May 9, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals batter Carlos Beltran hits an RBI single in the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Cardinals @ Mets


The Mets open up a big four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the New York welcomes back Carlos Beltran to Citi Field for the first time since he was traded for Zack Wheeler before last year’s trade deadline. Both of these teams are currently in contention for first place, as they each sit 1.5 games out of their respective divisions.

The Mets are in the midst of a tough stretch, starting their second series of eight consecutive match-ups against teams with over a .500 record. New York lost two of three to the last-place Phillies (still sounds fun to say anyways), but are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have won 16 games at home while sporting a 28-23 record.

On the other hand, the Cardinals sprinted out of the gate, momentarily making everyone forget that Albert Pujols left for the Angels, but they have come back down to Earth with their 27-24 record. Mike Matheny and his club are 5-5 in their last 10 games lost their series to the Braves earlier this week, dropping the last two games to a team that had lost eight straight.

May 30, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets batter

How they’re performing:

Despite not having the gaudiest statistics around, the Mets are still a winning team, which makes most baseball analysts scratch their head in disbelief. Their .260 team batting average is 9th in the MLB, and their .333 team OBP ranks 6th. The offensive charge is still being led by David Wright (.365), while Mike Baxter(.339) continues to get somewhat regular playing time as he swings a hot bat. Daniel Murphy (.301) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.294) are also giving Wright some support and Scott Hairston (.274) has found himself in the lineups after some solid performances at the plate. New York is still 27th in home runs (36), but they have put on a power display at home of late, distancing themselves from the Giants (31) and Padres (26).

Can we not talk about the pitching? Alright, if we have to, I will. The Mets hold a team ERA of 4.49, which ranks 26th in the Majors, along with their 1.36 WHIP, good for 23rd. However, the top of the rotation has been doing its job, as Santana (2.75) and Dickey (3.06) lead the starting staff in ERA. It’s the bullpen that’s the issue; Jon Rauch (4.09) hasn’t been pitching consistently, while Ramon Ramirez (4.78) hasn’t impressed much either, and Chris Schwinden (12.46) is taking Manny Acosta’s spot…that’s just great.

The Cardinals have shown in these first two months that the offense can survive without Albert Pujols in it. Not only do they rank fifth in the league with 66 home runs, but they’re second to only the Rangers with their .281 team batting average and .345 OBP. St. Louis is boasting five regulars hitting over .300 (Jon Jay, Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Yadier Molina, and Skip Schumaker), and Mr. Beltran is leading the team with 15 home runs to go with his .294 BA.

As for the pitching, St. Louis has done the best they could without Chris Carpenter heading the rotation, and their team ERA of 3.81 and team WHIP of 1.29 are good for 14th in the MLB. Adam Wainwright got off to a rough start, but is starting to find his form as he’s improved to a 4-5 record on the year. Lance Lynn leads the staff with eight wins, but Jamie Garcia, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Loshe have been producing behind him to provide a solid overall rotation.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Think the Mets are going to see a struggling Adam Wainwright? Hardly; the righty has only allowed one run and one walk in his last 11 innings pitched, while punching out 11. Tonight’s match-up between him and Mr. Santana prove to be the most star-studded, as Santana is coming off his first complete game shutout in almost two years.

Adam Wainwright (STL) 4-5, 4.45 ERA vs. Johan Santana (NYM) 2-2, 2.75 ERA

Lance Lynn (STL) 8-1, 2.54 ERA vs. R.A. Dickey (NYM) 7-1, 3.06 ERA

Jake Westbrook (STL) 4-4, 3.86 ERA vs. Jonathon Niese (NYM) 3-2, 4.55

Kyle Loshe (STL) 5-1, 3.36 ERA vs. Jeremy Hefner (NYM) 1-2, 5.60 ERA

Lynn and Dickey get ready for a battle between two of the most productive pitchers in this young season. That will be a quick game, as Lynn can throw a first-pitch strike (18 of last 23 batters he saw last start) with the best of them, and Dickey, who works fast, has punched out 29 hitters in his last three starts. The last two games should be solid match-ups as well, but the probables in these first two contests are definitely the highlights.

Recent head-to-head contests:

The Mets have played the Cardinals 698 times since their inception in 1962. New York hasn’t exactly fared very well, going 330-368 in those contests, and have struggled in games at home, going 163-181.

However, 2010 proved to be an even year between these two, as they met on six different occasions, and each won three of them. The Mets outscored the Cardinals by seven runs in those six games, but took two of three at home, while losing two of three on the road. There were two extra innings games played this season, one was a 13-inning affair lost by Pedro Feliciano, but the longer one was that famous 20-inning game that was won by the Mets, 2-1, and we saw Francisco Rodriguez win the game, and Mike Pelfrey getting the save. Neither team could put together any type of win streak, as they traded off wins and losses every other game. Jonathon Niese and R.A. Dickey both got wins, as they’re looking for more of the same this year.

In 2011, it was déjà vu all over again; New York and St. Louis met six times, with the two teams splitting the season series three games each. Little did Terry Collins know, that would be the last time they would see Albert Pujols in a Cardinals uniform. The Mets won the first two games, played in the middle of July at Citi Field, with Jason Isringhausen registering a win and a save, the latter game being the longest played of the year, a ten-inning affair. Jake Westbrook won the finale in Flushing, which started a three-game win streak for the Cardinals, before Manny Acosta and Bobby Parnell helped salvage the finale in St. Louis, evening the season series.

If you enjoy watching the Amazins take on the Cards, make sure you get your fill this weekend, because the Mets won’t be traveling to St. Louis until they start a three-game set on September 3rd, and we’ll finally see who wants to win a season series this time.

What to watch for:

For the Cardinals, it’s obviously Carlos Beltran and his return to Citi Field. He’s in the midst of a great year in his first year as a Cardinal (.294 BA, 15 HR, 42 RBI), and with Lance Berkman hurt, he’s the main power threat in that St. Louis lineup. Although Beltran’s time with the Mets was up-and-down to say the least, he is a classy ballplayer and even nicer person, and it’s almost guaranteed that he will get a nice hand in his first at-bat from the Met faithful. After that… it will be business as usual as we root against the opponent.

On the New York side, watch how Ike Davis does against the Cardinals starting staff in these next four games. Terry Collins has been using the lefty-lefty excuse to not play Ike every day, but he’s got four right-handers starting against them in this series, so this will be the best time for Davis to bust out of his slump and have enough at-bats where he feels like he can get into some sort of rhythm. Plus, this bodes quite well for Collins’ predominantly left-handed lineup.

Should be an entertaining series…Let’s Go Mets!

Tags: Adam Wainwright Albert Pujols Cardinals @ Mets Carlos Beltran Chris Carpenter David Wright Jeremy Hefner Johan Santana Kyle Loshe Lance Lynn Matt Musico New York Mets Popular R.A. Dickey Rising Apple Series Preview St. Louis Cardinals