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Series Preview: New York Mets vs. San Francisco Giants

The Mets emerged victorious in Los Angeles, but their west coast princess is in another castle.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

When we last saw the Giants around a month ago, they were in a better place. Maybe not literally, since most objective ballpark critics would rank San Francisco's AT&T Park above Citi Field, but certainly figuratively. Back then, San Francisco was six games above .500 and nipping on Los Angeles's heels in the National League West. After a series win over the Mets that included a no-hitter by Chris Heston, the Giants maintained that position through the end of June.

Since the last day of June, however, the team has been swept by both the Marlins and Nationals in a disastrous east coast trip. The Giants now stand equal to the Mets at 42-41 and four wins behind their respective division leader. After scoring just five total runs over the weekend in Washington, the San Francisco lineup is probably looking forward to face the same part of the Mets rotation that was swept by Chicago at home last week.

The biggest advantage for the Giants, though, is likely their home park. Even after losing to the Cubs at Citi Field and winning two of three in Los Angeles, New York still has one of the most drastic home/road splits in the majors.

Trouble in the leadoff spot

Even since Norichika Aoki and his .383 on-base percentage went down with a leg injury in late June, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been batting a lot of Angel Pagan out of the leadoff spot, and that has certainly contributed to a decrease in offense. The 34-year-old is batting just .268/.304/.322 this season, which is a shame, because we know how fun it is when a player whom Sandy Alderson discarded is hitting the ball hard. Although he was a very useful player for the Giants in the past, Pagan isn't hitting for the same kind of power or playing the same type of defense as he did back then.

One player who should see a lot more time at the top of the order is Gregor Blanco, an outfielder who has shown that he still has the skills necessary to help the offense on a full-time basis. Underrated throughout his career thanks to his lack of power that we like to see from out corner outfielders, Blanco has always sported great walk rates and defense.

This year, he's turning in one of his best performances by hitting .311/.378/.443 for a 131 wRC+. And yet, it seems Bochy is still hesitant to play the left-handed Blanco consistently against left-handed pitching. That's despite the fact that for his career, Blanco hits lefties better than righties. Considering how poor Pagan has been this year, Blanco should be batting leadoff every day instead of being bounced around the order like a platoon guy. If only Aoki and Hunter Pence were healthy, this is a guy who the Mets could seriously consider trading for.

Tales from Panic City

It's been a week since Alderson made a seemingly innocent quip about New York's beat writers being "citizens of Panic City," but the quote has taken on a life of its own. I'm not sure that some of the writers enjoyed being called that when they're supposed to be the even-keeled, objective harbingers of truth that keep the fan base from getting too distracted by the Mets' public relations department.

And yet, both before and since the Panic City moment, the writers have acted a lot like the crazed fans that they are trying to serve. One of the citizens went on a wild rant and accused Alderson and the front office of "malpractice." Another looked for sympathy on Twitter when a player didn't feel like talking to him. It's not hard to see why Alderson said what he said (although perhaps he should have kept it to himself given how some of the press feel about him already). We can only read so many stories about how the Mets have to make a trade right now or the world is going to end. Or how the Mets have got to spend money because they play in a big market.

Unfortunately, the Mets, whether it's fair or not, have been operating like a small-market team for the past few years, and it doesn't look like that's going to change soon. No one is bursting through that door to save the team from its financial woes. That means that the current situation is the new normal, and that comes with a different approach. No longer can this team trade away prospects willy-nilly in exchange for expiring contracts. One or two busts from those types of deals could create a huge hole in the future of the franchise that it can't spend its way out of. Perhaps that's why Alderson has been so cautious with his team's prospects. Or maybe it's because the second Wild Card spot creates an extreme seller's market in which only one or two teams want to trade away veteran players.

Either way, the general manager is choosing patience over panic for the time being. Unfortunately, patience doesn't sell papers.

Heston and the return of the vets

It's not something that Mets fans know much about, but getting players off of the disabled list is fun, and it's also something that can help the Giants climb upwards in the race for the postseason. Matt Cain and Jake Peavy are no longer superstar players, but both are healthy and ready to solidify San Francisco's pitching staff.

From 2006 through 2012, Cain had success as a fly ball pitcher who didn't give up a lot of hits or home runs. His fastball's ability to induce pop flies kept both his BABIP and home run rate down, which allowed the right-hander to consistently outperform his FIP and xFIP. During the last two seasons, though, Cain is striking out fewer batters and allowing more ground balls as well as more home runs per fly ball. He's only 30 years old, but Cain is dealing with these issues while also struggling to stay healthy for the first time in his big league career. After missing the first three months of the season with a strained flexor tendon, he came out and allowed five runs in five innings to a Miami team that was without Giancarlo Stanton on July 2. Giants fan will be eager to see if his home debut is any better.

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Giants Probable Starter
July 6, 2015 10:15 PM SNY Jon Niese Chris Heston
July 7, 2015 10:15 PM SNY Bartolo Colon Matt Cain
July 8, 2015 3:45 PM SNY, MLBN Jacob deGrom Jake Peavy

Another veteran right-hander whose skills appear to be declining, Peavy pitched very effectively for the Giants last year after being traded away by Boston. He liked the Bay Area so much that he signed a two-year deal over the winter to stay in the orange and black through 2016. However, after making two starts in April, Peavy was sidelined until last Friday with a back injury. His return start went better than Cain's, as he allowed two runs in six-and-one-thirds innings in Washington. If Peavy can prove that last year's second half was no fluke, he'll be a great asset for the Giants down the stretch.

Originally called up due to the Cain and Peavy injuries, Heston has proven to be a vital member of San Francisco's rotation, and not just when he's throwing a no-hitter against the Mets. The 11 strikeouts and zero walks from that game were a bit of an anomaly, but the 27-year-old has done a good job lately of getting ground balls and working deep into games. He'll be a nice asset at the back of the rotation for San Francisco even if he doesn't have another outing like the one he threw in Queens.

Even though the combination of Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, and Jacob deGrom didn't yield any wins the last time they teamed up in a series, the first two guys pitched surprisingly well against the Cubs. Niese allowed just one run in seven innings and has now gone at least six frames in his last five starts, while Colon showed the type of brilliance that made him so fascinating early in his Mets career. deGrom's outing was a rare clunker, but he's been so brilliant since mid-May that we're willing to give him a pass. The right-hander's consistency has made him New York's most indispensable starter this year.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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