The New York Mets surged back into a crowded National League wild-card race by piling up wins against teams with losing records, but their schedule is about to increase in the level of difficulty.
The Mets first hope to get one more win against a sub-.500 team Sunday afternoon when they visit the Kansas City Royals in the rubber game of a three-game series.
New York (63-60) enters Sunday with 17 wins its last 22 games. They surged from nine games under .500 into the race by winning 13 of 14 against the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins.
Before getting a 4-1 win Saturday -- thanks to seven strong innings from Jacob deGrom and a tiebreaking two-run, bases-loaded single by rookie Pete Alonso -- the Mets had lost four of five games since the initial surge that got them back in contention.
After Sunday, the Mets return home for nine games against the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, and do not face a team currently under .500 until hosting the 61-63 Arizona Diamondbacks Sept. 9-12.
The Mets are back in contention despite Alonso tailing off slightly since the All-Star break. He had three hits Saturday, including his two-strike single, and is batting (27-for-118) in 33 games since the break with nine homers and 25 RBI.
"This sets us up to win the series," Alonso said in his on-field interview with SNY. "We got to do whatever we can to win tomorrow. It's going to be a tough, hot game -- especially here in the heartland, it's going to be sweltering hot -- but we're going to be ready for it."
The Royals have scored five runs in their last four games and enter Sunday with 12 losses in their last 16. Hunter Dozier had two of their four hits Sunday and is 9-for-25 (.360) in his last five games, while Jorge Soler drove in Kansas City's only run in the fourth.
During their last four games, the Royals have 21 hits and are 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position.
"We hit some balls hard, we're just not catching too many breaks right now," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.
After deGrom's strong start, Zack Wheeler (9-7, 4.36 ERA) will look to keep the momentum and rebound from allowing five runs and a career-high 12 hits in Tuesday's loss at Atlanta. Wheeler is 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last four starts after posting a 4.69 ERA in his 19 outings before the All-Star break.
Wheeler is 6-5 with a 4.67 ERA against American League opponents and last faced the Royals as a rookie. On Aug. 4, 2013 in New York, he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings of a 6-2 loss.
Glenn Sparkman (3-8, 5.45) starts for Kansas City and is 0-3 with an 8.06 ERA in his last five starts. Sparkman has struggled since his five-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on July 16 and was unlucky in taking a loss to St. Louis on Tuesday despite allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in six innings.
Sparkman is facing the Mets for the first time and is 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in five appearances (two starts) against NL opponents.
--Field Level Media
Mets wrap vs. Royals as tough slate looms
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