September 9, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach Nick Leyva (16) greets center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) after McCutchen hit a solo homerun against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates @ New York Mets

The Mets are wrapping out their home games this season at Citi Field with a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In their last 10 games, New York has gone 4-6, thanks to Ruben Tejada helping secure a three-game sweep against Jose Reyes and the Miami Marlins. This series is important to the Mets; not just to finish 2012 strong, but R.A. Dickey is trying to win his 20th game in Thursday afternoon’s finale, while David Wright is now four hits away from the franchise’s hit record.

How the opposition is doing:

Up until about a month ago, Clint Hurdle’s Pirates were contending for the NL Wild Card, but like 2011, they have fallen off the map and out of contention. They currently stand at 75-77 on the season, and despite spanking the Astros 8-1 yesterday afternoon, they have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games. The Cincinnati Reds have already clinched the NL Central, while they’re also 6.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot.

Now that Melky Cabrera has deemed himself ineligible for the NL Batting Crown, Andrew McCutchen is now the front-runner for the award, sporting his .336 batting average. He’s clearly the team MVP for Pittsburgh, as he not only leads the team in batting average, but also is on top in on-base percentage (.406), slugging percentage (.564), runs (104), home runs (30), RBI (93), and stolen bases (19). McCutchen is the only true .300 hitter on the team, but in 44 games since Gabby Sanchez was acquired, he’s shown that he could be a solution for the Bucs at first base with his .283/.366/.465 line. Pedro Alvarez (29 HR, 81 RBI) and Garrett Jones (24 HR, 78 RBI) are the other two main power sources.

On the mound, off-season acquisition A.J. Burnett leads the staff with 16 wins, while James McDonald (12 wins) and Kevin Correia (11 wins) are the other two hurlers with double-digit win totals. Joel Hanrahan (4-1, 2.54 ERA, 36 saves) has once again solidified the back end of the bullpen, but it’s Burnett’s 3.53 ERA, 188.2 innings pitched, and 172 strikeouts that lead the starting staff.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Kyle McPherson (0-1, 2.25 ERA) vs. Jenrry Mejia (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

After making 7 relief appearances since he made his MLB debut on August 20th, McPherson had an encouraging debut as a starter, stretching his arm out a bit by throwing 4.1 innings against the Brewers, allowing 2 runs and scattering 7 hits and walking 1 despite getting the loss. In 12 starts through Double-A and Triple-A this season, the rookie right-hander went 3-6 with a 3.22 ERA while striking out 63 hitters in 67 innings pitched. After only going 3 innings in his first MLB start in two years, Mejia threw an inning of scoreless relief against the Phillies, but it wasn’t easy as he allowed three hits in that appearance.

Wandy Rodriguez (11-13, 3.76 ERA) vs. Collin McHugh (0-2, 3.86 ERA)

Rodriguez will be looking to get another win for the Pirates, as he’s accounted for half of their wins through the last month. He’ll have to work against the left-handed dominated Mets lineup, and hopefully lower his 4.26 ERA against southpaw hitters. The key will be to stay ahead in the count; he holds a 2.44 ERA when he throws strike one, while sporting a 5.47 ERA when he doesn’t. McHugh will be getting his first start since September 10th, hoping to regain some of the magic he had in his 7-inning, 9-strikeout debut against the Rockies. Since that first start, he’s thrown to the tune of a 6.94 ERA, and has been pitching out of the bullpen the last two times he’s entered ballgames.

Jeff Locke (0-2, 5.47 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hefner (2-7, 5.79 ERA)

Locke is young left-hander with a lot of talent, but hasn’t been able to find his groove to get that coveted first win in the Big Leagues. The biggest problem is that he’s surrendered 6 homers in 24.2 innings this season, but has shown his potential, striking out 23 hitters during that time. In his short time up with the Pirates, he’s compiled a 9.64 ERA against left-handed hitters, but a much more respectable 4.50 ERA against right-handers. After Hefner’s horrid start against the Phillies (o.o IP, 7 earned runs), he was unsure if he would get another chance to show he belongs at the Big League level. Well, Collins is giving him another shot against Pittsburgh. There’s a stark difference between his home and road splits, as he owns a 7.32 ERA and 1.70 WHIP at Citi Field, and a 4.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP away from Flushing.

Kevin Correia (11-10, 4.11 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (19-6, 2.66 ERA)

It’s been a solid month of September for Correia in his 4 starts, as he’s amassed a 2.52 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He’s trying to get to the 12-win plateau for the third time in his career, but will have to do so on the road (5-7, 4.34 ERA) where he’s struggled more than he has at home this season (6-3, 3.84 ERA). Meanwhile, R.A. Dickey tries to become the Mets’ first 20-game winner since Frank Viola did so back in 1990. He beat the Marlins in his last start, the fifth time he’s done so this season, and was three outs away from earning his 6th complete game in 2012. Despite having a higher ERA and WHIP during day games than during night games, Dickey has had an awful lot of luck without the lights on, sporting a 12-1 record in that situation.

The Mets currently have the edge on Pittsburgh, as they took two of three from them earlier this season at PNC Park, holding a 10-8 advantage in the runs scored department. Historically, the Mets are 180-173 against the Pirates at home. Let’s hope the Amazins can find some late season magic to end the season in front of their fans on a high note…let’s go Mets!

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Tags: Andrew McCutchen David Wright Mets Series Preview New York Mets R.A. Dickey

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