Series Preview: New York Mets

As the New York Mets made their way into town for a three-game set, word spread around the city that elite first base prospect Anthony Rizzo will get his first start in a Cubs uniform Tuesday night. Though expectations are high, Manager Dale Sveum stressed that he didn’t want the young slugger to try to put the team on his back.

For his first big league games, Rizzo will be facing a surprisingly tough Mets club. After losing two of three to the crosstown rival Yankees, Manager Terry Collins’ team sits at a competitive 39-34 and is holding onto second place in the NL East. Prior to the series opener, we preview a few of the key figures in the Mets’ success.

Hitters to Watch:

Lucas Duda
David Wright continues to crush the ball (.360/.455/.565, 41 RBI) and is a midseason front-runner for the NL MVP Award, but the campaign Duda is putting together is nothing to scoff at. His 11 home runs and 42 RBI lead the team, and he has provided solid protection for Wright in the middle of the order. The 26-year-old’s on-base percentage (.353) is roughly 80 points higher than his batting average, and he comes into Wrigley riding a seven-game hitting streak.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis
The 24-year-old center fielder has started 55 of 71 games, and his .281 batting average is third-best on the team. Nieuwenhuis has recorded seven home runs, 10 doubles and 25 RBI on the season. The lefty has spent most of the year at the top of the Mets’ order and has 39 runs scored, good for top 25 in the NL. But he does have a tendency to strike out. His 29 percent strikeout rate is fifth-highest in the league.

Pitchers to Watch:

Johan Santana
Santana, who will open the series against Cubs lefty Travis Wood, has been a major force since he earned a regular spot in the Twins’ rotation in 2002. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has bounced back in a big way after missing all of 2011 with shoulder issues. His 3.00 ERA is actually a notch below his career mark (3.10), and the Mets are 8-6 in games he’s started. He’s tied for 12th in the NL in strikeouts (84) and his 9.0 K/9 ranks 11th in the National League.

Bobby Parnell
Parnell might be the key to New York’s ‘pen. The hard-throwing righty owns a 3.19 ERA, largely because of his 2.32 BB/9. He also strikes out a respectable batter per inning. Despite blowing three save opportunities, the 27-year-old has 15 holds, second-best among NL relievers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Parnell twice this series, especially if the Mets have late-inning leads.

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