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Series Preview: New York Mets vs. San Diego Padres

After treading water for the entire month of May, the Mets head west for the start of June.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

While the Mets sat idly and twiddled their thumbs all winter, the Padres were out there making moves and transforming their franchise into something more palatable for the national viewer. Did the team really improve, though? That's what fans have to be asking with San Diego standing at 25-27 after two months of play.

They're still on a better pace than last year's club and probably due for an improvement in run prevention, but when you make a move to acquire a relief pitcher (albeit a really good one in Craig Kimbrel) in exchange for prospects and the acceptance of monster albatross Melvin Upton Jr., contention for the postseason is expected. On those grounds, the Padres have disappointed so far, and if they don't make it big this year, what's going to happen next year with the jewels of the farm system playing elsewhere?

How are the new guys doing?

The Padres were a big story this offseason because of the way they traded for sexy stars and remade their outfield. Two of the guys they dealt for are playing really well. The vast expanse of PetCo Park does not seem to have sapped Justin Upton's power, as the former Atlanta and Arizona slugger is hitting .307/.368/.545 with 12 home runs already. Meanwhile, the defense of Wil Myers had been as poor as expected, but he's made up for it so far by cutting his strikeout rate down to 18 percent (it was 25 percent in 2014) while boosting his isolated power up to .201.

And then there's Matt Kemp. After an injury-shortened 2013 campaign, the former National League MVP bounced back in 2014 with a 140 wRC+. However, that season was marred by the realization that Kemp is no longer a solid defensive outfielder. Perhaps that's why the Dodgers didn't mind trading him down the road to San Diego. No matter the reason, Los Angeles baseball operations head Andrew Friedman looks quite clever with Kemp batting .249/.284/.332 while leading the Padres in plate appearances. Also, his BABIP is .316 and he's still playing bad defense. Don't worry, though, there's only four years and $86 million left on his deal!

Even with the early returns on Kemp turning sour, San Diego is fourth in the NL in runs scored per game (4.33), and it's not just because of the new guys. Old regime holdovers Yonder Alonso and Will Venable are both playing well in 2015, with Alonso showing remarkable plate discipline (strikeout and walk rates are both around 13 percent). New catcher Derek Norris is second on the team behind Upton in fWAR thanks to solid defense behind the plate as well as a .451 slugging percentage.

Ruben Tejada is the new third baseman?

At the start of the season, the going assumption was that either the Mets would be forced to play Tejada in large doses or Wilmer Flores would play well enough to be the shortstop, rendering Tejada obsolete. With the extended absence of David Wright, however, we may be able to have both things. In 65 plate appearances this season, Tejada is walking at the same 12-percent clip that he owned last year, but his isolated power is up from .073 to .140. We don't know if that's going to continue, but Tejada is still only 25 years old and with five hits and four RBI in his last three games, why not give the oft-maligned infielder a shot at the hot corner?

Meanwhile, the unending debate about Wilmer Flores's defense this winter accomplished one thing: it made us forget that at one time this kid was a big-time prospect... because of his bat. The overall Flores package is still lousy thanks to a three-percent walk rate and a .273 OBP, but the power he's flashing as a 23-year-old (eight home runs, .177 ISO) is very promising. The kid could end up hitting over 20 home runs while holding down a strikeout rate of just 13 percent. Not bad.

So now San Diego has lousy pitching?

Not really. The team ERA of 4.06 is a little worse than the league average, but there are some players giving up an absurd amount of home runs when you consider San Diego's home park. Kimbrel's 4.74 ERA is mostly due to a 20-percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate, and the other star pitching import is having similar issues. That would be James Shields, who has pumped his strikeout rate up to a ridiculous 30 percent but is giving up two home runs per nine innings. Maybe the swings-and-misses will go back down to Earth since he punched out just seven per nine in Kansas City last year, but that home run rate is due for an even bigger drop.

As for the other guys who are pitching against the Mets this week, Andrew Cashner looks like he is finally entering his prime with his highest strikeout rate (8.6 per nine) since he was working out of the bullpen in 2012. The 28-year-old has managed to keep the walks down as well for a well-deserved 3.00 ERA. Ian Kennedy isn't having as good of a season, but that's kind of expected when his home-run-to-fly-ball rate is nearly three times as high as when he worked in Arizona. I'm guessing he's eager to lower his 7.15 ERA against a Mets team that doesn't hit it out of the park too often.

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Padres Probable Starter
June 1, 2015 10:10 PM SNY Jacob deGrom Andrew Cashner
June 2, 2015 10:10 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard Ian Kennedy
June 3, 2015 9:10 PM SNY Dillon Gee James Shields

The Mets will counter with Jacob deGrom — who has looked beyond solid in his last three starts after a rough stretch at the end of April — as well as Noah Syndergaard and his scary-good two-seam fastball before Dillon Gee returns to the rotation on Wednesday. With Shields toeing the rubber that day for San Diego, there will be a lot of pressure on Gee to pitch well and prove that the six-man rotation is a good idea. If he fails, there will be a lot of moaning about him taking future starts away from Matt Harvey, deGrom and the like.

Prediction: Mets lose two of three.

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