The New York Mets ' latest slump - which includes five defeats to baseball's worst team - isn't being taken lightly, especially with the best team in the majors coming to town.
After demoting three players, the Mets look to avoid a seventh loss in eight games in Tuesday night's series opener with the St. Louis Cardinals.
New York (23-35) appeared to be getting on track at the end of May, running off a season-best five-game winning steak that included a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees .
The Mets have struggled since, dropping each meeting with Miami. The losses including a 2-1, 20-inning defeat Saturday and an 8-4 setback in 10 innings the following day.
Following Sunday's defeat, the club sent first baseman Ike Davis , who hit 32 homers last year but is batting .161 in 2013, along with outfielder Mike Baxter and reliever Rob Carson to Triple-A Las Vegas."I do believe there's an honor to play here, there's a privilege to play here. It's not just, put the uniform on and be here," manager Terry Collins said. "This is when you reach down inside and you find out who belongs here and who doesn't, for me. There's some learning things that had to take place."
New York has lost 10 of 13 at home, which doesn't seem to bode well as the Cardinals (41-22) own a baseball-best 22-10 road mark and have outscored opponents 34-18 in winning three of four.
The Mets have won six of their last eight home meetings with St. Louis, though."These people pay to see us win," Collins said. "Not just coming here to take a look at (Matt) Harvey."
The Mets hope to end their slump before Harvey takes the mound Thursday in the series finale.
St. Louis, meanwhile, is coming off an 11-4, 10-inning victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, capped by Matt Holliday 's grand slam in the extra frame. The Cardinals overcame a pair of two-run deficits."We haven't had to come back much this year," said infielder Daniel Descalso , who was in the lineup to give Pete Kozma some rest. "Most of these guys have been around when we've had to come back."
St. Louis has been successful both at the plate and on the mound, leading the NL with a .276 average while ranking second with a 3.19 ERA. Rookie Michael Wacha will look to help improve the latter number Tuesday while rebounding from a poor outing.
The Cardinals' 2012 first-round draft pick, Wacha (0-0, 5.40 ERA) followed a stellar major league debut May 30 - one run and two hits in seven innings of St. Louis' 4-2 loss in seven innings - by giving up six runs and 10 hits in just 4 2-3 innings of the Cardinals' 7-6, 14-inning loss to Arizona last Tuesday."Hopefully, I learned from this and it won't happen again," Wacha said.
The Mets are last in the majors batting .226, and the offense will look to provide some support for Jeremy Hefner has he faces a Cardinals lineup hitting .336 over its last seven contests.
Hefner (1-5, 4.36) has been solid over his last three outings, going 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA. He allowed one run while striking out seven in seven innings before the bullpen allowed two runs in the ninth of a 3-2 loss at Washington last Tuesday.
The right-hander wasn't as sharp in his only start versus the Cardinals, giving up three runs and walking four in six innings of a 6-3 loss May 13.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|May 26, 2013||John Gast||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tightness|
|May 26, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|May 25, 2013||John Gast||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shoulder tightness|
|May 21, 2013||Fernando Salas||15-Day DL||Right shoulder irritation|
|May 18, 2013||Jaime Garcia||60-Day DL||Left shoulder strain|
|May 09, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|New York Mets|
|June 08, 2013||Matt Harvey||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|May 30, 2013||Jonathon Niese||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder tendinitis|
|May 30, 2013||Ruben Tejada||15-Day DL||Right quad strain|
|May 29, 2013||Ruben Tejada||Day-to-Day||Left game - quad injury|
|May 14, 2013||Scott Atchison||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|May 09, 2013||Jeurys Familia||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Wacha had combed his hair and dressed in a button-down shirt, all ready at his locker not long after a beer shower to celebrate his first major league win.
Just as he did on the mound, the St. Louis rookie got cleaned up quick.
Wacha recovered from a wild start and Allen Craig hit a three-run homer for the Cardinals in a 9-2 victory over the staggering New York Mets on Tuesday night.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Wacha said. "Hopefully, there's more to come."
