(AP) — The New York Mets will face some unfamiliar opponents on their road trip, but it should be a good chance to pick up some victories.
The Mets will begin a four-game series Monday night when they face the Houston Astros for the first time in 2010, after dominating the season series last year.
New York is starting a seven-game trip against Houston (51-65) and Pittsburgh – the only NL teams it has yet to face this season. The Mets (58-59) have won five straight over the Astros since losing the first meeting of 2009, while the Pirates own the worst record in baseball and are on pace for 54 victories.
The last six-game win streak for New York over Houston was July 12-27, 1985.
The current run of dominance began when Monday’s probable starter Jonathon Niese (7-5, 3.50 ERA) earned a victory in his first career outing against the Astros. Niese allowed one run in seven innings of a 10-3 victory last July 25.
That’s also exactly what the left-hander has done in each of his last two starts though he has failed to record a decision in either of them – a 7-5 loss at Philadelphia on Aug. 6 and Wednesday’s 6-2 defeat to Colorado.
Niese’s opponent will also be a southpaw in Wandy Rodriguez (9-11, 4.18), who is 6-1 with a 1.79 ERA over his last nine outings. He’s yielded two earned runs in his last 28 1-3 innings over four starts with 32 strikeouts in that span.
However, the Astros have dropped Rodriguez’s last two outings due to the bullpen’s failings. Rodriguez yielded two runs – one earned – over seven innings of Wednesday’s 8-2, 10-inning home loss to Atlanta.
“It was nice to see Wandy throw the ball extremely well again and definitely pitch well enough to win,” manager Brad Mills told the Astros’ official website.
Rodriguez is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three career home starts against the Mets, but New York outfielder Jeff Francoeur is 5 for 12 with two homers off him.
Houston has won nine of 11 at home after sweeping three games from the Pirates over the weekend. Hunter Pence continued his surge by going 7 for 11 with four doubles, one homer and three RBIs in the series.
“All up and down the lineup, everyone hit and we made some amazing plays,” Pence said after an 8-2 victory Sunday.
Pence is hitting .384 with 18 RBIs over his last 20 games, and he’s not even the Astros’ hottest hitter in that span. That’s because rookie third baseman Chris Johnson is batting .429 with four homers and 19 RBIs in the same stretch. However, Johnson – a .360 overall hitter this season – is batting just .289 against left-handers.
The Mets’ once-promising six-game homestand ended in a split after they lost the final two over the weekend against Philadelphia. New York managed two runs in the series, with All-Star third baseman David Wright extending his homerless streak to 13 straight games.
“We’re struggling right now with the bats – the middle of the order,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “We’ve got to find a way to unlock that.”
New York is 3 for 34 (.088) with runners in scoring position over its last six games.
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