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Will Mets be ambushed by lurking Brewers?

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Milwaukee's baseball team is more competitive than you might have thought.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, Mets fans! We just narrowly avoided another 24 hours of gloom-and-doom sports talk thanks to New York's come-from-behind, series-salvaging victory in Pittsburgh last night. It turns out the Mets are capable of getting clutch hits and driving in runs even when Noah Syndergaard gives up an early lead. How about that?

Next up is a trip to the land of cheese and sausages for a four-game series with the Brewers at Miller Park. Back in May, this Milwaukee team looked like a doormat and played like one too, falling to New York three straight times in Queens in a series the Mets desperately needed to have after a couple of demoralizing losses to Washington. Since the sweep, Craig Counsell's squad has gone 10-5 to hang around the National League pennant race. Thanks to a recent two-game sweep of Oakland, the Brewers are just four games behind Pittsburgh for the second Wild Card spot.

Despite strong performances by Zach Davies and Chase Anderson in that Oakland series, Milwaukee's rotation is still one that appears unfit for a postseason run. Instead, the team will have to continue to rely on its deeper-than-expected lineup to sneak up on the competition.

That offense is still being anchored by a vintage season from Ryan Braun and one of the best campaigns we've seen from Jonathan Lucroy, but perhaps the biggest reason for the Brewers being this close to .500 has been shortstop Jonathan Villar. Acquired from Houston last November in exchange for minor league pitcher Cy Sneed, Villar is playing even better than when we last saw him thanks to home runs in three straight games in Philadelphia.

His 24-percent strikeout rate is still higher than you'd like from a leadoff man, but just like Curtis Granderson has shown us, you can get away with that when you maintain a very high walk rate. Villar's is a robust 14 percent, and while he doesn't hit for the kind of power that Granderson does, he makes up for it with a very high BABIP. The .407 Villar has right now is going to be tough to maintain, but his speed should allow it to remain well above .300 for the season. That same speed has helped Villar steal 22 bases this season, the best mark in the majors.

Considering the state of the Milwaukee franchise, the best part about Villar is that he doesn't become a free agent until 2021. That makes him a young player to build around rather than a possible trade chip like some of Milwaukee's other producers. Lucroy is going to be the guy most talked about because he's one of the only catchers who makes an impact with his bat nowadays and he's got just one option year left on his contract. Aaron Hill is set to be a free agent after this season and has played well enough at third base to warrant some interest from teams like the Mets who have a hole in the corner infield.

Speaking of corner infield, first baseman Chris Carter has two more years of arbitration left and 16 home runs this year (good for third in the senior circuit), but the on-base percentage issue that made him such a liability in Houston is starting to rear its head again. If a contender is willing to pay a premium for right-handed power this summer, the Brewers should be listening.

But for now, that trade talk is going on the shelf as Milwaukee looks to cement itself as a contender in the NL Central. A month from now, maybe Villar comes back down to earth and the lineup fails to score enough to cover for a pitching staff that is being held together by paperclips and chewing gum. For now, however, the Brewers aren't yet in sell mode.

Pitching probables

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Brewers Probable Starter
June 9, 2016 8:10 PM SNY Bartolo Colon Jimmy Nelson
June 10, 2016 8:10 PM SNY Matt Harvey Junior Guerra
June 11, 2016 4:10 PM WPIX Logan Verrett Wily Peralta
June 12, 2016 2:10 PM WPIX Steven Matz Zach Davies

Jimmy Nelson

Important stats: 76.0 IP, 60 K, 31 BB, 11 HR, 3.43 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 1.24 WHIP

Favorite pitches: sinker (93 mph), four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (87 mph), knuckle curve (82 mph)

Nelson was on a bit of a roll before he gave up six runs in just four innings during his latest outing at Philadelphia. The two home runs he gave up in that game were one more than he had given up in his previous four starts combined. During that stretch, the 27-year-old right-hander worked past the seventh innings three times and allowed a total of four runs. Nelson's strikeout rate might not blow you away, and walks can be a problem for him, but he can be an above-average starter if he gets back to keeping the ball in the yard.

Mets opponent: Bartolo Colon has seen his strikeout rate drop in recent weeks, but the man known as Big Sexy keeps on chugging along with fewer than three runs allowed in each of his last three starts. The Mets aren't known as a great defensive team, but with the way Colon is able to keep runs off the board despite allowing a ton of contact, you know New York's top gloves have to be doing something right.

