July 26 MLB Preview — Pittsburgh Pirates (46-56) at New York Mets (45-57)

(Zack Wheeler photo courtesy Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Friday, July 26, Citi Field, Queens, N.Y., 7:10 p.m. EDT.

With New York out of the playoff picture, Friday night’s series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates is just one of 162 games.

For Mets scheduled starter Zack Wheeler, however, it has the chance to alter his professional career as the right-hander looks to prove his shoulder is 100 percent for potential trade suitors ahead of Wednesday’s deadline.

Feisty Agrazal continues to impress for Pirates

Rookie Dario Agrazal (2-0, 2.25 ERA) looks to continue an impressive string of outings that started following his third call-up prior to the All-Star break.

The right-hander deserved a better fate than a no-decision for a second straight start Sunday, limiting the Philadelphia Phillies to one run in six innings before Pittsburgh eventually lost 2-1 in 11 innings. He has held opponents to four runs in 18 innings over three starts since his most recent call-up.

Agrazal, pitching on standard four days of rest for the first time, threw 60 of his 93 pitches for strikes and finished with a season-high five strikeouts.

“It’s hard to argue with what Dario has done,” Bucs general manager Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He stands out with his ability to execute pitches. Dario doesn’t throw 97 [mph], and he doesn’t get the thunderous swing and miss up in the zone because it’s velocity against power. He pitches. He mixes and matches and hits his spots.

“And that’s fun to watch and a little Trevor Williams-esque, actually with more offspeed than Trevor does; Trevor does it with his fastball.”

The 24-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three road starts, yielding five runs in 16 innings. This will be Agrazal’s first appearance versus the Mets.

Pittsburgh (46-56) has dropped five straight and 11 of 13 since the All-Star break after being swept in a four-game series at home by St. Louis. All-Star first baseman Josh Bell, who had a major league-leading 84 RBIs at the break, has gone 7 for 41 (.171) with two RBIs in those 13 games.

All eyes on Wheeler as he comes off injured list

The Mets (47-55) will activate Wheeler (6-6, 4.69) off the injured list so he an make this start, and there is rampant speculation he will either be moved before Wednesday’s deadline or possibly be given a contract extension should New York move Noah Syndergaard instead.

Wheeler, who will be a free agent after the season, was put on the injured list right after the All-Star break with shoulder fatigue. The right-hander, who has regressed from his career-best numbers of 12 wins and a 3.31 ERA last year, will be making his first start in 19 days.

He did throw a 30-pitch batting practice session Tuesday to make sure all systems were go for this start.

“He’s dealt with it fine,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway told the team’s official website while adding Wheeler will be on a pitch limit between 75 and 85. “The one thing about Zack is, he doesn’t worry about it too much. He’s a pretty laid-back guy. He loves to go out there and pitch. So he’s really focused on that fifth day. I don’t think that the rest of it bothers him.

“He knows he can’t control it. We’ve talked to him about it and he understands the situation. He understands that it’s out of his control. He just wants to go out there and be great.”

Wheeler’s last outing July 7 was one to forget as the Philadelphia Phillies knocked him around for six runs and eight hits in five innings of an 8-3 defeat. The righty, though, did fire 13 shutout innings against the Pirates spanning two starts last year and picked up a win in the most recent matchup July 29 after scattering five hits in six innings of a 1-0 victory.

The Mets took two of three from the San Diego Padres after a 4-0 victory Thursday as Jacob deGrom and three relievers combined on a six-hitter. Michael Conforto, who had back-to-back multihit games, is 13 for 37 (.351) over his last nine contests.

Notable Trends

The Mets are:

  • 12-3 in their last 15 home games vs. sub-.500 teams.
  • 4-0 in Wheeler’s last four home starts vs. sub-.500 teams.
  • 5-1 in Wheeler’s last six home starts.

The Pirates are:

  • 3-7 in their last 10 games vs. NL East teams.
  • 1-5 in their last six games vs. right-handed starters.
  • 1-7 in their last eight road games.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Pirates +0.5 runs (-105)

With Wheeler coming off the injured list, Agrazal’s form and a very reasonable line makes taking the Pirates and the half-run a smart play. The Pirates are 2-6-5 at the midway point since the All-Star break but 2-0-2 in Agrazal’s last four starts.

And while the Mets have trailed only once after five innings in their last seven games, they have been tied in three of them. Additionally, New York is 1-4-2 at the midway point in Wheeler’s last seven starts. The hedge is the righty has enough rust to work off where the Pirates can nick a run or two off him to back Agrazal.

****4-Star Pick****

Mets UNDER 5 runs (-115)

Agrazal has been Pittsburgh’s most effective starter of late. The Pirates have held opponents under three runs just four times in their last 15 games, and Agrazal has started three of those contests.

New York’s offense has been hit or miss of late, scoring two or fewer runs in four of its last eight while scoring in double figures twice in that span, and Agrazal’s ability to keep hitters off-balance is worth taking the flyer at a higher than expected number.

***3-Star Picks***

Pirates +1.5 runs (-131)

With Wheeler on a pitch count, that brings the Mets bullpen into play, which is not always conducive to them winning. Additionally, Agrazal continues to punch above his weight as and keep the Pirates in games.

While the Pirates are slumping and could also be sellers ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, the hedge here is Agrazal makes another quality start to keep them close in what will at worse be a one-run defeat.

UNDER 9 runs (-105)

The under gets the slight lean here with Agrazal’s form as the teams are trending in opposite directions. The under is 4-1 in Pittsburgh’s last five games against NL East teams and 6-1 in its last seven on the road against righties.

While the over has gone 5-1-2 in Wheeler’s last eight starts, the under is 4-1 in New York’s last five games against sub-.500 teams and 6-3 in its last nine overall.

UNDER 5 runs first 5 innings (-115)

This is a toss-up pick hedging that Agrazal’s form will slightly edge out the potential rust Wheeler has. The Pirates had a series to forget versus St. Louis in which the over hit in the final three games, but the Mets are also on an impressive run as the under is 7-1-3 in their last 11.

If Wheeler gets through Pittsburgh’s lineup relatively unscathed in the first three innings, that could be enough for the under to deliver.

Mets UNDER 1.5 runs first 3 innings (-136)

One of the things Agrazal has done well in his recent starts is not allow strings of hits. In the first three innings overall this year, all three runs he has allowed have come on solo homers. If the rookie can get through the first inning — even the first two batters since opponents are 7 for 21 with two homers in his first 15 pitches — there is a good chance he keeps New York in check with the hook as a margin of error.

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