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Mets head west to San Diego for first four-game set of the season

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After an April filled with free Thursdays, the Mets will play the first two weeks of May with zero days off.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

As well as the Mets have played for the first 26 games of the 2016 season, it's not as though their quest has been too difficult thus far. Terry Collins's team has had a day off every week in addition to abundant matchups with opponents who are still building for the future. It's true, the Mets can only play the teams that are in front of them and have done a great job living up to lofty expectations during the first month of the campaign. However, the going gets tougher from here on out with fewer days of rest and more opponents with winning records.

One of those winning opponents is not the San Diego Padres, although the rad dads are coming off of back-to-back series wins over the Dodgers and Colorado. After the big risks taken by general manager A.J. Preller before the 2015 season failed to pay off, the team appears to be stuck in a purgatory between competing with older players and rebuilding with younger ones.

There are still talented stars like Wil Myers and James Shields on the San Diego roster, but with two of last year's biggest imports in Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel now playing elsewhere, it's dubious that the 2016 version of the squad has what it takes to make noise in the crowded National League West.

Baseball is all about hope, though, and Padres fans still have plenty of reasons for that. For starters, Myers and Shields, two studs who were once traded for each other, are both playing pretty well. Myers is batting second and hitting .304/.339/.491 with five home runs, but he's doing so while playing first base. That's a big difference from hitting that way in the outfield, where San Diego imagined him playing when they acquired him in a December 2014 mega-trade that also involved new Mets backup catcher Rene Rivera.

Shields, meanwhile, is only striking out six batters per nine innings so far, but he's doing so while maintaining a 3.23 ERA with just two runs allowed total in his last two starts. If the veteran right-hander's strikeout rate stays so low, it will be interesting to see if he can continue anchoring a Padres rotation that just lost southpaw Robbie Erlin to Tommy John surgery.

Helping to buoy the pitching staff has been Drew Pomeranz, the talented lefty who was acquired from Oakland in exchange for first baseman Yonder Alonso over the offseason. As a former fifth overall draft pick, Pomeranz has always had the stuff he's needed to shine, but harnessing his power was an issue when he started his career in Colorado. A move to Oakland helped straighten him out a bit, although the Athletics still used him as both a reliever and a starter over the past two seasons. Now as a 27-year-old with the Padres, Pomeranz is getting a shot at being a full-time starter again and making the most of it with 36 strikeouts in 29 innings. He's still walking too many batters, but with a 2.48 ERA and 2.83 FIP, the Padres have to be happy with the results so far.

Pomeranz will be the fourth left-handed starter that the Mets face this year, and Collins will probably respond with a strange lineup. With Michael Conforto playing so well, the skipper has more recently sat Curtis Granderson on the bench in favor of Juan Lagares with a lefty on the mound. Wilmer Flores is another bench bat who should see an opportunity on Friday thanks to his strong performance on Wednesday versus Atlanta, but will he replace Asdrubal Cabrera in the starting lineup or the suddenly hot Lucas Duda?

The two home runs that the quiet one hit on Wednesday boost his slugging percentage up to .528, but he's still only walking six percent of the time for a .299 on-base percentage. A lot of that has to do with his 1-for-14 performance (albeit with one home run) against southpaws this season, but Duda hit same-handed pitching well in 2015, so he has to be closer to being an everyday player than a platoon guy at this point.

The Padres will counter with their own left-handed slugger in Brett Wallace, who has managed to mash his way into the cleanup spot in the order. A former highly-touted prospect, Wallace is someone who never made it as a full-time player thanks to his inability to hit lefties, but he's still quite useful against the right-handed majority. With three extra-base hits in his last two games and four right-handed pitchers on tap for New York, Wallace has a chance to be a major factor this weekend.

Wallace could be asked to shoulder a greater load going forward due to how the rest of the offense is performing. Outside of Myers and the more aggressive Matt Kemp (eight home runs, three-percent walk rate), there's not much to get excited about regarding San Diego's lineup. Melvin Upton Jr. is walking a bunch so far, but he's still a big disappointment compared to what he did in his younger days with Tampa Bay. Catcher Derek Norris has seen his walk rate and OBP drop off a cliff since leaving Oakland, while Alexei Ramirez looks like someone who would be better served as infield depth on a team closer to contention.

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Padres Probable Starter
May 5, 2016 10:10 PM SNY Jacob deGrom Colin Rea
May 6, 2016 10:40 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard Drew Pomeranz
May 7, 2016 8:40 PM WPIX, MLBN Bartolo Colon James Shields
May 8, 2016 4:40 PM WPIX Matt Harvey Andrew Cashner

That shallow San Diego offense could set us up for a long weekend full of great Mets pitching, but nothing is ever as easy as it seems to be. After another disappointing outing by Matt Harvey, his agent Scott Boras is starting to make mysterious excuses for the right-hander's performance. Noah Syndergaard has given up seven runs total in his past two starts, but we're still expecting him to blow the competition away the next time he gets the chance. Jacob deGrom struggled with his control against San Francisco but otherwise appears fine, and Bartolo Colon is fresh off of his best game of the year.

No, it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows for the Mets' pitching rotation, but the staff still has a chance to give these Padres a very difficult time during the next four days.

Prediction: Mets win three of four.

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