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Can desperate Mets defeat slumping Giants in San Francisco?

The Mets are four games back in the Wild Card race, while the Giants have lost four in a row.

Cincinnati Reds v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As surprising as it might be, the Mets aren’t the only team in baseball riding a big old struggle bus right now. The Giants once looked to have an insurmountable lead in the National League West, but the advantage has completely vanished thanks to the club’s 9-21 record since the All-Star break. That’s a very poor stretch, but thanks to San Francisco’s dominant first half, it still has a three-game lead in the Wild Card race over the streaking Pirates.

It was those Buccos who just swept the Giants in three games to help narrow the gap. With its postseason hopes going from inevitable to flimsy in short time, Bruce Bochy’s squad is not about to take things easy on our Mets, who just followed up their series win over San Diego with two losses in Arizona.

Giants offense

One of the reasons the Giants find themselves slipping is that their offense has not performed so well in the second half. The team posted a .742 OPS in the first half, but that figure is down to .695 since the break. San Francisco’s top second-half hitter has been former Mets outfielder Angel Pagan. Even at 35 years old, the switch hitter continues to be a useful player for the Giants, and Bochy knows it. That’s why Pagan and his .873 second-half OPS is hitting second in the batting order.

If guys like Denard Span and Brandon Belt start to heat up around Pagan, this deep Giants lineup won’t take long to heat up. It would also help if Eduardo Nunez starts hitting like he did earlier this year as a member of the Twins. The Giants traded for the former Yankees infielder in late July, but so far he has not performed much better than Matt Duffy, the third baseman San Francisco dealt to Tampa Bay to make room for him.

Mets offense

Of course, the Mets’ offense is also due for some improvement, especially from the outfield ranks that seemed so deep at the start of the month. The good news is that Jay Bruce is starting to get on base a little bit, but that development has been countered by Curtis Granderson slumping so hard that Terry Collins moved him from second to sixth in the batting order on Wednesday.

The adjustment appeared to do something, as Granderson homered in the ninth inning that night, but then again, runs weren’t so hard to come by against the Diamondbacks. It will be interesting to see if the veteran outfielder can continue busting his slump at AT&T Park, which is notoriously tough on left-handed power hitters.

What about right-handed contact hitters, though? That’s the type of guy T.J. Rivera is, and the recent call-up got his feet wet in the desert with five hits in his last two games. With Neil Walker expected to go on paternity leave any day now, Rivera is going to continue to see starts and opportunities to prove himself as a big leaguer.

The biggest boost the Mets get this weekend, however, is most likely to come from Yoenis Cespedes, who is expected to return to the lineup on Friday. He’s been out with a quad injury since August 3, and since then the Mets have gone 5-8. With the big bat back in the lineup, Terry Collins could place Curtis Granderson on the bench unless he’s comfortable with the Chicago native playing center field in place of Alejandro De Aza.

Probable pitchers

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Giants Probable Starter
August 18, 2016 10:15 PM SNY Jacob deGrom Madison Bumgarner
August 19, 2016 10:15 PM SNY Steven Matz Johnny Cueto
August 20, 2016 4:05 PM SNY, FS1 Bartolo Colon Matt Moore
August 21, 2016 8:05 PM ESPN Noah Syndergaard Jeff Samardzija
Madison Bumgarner

Important stats: 170.2 IP, 189 K, 43 BB, 18 HR, 2.11 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 1.00 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (87 mph), curveball (74 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph)

Now in his seventh season with the Giants, this left-handed ace is just humming along while racking up splendid performances. Bumgarner has been especially consistent since April, when he was a little bit shaky with a 3.64 ERA over five starts. Since then, the highest monthly ERA he’s posted has been 2.34 in June. During his last outing, Bumgarner shut down a usually potent Baltimore offense with eight strikeouts and three walks in seven scoreless frames. Those figures are very similar to the ones he laid on the Mets back on May 1: seven strikeouts and three walks in six scoreless innings.

