Pitching is a major reason why the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates appear headed for the postseason.
It’s also why the Pirates are dominating the Mets.
Pittsburgh looks for Charlie Morton to solve his early struggles as they go for their longest winning streak over New York in 23 years Saturday night.
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The Pirates (67-46) are third in the majors with a 3.24 ERA, while the NL East-leading Mets (63-53) are second at 3.17.
The success on the mound has Pittsburgh on top of the wild-card race, 1 1-2 games ahead of the red-hot Chicago Cubs.
Should the Pirates and Mets meet in the playoffs, that would figure to be a very favorable matchup for Pittsburgh. The Pirates have posted a 1.22 ERA in winning all four meetings this season, improving to 13-4 in the last 17.
They have won five straight against the Mets dating to last season. Extending the streak would give them their longest in the all-time series since taking seven in a row in 1992.
J.A. Happ and four relievers held New York to 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s 3-2, 10-inning victory.
"I enjoy it," said Gregory Polanco, who had two hits including an RBI single and a run in the 10th. "Everybody enjoys it when you have a big hit, the RBI, and go-ahead run."
Morton (7-4, 4.48 ERA) hasn’t enjoyed any of that success against the Mets, going 0-3 with a 5.01 ERA in his last four meetings. The right-hander, though, is facing a club that’s hitting .226 in the season series and is 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position.
A bigger concern for Morton is his 11.20 ERA in the first inning, the highest by any pitcher with at least 10 starts.
He surrendered two runs in the first before giving up three more and leaving after the fifth without a decision in Sunday’s 13-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
New York counters with Jonathon Niese (7-9, 3.46), who is 1-2 with a 7.40 ERA in his past four starts against the Pirates. The left-hander gave up four runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-1 loss May 24 as the Mets were swept in a three-game series at Pittsburgh.
Niese, though, is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last three starts overall. That’s part of an 11-game stretch during which he’s gone 4-3 with a 2.61 ERA.
Niese allowed two runs in seven innings of Monday’s 4-2 win over Colorado.
"I’ve sort of figured it out now," Niese told MLB’s official website. "I know now that my stuff is good enough to get outs. Not every out has to come on a strikeout. And the way we’re hitting now, I don’t have to think about taking chances to get outs. It’s easier this way."
Niese has had a tough time with Andrew McCutchen, who is 7 for 15 with a homer and three doubles off him.
Most Mets pitchers have struggled against McCutchen, who is hitting .415 with 11 walks in the last 12 matchups. He went 0 for 2 with three walks Friday.
Polanco is batting .441 in his past seven games but is 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against Niese. He has a .197 average against left-handers.