Jon Niese and Adam Wainwright -- the starters in Thursday's series finale between the Mets and Cardinals -- perfectly epitomize the opposite directions their respective clubs are headed.
For Wainwright and the Cards, it's been smooth sailing. St. Louis has won 12 of 14 and doing so has put the Cardinals atop all of Major League baseball with a 26-13 record.
Critical to that success has been Wainwright, who is coming off one of the best starts of his career. The tall right-hander carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Colorado, and wound up tossing a two-hit shutout, the sixth of his career.
Wainwright has struggled a bit against the Mets recently, having lost three straight starts. He went 0-2 with 9.53 ERA against them last season.
But these Mets are slumping. They dropped the first three games of the series and have lost six straight overall. In their last nine, the Mets are hitting just .208 with runners in scoring position.
Niese (2-4, 5.93 ERA) gets the ball on Thursday, coming off a dreadful two-start stretch that qualifies as the worst of his career. He surrendered a combined 16 runs on 15 hits and nine walks in 8 1/3 frames.
Between starts, Niese worked primarily on his mechanics, aiming to keep himself tall and straight on the hill.
"Whenever I had free time, I just stepped in front of a mirror and went through my mechanics, and made sure everything's on line," Niese said. "I can feel when it's right."
Unlike Wainwright, however, Niese has had plenty of success against his Thursday afternoon opponent. Though he has never faced the Cards in St. Louis, Niese has a 1.83 ERA against the Red Birds in four starts at Citi Field.
The Cardinals haven't swept the Mets in a series of more than three games since they went 5-0 in a five-game set that featured two doubleheaders in September of 1982.
Mets: Murphy back on track
• Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, quickly putting behind him a dreadful 0-for-17 slump.
"It's tough to explain," Murphy said. "Once you start feeling good and then you have some success for it, it just lends to more peace and less anxiety."
Murphy is hitting .280 on the year, with two homers and 16 RBIs.
Cardinals: Molina, Freese set to return
• After being held out of the lineup on Wednesday, catcher Yadier Molina and third baseman David Freese will likely return to the Cardinals' starting nine on Thursday.
Freese was out because of matchups, while Molina sat with a night game before a day game, having caught 37 of 38 contests to start the year. He came in as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, notching an RBI single, and remained in the game to catch the ninth.
"Physically, he feels good," manager Mike Matheny said. "We're just getting him a day to try and get himself back into a good rhythm."
• In nine at-bats against Wainwright, Mets third baseman David Wright has notched just one hit -- a double -- and struck out three times.
• The Cardinals haven't won a season series against the Mets since 2009, and they've won just one since '06. But a victory Thursday would cement a positive record against New York in 2013. The two clubs will meet three more times in June.
• Freese is hitless in his six career at-bats against Niese, with two strikeouts.