With Daniel Murphy heating up and Yoenis Cespedes providing a sorely needed presence in the middle of the order, the New York Mets are showing signs of piecing together an offense capable of competing in October.
The pitching has been there for the most part, though Noah Syndergaard hasn't shown it in recent starts. One thing that's certain is the club's success on the road of late, and the rookie right-hander takes the mound for the second-to-last time before the postseason Friday night in Cincinnati looking to help the Mets earn a ninth straight away win.
The Mets (86-67) won 6-4 on Thursday to open this four-game series with their 10th victory in their last 12 against the Reds (63-89) and reduce their magic number to three.
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New York, winner of 16 of 18 on the road with 7.9 runs per game and a .303 average, last won nine straight away games June 7-23, 2006.
Cespedes is batting .389 in his last five after going 0 for 16 in his previous four. David Wright has driven in a run in four straight games from the No. 2 hole and is batting .343 in his last nine, but it's Murphy who's gained his manager's attention by batting .462 with seven extra-base hits in his last seven games.
"He's locked in," Terry Collins said. "When that guy gets hot, nobody can get him out. And it's coming at the best time for us, too."
Syndergaard (8-7, 3.39 ERA) has given up at least three runs in six of his last seven starts, going 2-2 with a 5.09 ERA after surrendering five runs and seven hits in six innings of Saturday's 5-0 home loss to the Yankees. Three of the runs came in the first.
"It was my own fault," Syndergaard told MLB's official website. "I think I threw 98 percent fastballs the first inning. I could have been a little bit more selective with my pitches."
The rookie has been worse on the road for most of the season, going 1-5 with a 4.47 ERA as opposed to 7-2 with a 2.57 mark at home. One of those was a 2-1 victory over Cincinnati on June 26 in which Syndergaard allowed a run and five hits over eight innings.
He's up against Anthony DeSclafani, who had an impressive stretch disrupted in Sunday's 8-4 loss in Milwaukee. DeSclafani (9-11, 3.79) allowed five runs - four earned - and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings after going 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his previous four.
DeSclafani hasn't faced the Mets this season, but he gave up 10 runs in 4 2-3 innings over two appearances last year with Miami. Murphy (2 for 3) and Kelly Johnson (2 for 5) have both homered off him.
In his two seasons in the majors, the right-hander has been considerably worse in a home environment (5-9, 5.52 ERA) than on the road (6-4, 2.86).
The Reds are on the cusp of losing 90 games for the first time since going 72-90 in 2007. They're 12-27 with a 5.66 starting ERA dating to Aug. 14, and their five-game skid is just over halfway to the nine-game slide that began this 39-game stretch of futility.
"It's still a pretty embarrassing year," Jay Bruce said. "You've just got to make the best of it."
Joey Votto at least continues to impress. The first baseman is batting .375 with a .556 on-base percentage since the All-Star break - both MLB highs. He's reached base in 41 straight games, which ties a career high and is two behind Joe Mauer's active streak.