The Mets are playing some of their best baseball of the season approaching the All-Star break, but their final series of the first half is going to give them a true test.
New York is 16-9 in its last 25 games heading into Friday's series opener against Pittsburgh, but the Pirates have been one of baseball's biggest surprises. They have remained in contention in the National League Central all season behind a strong pitching staff, which will look to shut down a Mets lineup that has been hot during the team's recent string of success.
New York scored seven runs Wednesday, one day after breaking out for 10 against San Francisco.
As it continues to climb toward .500, New York is hoping it can finish off the first half strong.
And the Mets have one of their best pitchers of late on the mound to help them do that.
Jeremy Hefner is 4-6 with a 3.39 ERA this season, emerging as a dependable and consistent starter for the Mets. He has given up only one earned run in each of his last three starts. Since June 4, Hefner's ERA is just 1.64, which is the best in the Major Leagues in that stretch.
In Hefner's seven starts during that span, he has 37 strikeouts and eight walks. And the Mets have taken advantage of the stellar performances he has been giving them. They have won the last five games Hefner has started.
Hefner said several factors led him to this type of resurgence.
"We made a mechanical adjustment a couple months ago, toward the end of May," Hefner said. "I have a little more deceptiveness, and the velocity's gone up a little bit. Playing great defense and we're scoring runs. I've got a few more wins because we scored some more runs."
The last time he faced Pittsburgh, on Sept. 26, Hefner was superb. He pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up only three hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.
"They're a good team; they pitch really well," Hefner said. "They have some good young guys and some solid veteran guys, too. It will be a challenge, but I'm up for it."
The Pirates will have Charlie Morton on the mound Friday. He is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA and has made only five starts since beginning the season on the disabled list after having right elbow surgery last June.
While the Mets are carrying momentum into this weekend, the Pirates are struggling to find any. But Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said momentum at the break did not necessarily mean much.
"The last few years we've finished strong at the end of the first half," Hurdle said. "I've played on teams that have not finished well in the first half and come out blazing in the first half."
New York: Mets to skip Harvey's start
Pittsburgh received a break Wednesday, as the Mets announced they would skip Matt Harvey's start Saturday because of an innings limit and a blister that has bothered him in recent starts.
"He's going to be limited innings this summer," manager Terry Collins said. "The amount is yet to be determined. When you got 14 starts left, he's going to start creeping up on it."
The Mets will allow Harvey to make an appearance in the All-Star Game at Citi Field on Tuesday.
• With his fifth-inning, two-run home run Wednesday, Marlon Byrd has 19 hits in his last 14 games. In that span, he is hitting .311 with four home runs and 13 RBIs. He leads the team with 15 home runs this season.
Pittsburgh: Hurdle remains confident in lineup
The Pirates have been struggling to score runs, and it has cost them games as the first half nears its close. Entering its season finale against Oakland, Pittsburgh had scored just six runs in four games.
Still, manager Clint Hurdle says the Pirates can turn things around.
"I believe its an offense that will self correct," Hurdle said. "We've got a number of individuals that probably haven't met expectations we projected going in; we've got a few that have. They're mindful of that as well."
• With his ninth-inning single Wednesday, David Wright extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
• Mets catcher John Buck went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, his second multihit performance in his last three games. Before Saturday, he had not had a multihit game since June 16.
Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.