By Delcan Finn
Here are the three biggest storylines facing the New York Mets during a three-game weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
1. With Dillon Gee's tremendous rehab start Thursday night for Class-A St. Lucie, in which he tossed 6.1 innings of scoreless ball, the decision that was seemingly a lock earlier this week isn't so much anymore. Before that second and final rehab start by Gee, it was thought to be a foregone conclusion Noah Syndergaard would be the one to take over the final spot in the rotation after putting together two solid starts in the majors himself. But now, Friday night's start by Syndergaard against the Pirates is a huge moment for the young pitcher and the Mets organization as a whole. If Syndergaard pitches well, he should be the guy to take Gee's spot in the rotation. Even though Gee is solid, he doesn't have the upside Syndergaard has, so it wouldn't make sense to stunt the youngster's growth to keep the elder statesman in the rotation. But if Syndergaard gets rocked badly, it might be a sign he's not quite ready for the big spotlight and can use more seasoning down in Triple-A. It doesn't hurt, of course, to have the backup plan of Gee, who's won 40 games in roughly four seasons in the big leagues. The Mets insist no decision has been made for what they will do once Gee returns from the disabled list, meaning they are putting a lot of weight into tonight's game. Can Thor conquer Pittsburgh? It certainly makes for a must-see TV.
2. When the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer in the offseason to a two-year deal, we thought it was a no-brainer and a move fans could get excited about. But Cuddyer has been off to a horrible start and was failing in the same big situations he used to excel in while with Colorado. He was down to .233 last week and had just four doubles, three homers and 13 RBI in 33 games. It was definitely time to start the thought process of what to do with his bat and place in the lineup, as he's been killing the Mets all season long. But before we were set to write his baseball obituary, Cuddyer has started to regain some life at the plate. Against Milwaukee and St. Louis, seven games in all, Cuddyer has at least one hit in six of them. He hit .346 (9-for-26), which was best among Mets regulars, with a double, three walks and four RBI. Take away an 0-for-4 in the first game of that stretch, and he's hitting .409. He raised his season average 20 points in the past week, holding a more respectable .253 on the year. It's obviously still lower than the Mets and Cuddyer hoped for coming into the season, but if he continues his recent hot streak, the Mets may get an infusion of offense they desperately need, especially since they are now chasing the Washington Nationals in the NL East, standing a half-game back.
3. Two of the big bats the Mets were relying on for power may have found their stroke as well, a tremendous sign the offense can finally catch up to the tremendous pitching staff. After hitting just three home runs in his first 41 games, Mets first baseman Lucas Duda went deep twice against the Cardinals Thursday afternoon, going 2-for-3 with three runs scored and four RBI. It's the kind of game the Mets and their fans have been waiting for from one of their young stars. Duda now has seven hits and six RBI over his last six games. Curtis Granderson had a rough finish to the Cardinals series, going 1-for-8, but his previous three games proved their is still plenty of pop left in his bat. He had six hits, including two doubles and two home runs, in those three games, collecting three RBI as well. Granderson hasn't been the most popular player with Mets fans, as he had a bad first season in Queens and hasn't exactly ripped the ball at the plate this year, but if his recent stretch is a sign of things to come, his popularity will only grow. The one thing he has been doing all season is getting on base, with a .351 on base percentage to show for it. The Mets are always going to live and die with their pitching staff, but if Duda and Granderson start to contribute big numbers, they will have a legitimate shot to win the NL East, no matter how good the Nationals appear to be.