The New York Mets likely are headed to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and all signs point to Jonathan Niese being the odd man out when manager Terry Collins trims the rotation.
Niese has a couple more auditions left to make his case, including Monday night when the Mets open a three-game series with the visiting Atlanta Braves.
New York (84-65) holds a six-game lead over Washington atop the NL East despite having dropped four of five after Sunday’s 11-2 loss to the Yankees. Barring a collapse, the Mets will make their first postseason appearance since 2006.
Clubs usually go with a shortened rotation in the playoffs, and Niese (8-10, 4.31 ERA) more than likely won’t be a part of it with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon expected to have spots.
Niese didn’t do himself any favors by posting a 10.53 ERA over his previous four starts, but he bounced back by allowing two earned runs in six innings of a 10-7, 10-inning win over the Braves on Sept. 13.
"He certainly had much better command and made pitches when he had to," Collins said. "Hopefully that is what you’re going to see from him the rest of the way."
The left-hander is 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in five career starts when pitching on at least six days’ rest and has a 2.04 ERA in three starts against Atlanta this season.
The Braves (60-90), though, are coming off a weekend sweep of Philadelphia after three consecutive 2-1 wins. A.J. Pierzynski singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth Sunday after Julio Teheran was solid for 8 1-3.
Atlanta hasn’t won four straight since July 1-4.
"To win a game like that is good," said Pierzynski, who entered in the ninth for the injured Christian Bethancourt. "Winning another (one-run game), especially after the way Julio pitched (and) the way we did it is fun."
Nothing has been entertaining about Shelby Miller’s 22-start winless streak, the longest in history for a pitcher who was named an All-Star during the season.
Miller (5-15, 3.00), who last won May 17, has lost six straight starts with a 5.56 ERA after Toronto tagged him for five runs in a season-low 3 2-3 innings of Wednesday’s 9-1 defeat. If the right-hander can maintain or improve his current ERA, he’ll become the first pitcher since Melido Perez, Jim Abbott and Tom Candiotti in 1992 to finish with at least 15 losses despite an ERA of 3.00 or better.
”It’s got to be tough for a young man to go through what he’s going through,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Miller, whose 2.37 run-support average is the worst in baseball. ”I think if he keeps his nose to the grindstone, he’ll be a better person, a better pitcher at the end of it.”
Miller has faced the Mets twice this season, allowing three runs in a Braves win June 13 and in a loss Sept. 10. Lucas Duda is 4 for 10 with a homer and a double lifetime off Miller.
It’s unclear if Juan Uribe, acquired from the Braves on July 24, will be in the lineup for the Mets after leaving Sunday’s game with a bruised chest suffered when he made a diving play in the fifth inning.
New York swept a four-game series in Atlanta when the clubs last faced each other Sept. 10-13. The Mets have won five of the six matchups at Citi Field.