Mets opponent: It will be ace against ace on Thursday night as Jacob deGrom takes the hill for the Mets opposite Bumgarner. Outside of a hiccup against Miami in late July (so unclutch), deGrom has absolutely obliterated opposing lineups since the All-Star break. Over the six-start stretch that began on July 17, he’s got a 1.56 ERA with 38 strikeouts and seven walks in 40.1 innings. Back on April 30, deGrom led to the Mets to a win over San Francisco with three runs allowed (none earned), four walks, and five strikeouts in six frames.

Johnny Cueto

Important stats: 166.2 IP, 150 K, 33 BB, 12 HR, 2.97 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 1.09 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (92 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (84 mph), changeup (83 mph), cutter (88 mph)

During the first half of the season, baseball analysts were calling Cueto one of the top free agent signings of 2016 as he accumulated a 2.47 ERA in 131.1 innings and started the All-Star game for the senior circuit. Lately, though, things haven’t been going as smoothly for the former Cincinnati ace, as he’s allowed 12 runs over three starts this month. Giants fans shouldn’t worry too much, as Cueto is still showcasing his superior command with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 19.1 August innings.

Mets opponent: It’s a shame that Steven Matz fell a bit short of throwing the second no-hitter in Mets history on Sunday afternoon, but on the bright side, we haven’t heard too much lately about how the bone spur in his left arm is affecting his performance. Thus continues the roller-coaster campaign for Matz, who goes back and forth between being one of the finest young hurlers in the game and someone who has a disabled list stint in the near future. Back in April, the southpaw was in the midst of his most dominant stretch of the season when he held the Giants scoreless through six innings.

Matt Moore

Important stats: 148.0 IP, 128 K, 54 BB, 21 HR, 4.14 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.29 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), knuckle curve (81 mph), changeup (84 mph), two-seam fastball (93 mph)

The Giants rounded out their starting five by dealing for Moore at the trade deadline in exchange for Duffy and a pair of minor leaguers. So far, the 27-year-old lefty has showcased the lack of control that made him such an enigma in Tampa Bay. In three starts since joining San Francisco he has 14 walks in 18 innings, although he did limit his opponents to two runs in each of the first two outings. In the most recent one, Pittsburgh touched him up for five runs in six innings. Walks have always been an issue for Moore, but they’re becoming a little more of one now that he’s striking out fewer than eight batters per nine innings.

Mets opponent: Bartolo Colon should be much better suited to AT&T Park than he was for Chase Field. On Monday night in Phoenix, the sexy veteran was blasted by Arizona for nine hits and five runs in just four innings. He’s had some high-strikeout performances this year, but Colon is still going to be at his best when the contact he allows has a good chance of being caught. On that note, it’s surprising that his ERA is so low while working in front of this Mets outfield all year. The man never ceases to amaze.

Jeff Samardzija

Important stats: 152.2 IP, 112 K, 40 BB, 21 HR, 4.24 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 1.22 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), cutter (92 mph), slider (85 mph), two-seam fastball (94 mph)

Last year with the White Sox, Samardzija posted a 4.96 ERA and a strikeout rate that was well below what he was working with during his Cubs days. That didn’t stop the Giants from offering him a five-year contract worth $90 million this past offseason. So far, results haven’t been great, as the 31-year-old veteran is allowing fewer runs, but he hasn’t seen his strikeout rate rebound. That doesn’t bode well for his value over the length of his deal, but I guess it doesn’t matter if Samardzija pitches well in October.

Mets opponent: Mets fans saw Noah Syndergaard work through another mediocre outing on Tuesday. He threw 106 pitches, allowed four runs, and failed to finish the sixth inning, but the big story was the two-run home run he hit to give New York the lead in the fifth inning. With four home runs now in 86 career major league at-bats, Syndergaard is mashing at an impressive pace. Maybe if this pitching thing doesn’t work out, he can learn to play first base.

Prediction: banana split.

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