A pair of teams in the midst of pivotal stretches will meet Thursday night, when the New York Mets host the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of a four-game series.
The Mets believe they are good enough to contend for a National League playoff spot, but they can't mount a postseason push without first getting to .500.
The Cardinals are among a trio of teams expected to battle for the National League Central crown, but they'll need to play better on the road in order to keep pace with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs.
Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom (3-6, 3.45 ERA) is scheduled to start for New York against St. Louis' Jack Flaherty (4-3, 4.08 ERA) in a battle of right-handers.
The Mets were off Wednesday after splitting a Subway Series doubleheader with the New York Yankees on Tuesday, when the visiting Mets fell 12-5 in the opener before winning the nightcap 10-4. The Cardinals missed a chance to complete a three-game sweep of the host Miami Marlins on Wednesday when they fell 9-0.
With the win Tuesday, the Mets moved within one game of .500 (33-34) for the seventh time since May 16, when they fell two games under .500 for the first time this season. New York has gotten to .500 just once in their previous six tries.
Still, manager Mickey Callaway has been impressed by the resiliency of the Mets, who followed up a 1-5 road trip from May 14-19 by going 6-1 on the subsequent homestand. New York then struggled through a 2-5 road trip but has won five of its past eight, including three of five against the Yankees and Colorado Rockies to start a stretch of 28 straight games against playoff contenders entering the All-Star break.
"It's kind of what we've done all year," Callaway said following Tuesday's second game. "Sometimes we'll get slapped in the face early in a game and then we come back at the end. This is who this team is."
The loss Wednesday dropped the Cardinals to 33-33 overall and left them 13-20 on the road.
The Cardinals have had a particularly rough time in their travels since May 1, a span in which they are 6-14 away from Busch Stadium. St. Louis, which is five games behind the first-place Brewers and 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs, has been swept twice by the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the last six weeks, results that could loom large come September.
"If you look at the Central as a whole, five very even teams," injured Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright said following St. Louis' 5-1 loss to the Cubs on Sunday. "There's going to be some bloodbaths all year long. But at the same time, we should be at the top of this division. And we're not. There's no excuses for it, we just have to play better."
DeGrom saw his winless streak reach five starts on Friday, when he took the loss despite allowing just two runs and striking out 10 as the Mets fell 5-1 to the Rockies. The 30-year-old is 0-2 with a 3.77 ERA since his most recent win May 11. He has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his past four starts.
Flaherty didn't factor into the decision for the fourth straight start last Saturday, when he gave up four runs over 3 2/3 innings in the Cardinals' 9-4 loss to the Cubs. He has a 3.48 ERA in the no-decision streak.
DeGrom is 4-2 with a 4.21 ERA in six career starts against the Cardinals. Flaherty has never faced the Mets.
--Field Level Media