By Declan Finn
The New York Mets got off to a refreshingly solid start on their West Coast road trip this weekend, taking two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers and working their way into a two-way tie for third in the wild card standings, 3.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs for the second and final spot. They are also 4.5 games behind the Washington Nationals, a team that appears on their way to taking full control of the NL East. That, of course, means the wild card might be the only avenue for the Mets to finally end their long playoff drought this season.
The Mets will get a big chance to knock down another challenger for the wild card to start this week, as they travel to San Francisco to take on the team they are tied with in that race. While the postseason is still a far-way thought, and the pressure of playing in a pennant race a couple months away, this three-game series against the Giants is a huge step for the Mets in their playoff chase.
Win this series, and the Mets return home for three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a ton of momentum before the All-Star break. It's not quite playoff baseball, but it's as big a series as it gets in early July.
Here is our inside look at the three-game series in San Francisco.
New York Mets (42-41, 4.5 GB in NL East)
at San Francisco Giants (42-41, 4 GB in NL West)
Monday, 10:15 p.m.
Jonathon Niese (3-8, 3.90) vs. Chris Heston (8-5, 3.78)
Tuesday, 10:15 p.m.
Bartolo Colon (9-6) vs. Matt Cain (0-1)
Wednesday, 3:45 p.m.
Jacob deGrom (8-6,) vs. Jake Peavy (0-3)
The Mets had one All-Star picked as a reserve, with Jacob deGrom getting the nod. He could be joined by Jeurys Familia, who is in the final vote, along with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, among others. On the field, the Mets went on the road this weekend and actually won a series, a big accomplishment for a team that has struggled greatly away from home. The Mets took two of three from the NL West-leading Dodgers with Steven Matz getting his second win of the season. The Mets had lost three straight at home to the Cubs before the big series win in LA. The Giants had a disaster of a road trip, losing six straight games, getting swept in three games by both the Marlins and Nationals. The Giants have gone from one game behind the Dodgers in the West to four over the past 10 games. Both teams are 3.5 games back in the wild card race.
Three Giants To Watch
1. The Mets and their fans can't be happy about seeing Heston on the mound against them Monday night. The last time Heston pitched against the Mets, he threw a no-hitter, striking out 11 and walking none. He hit three batters to keep him from a perfect game. Overall, Heston has won three of his last four decisions, not allowing more than three runs in any of his last five starts. Heston was drafted by the Giants in the 12th round of the 2009 amateur draft.
2. The best player on the Giants is still catcher Buster Posey, who's batting .304 with 14 doubles, 14 home runs and 57 RBI in 79 games this season. He's been red-hot over the past week as well, hitting .368 with five runs scored, a double, three home runs and four RBI in six games. Posey, who was the fifth overall pick by the Giants in the 2008 draft, is signed through 2021 on a 9-year, $164 million deal. He's been Rookie of the Year (2010), won a batting title in 2012, was comeback player of the year in 2012 in addition to being the league MVP that year.
3. Brandon Belt has gone from one of the best prospects in baseball to one of the better first baseman in the majors. He's had a great five-game stretch, hitting .353 with three doubles and four RBI. Belt is batting .270 on the season with 21 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 36 RBI in 76 games. Belt is playing on a one-year, $3.6 million deal, but can't be a free agent until 2018. He was a fifth round selection in the 2009 draft.
After a day off Thursday, the Mets return home for three games against the Diamondbacks before heading on the All-Star break.