Junior Guerra

Important stats: 42.1 IP, 39 K, 14 BB, 4 HR, 3.61 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.18 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), splitter (85 mph), curveball (81 mph)

It has been a long, strange trip to the big leagues for Guerra, who was originally signed by Atlanta as a teenager out of Venezuela in 2001. After spending some time in the Mets organization from 2007 to 2009, he disappeared from affiliated baseball until resurfacing with the White Sox in 2015. Only a year later, he's in the majors as an important part of the Milwaukee rotation. Guerra may only be in the majors because Taylor Jungmann struggled so mightily at the outset of the season, but he's pitched like more than just a replacement-level guy. The 11-strikeout quality start he made against the Cubs last month is proof enough that this 31-year-old journeyman still has some upside left.

Mets opponent: I'm not sure that two straight strong starts are enough to determine whether Matt Harvey is his dominant self again, especially when those two starts contain just nine strikeouts in 14 innings. However, it's a really good sign that Harvey finally found a way to make it past the sixth inning, strikeouts or no strikeouts. Facing a surprisingly tough Milwaukee lineup should another good test for Harvey as he works to wrestle that "Big Sexy" title from Colon's grasp.

Wily Peralta

Important stats: 61.0 IP, 38 K, 26 BB, 10 HR, 6.79 ERA, 5.43 FIP, 1.93 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (94 mph), slider (85 mph), four-seam fastball (94 mph)

Not much has changed since the Mets last saw Peralta in their 3-2 victory over the Brewers on May 20. The 27-year-old right-hander still walks too many batters for a pitcher who doesn't strike anyone out. He still allows a lot of home runs for a ground-ball pitcher, and he's still one of the worst starters in the big leagues. I suppose Peralta still has some upside thanks to his age and ability to keep the ball down, but with Milwaukee on the fringe of the postseason hunt, the front office ought to find someone better.

Mets opponent: Steven Matz had his scheduled Monday start pushed back to Tuesday due to rain, and that means that Logan Verrett gets his fourth spot start of the season to make sure the young lefty gets proper rest. Verrett's first two starts of the season went really well, as he pitched six innings without allowing a run in each, but in his third he was roughed up in Colorado. The 25-year-old out of Baylor has only made two relief appearances this month, so we don't have a great idea of what to expect on Saturday. Hopefully the Mets' bats stay awake after Wednesday's strong performance and are available to provide run support if necessary.

Zach Davies

Important stats: 56.2 IP, 43 K, 18 BB, 8 HR, 4.29 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 1.24 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (89 mph), changeup (78 mph), curveball (72 mph)

After failing to pitch into the seventh inning or throw more than 100 pitches in each of his first eight starts this year, Davies did both of those things in his two latest appearances versus St. Louis and Oakland. He's the up-and-coming right-hander that Milwaukee needs to legitimize its pitching staff right now. The St. Louis game was particularly impressive as Davies struck out a career-high nine batters with zero walks in eight scoreless frames. Against Oakland, Davies allowed no hits through the first six innings before his bid for history was broken up by a Billy Butler home run. There's no doubt that the Brewers fans are going to be hyped coming into this game with the Mets as they search for a starting pitcher to rely on.

Mets opponent: Whatever Milwaukee is hoping for from Davies, Steven Matz has given to the Mets this year with a rookie campaign that has the chance to top the one put forth by Jacob deGrom two seasons ago. Although Matz's last two outings have been short and not-so-sweet, his ability to keep the Mets in the game despite not having his best stuff is a credit to the southpaw's toughness. Enough of that, though. Mets fans want to see Matz round back into form with another long, dominant outing. In his last start against the Brewers, he cruised through seven innings after allowing a two-run home run to Chris Carter in the first.

Bullpens

Milwaukee's relief corps handled the Mets pretty well during the series at Citi Field in late May. However, that didn't stop New York from breaking through against Michael Blazek for a walk-off win on May 21. The Brewers should be better equipped this time around thanks to the return of lefty Will Smith from a sprained knee caused by a bizarre spring training accident. Smith has been a steady force in the Milwaukee bullpen since the club traded for him more than two years ago, and he was supposed to be in the mix for save chances this year before Jeremy Jeffress took over the role and did a good job with it. The most dominant reliever at Counsell's disposal, however, appears to be Tyler Thornberg. The right-hander has 36 strikeouts in 25.1 innings and hasn't given up a run since May 12.

The Mets also showed this week that a team's best relief pitchers are not always in the closer role. Jeurys Familia made fans extremely nervous with three walks in the ninth inning on Wednesday night before finally closing the book on New York's victory. Meanwhile, Addison Reed continued to prove himself as the most reliable man in the bullpen with two more scoreless frames. Jerry Blevins could begin to see some more important innings as he continues to shine while Hansel Robles and Antonio Bastardo struggle.

Prediction: Mets win three of four.

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