Matt Holliday had three hits and the NL Central leaders took full advantage of a crucial error by new Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy , who was shifted over from second after slumping Ike Davis got demoted to the minors Sunday.
David Freese extended his career-best hitting streak to 20 games, longest in the majors this season, and Wacha (1-0) even knocked in a run with a groundout for his first RBI.
The 21-year-old righty walked three batters and fell behind 2-0 in a 37-pitch first inning but worked his way through it and soon settled in.
"The first inning was rough," he said. "Just didn't have any command over my pitches. After I got out of the first I just told myself, just flush it out and just forget about it and just go out and attack the hitters the next couple of innings."
Omar Quintanilla homered for the Mets, who gave up a major league-high seven unearned runs and lost for the seventh time in eight games since a season-best five-game winning streak that included a four-game sweep of the Subway Series against the New York Yankees . They dropped 13 games under .500, their lowest mark of the year.
Jeremy Hefner (1-6) had a 2-1 lead until St. Louis scored five unearned runs in the fifth, capped by Craig's fifth homer. The outburst began when Jon Jay reached on a leadoff grounder to Murphy, who knocked it down on his backhand but rushed a high, off-balance throw to Hefner covering first.
"It's a groundball that I should have handled, but I booted it," Murphy said. "It's not my first time playing first base, and it gave them life."
Pete Kozma doubled and Hefner slammed down the rosin bag after Wacha's grounder to shortstop tied the score. Matt Carpenter walked, Yadier Molina put the Cardinals ahead with an RBI groundout and Holliday reached on an infield single before Craig drove an 0-1 pitch to left-center for a 6-2 advantage.
At his best in clutch situations, Craig came in batting .400 with runners in scoring position - the same average he had last year.
"You just can't say it's a fluke when a guy does what he's done," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's for real. He's just got a knack for getting it done."
St. Louis, which owns baseball's best record at 42-22, added two in the seventh after Kirk Nieuwenhuis misplayed a deep fly to right for an error. Holliday had an RBI single and reliever Josh Edgin , just recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas, walked Jay with the bases loaded to force in another run.
"Their lineup is a test," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "They hit to all fields. They hit to all fields with power. They stay focused pitch after pitch."
Shane Robinson , who replaced Craig in right field, homered in the ninth off David Aardsma to make it 9-2.
Craig made a painful-looking catch in the third when he fell at the base of the wall, where his neck and the back of his head snapped back and hit the fence.
"I feel all right. Probably going to be a little sore tomorrow, but not a big deal," Craig said. "It definitely jarred me a little bit."
Wacha, drafted 19th overall a year ago out of Texas A&M, was making his third major league start after an impressive outing against Kansas City and a shaky one vs. Arizona.
Pitching on the road for the first time, he gave up a home run to his second batter. Marlon Byrd hit a sacrifice fly and the bases were loaded when Nieuwenhuis hit a grounder up the middle that appeared headed for center field and a two-run single that would have given New York a 4-0 lead.
Kozma, however, was positioned perfectly at shortstop and made a nice play to end the inning.
It was the sort of play that often goes unnoticed, but it stopped the Mets in their tracks. Wacha did not walk another batter and yielded five hits over six solid innings before Randy Choate and Keith Butler finished up.
"He just was out of rhythm and every pitcher goes through it," Matheny said. "Some of `em are able to still end up in the sixth inning."
New York did not manage a hit after Jordany Valdespin 's leadoff single in the fifth. With Davis sent down, Valdespin is getting an opportunity to play regularly at second base, his natural position.
NOTES: Cardinals RF Carlos Beltran , a former Mets star, was rested to give him consecutive days off. The team was off Monday and Beltran traveled home to attend commencement ceremonies for the first graduating class of his Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. ... RHP Jake Westbrook (elbow inflammation) is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Friday night in Miami. ... Carpenter's 18-game hitting streak ended. ... Mets RHP Matt Harvey (5-0, 2.10 ERA) threw his bullpen session and is on target to make his next scheduled start in the series finale Thursday afternoon against RHP Adam Wainwright (9-3, 2.34). Harvey left Saturday's start after seven effective innings with tightness in his lower back.