst of his breakout season.

Now, Winker is an All-Star and one of the most productive players in the NL, slashing .292/.373/.521 with 19 homers in 85 games this season.

Along with Winker, the Mets will have to contend with Nick Castellanos and Joey Votto in a ballpark that is often a launching pad.

The Uneven Stro Show

Marcus Stroman has been generally terrific this season, but his last four starts have been uneven.

Over those four starts, Stroman has given up 14 runs (10 earned) in 18 innings while never pitching past the fifth inning.

Jun 1, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Chase Field.
Jun 1, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Chase Field.

In his start on Friday against the Pirates, Stroman was interrupted by a rain delay but fought through it, allowing just two runs in 5.0 frames.

Set to start the series finale on Wednesday afternoon, Stroman's ground ball tendencies could be a key as the Mets try to stymie the Reds.

Edwin Diaz needs to rebound

Diaz's last two appearances have resulted in blown saves, and both were of the unordinary variety.

During the last game before the break, Diaz was asked to get five outs against the Pirates and wound up getting four before being done in by a pair of singles with two outs in the ninth inning.

Then on Saturday against the Pirates, Diaz was all over the place before inducing what he thought was a game-ending fly out. Instead, the ball landed in the front row in left field for a game-ending grand slam that traveled just over 325 feet.

The Mets need Diaz (4.17 ERA/2.33 FIP) to get back on track his next time out.