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Pirates-Mets Preview

May 9, 2009 - 11:54 PM Pittsburgh (12-17) at New York (15-13), 1:10 p.m. EDT

The New York Mets are quickly putting a very disappointing start behind them.

The new NL East leaders seek a seventh straight victory and Livan Hernandez goes for the 150th of his career Sunday at Citi Field, looking to deal the Pittsburgh Pirates an eighth consecutive loss to close a three-game set.

New York was widely expected to contend for a division title, but a 7-12 stretch in April had the team closer to the bottom of the NL East than the top. However, the Mets (16-13) have suddenly won a season-high six in a row to move alone into first place for the first time since April 7.

"We have the players, the ingredients and I believe that the players are believing more and more in the things that we've been doing," bench coach Sandy Alomar said after a 10-1 win over the Pirates on Saturday.

Alomar was serving as manager in place of Jerry Manuel, who will be back in the dugout Sunday after serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an umpire Thursday.

Manuel missed his team collect a season-high 17 hits. The Mets are batting .367 (40 for 109) in their last three games as they've moved three games above .500 for the first time in 2009.

The recent outburst has been keyed by Carlos Delgado, who had five RBIs on Friday in a 7-3 series-opening win and is 7-for-12 in the last three games. During that same stretch, Carlos Beltran has two homers and four RBIs while Jose Reyes has gone 6-for-14 with four RBIs, four runs and two steals.

Beltran, among the league leaders with a .378 batting average, has as many homers (four) during New York's six-game winning streak as Pittsburgh does during its seven-game slide. The Pirates (12-18) are batting .196 and averaging just 2.4 runs during their losing streak.

"We've just got to stay after it. That's all we can do," Pittsburgh manager John Russell said. "The guys are pressing a little bit, but that's only natural."

Hernandez (2-1, 5.53 ERA) will look to extend the Pirates' woes. He's coming off his first win in four starts and his most efficient outing of the season, needing just 75 pitches to go 6 1-3 innings in a 4-3 victory at Atlanta as he yielded a season-low one run.

"I got a little more old and the changeup is better, I don't know why," said Hernandez, 149-140 in 14 major league seasons.

A victory would make Hernandez the 236th pitcher in league history to reach the 150-win plateau.

"He has great command," Manuel said. "If he continues to pitch that way, he will be a tremendous starter for us."

Hernandez, though, is 1-4 with a 6.65 ERA in eight starts against the Pirates this decade. He hasn't faced them since 2007.

Ian Snell (1-4, 4.50) takes the ball for Pittsburgh, which has dropped 11 of 12 overall and seven straight on the road.

Snell has lost his last two starts, including an 8-5 defeat to Milwaukee on Tuesday when he matched a season high with five walks. He threw 94 pitches following his career-high 131-pitch performance April 29 in a 1-0 loss to the Brewers.

"I didn't feel like I had anything over 94-95 (mph) in my tank at all," Snell said following Tuesday's loss. "I'm not going to make any excuses. ... I just started walking people and it got out of hand."

Snell has walked more batters (23) than he has strikeouts (22) this season.

He's 0-1 with a 6.86 ERA in four career starts versus the Mets. Reyes is 5 for 14 with two triples against Snell.

New York catcher Ramon Castro left Saturday's game due to a tight right quadriceps, but he should be available Sunday.