Outstanding starting pitching has helped the New York Mets take over first place in the NL East. If their often shaky bullpen can continue pitching like it has this week, there's a strong chance that's a lead they won't relinquish.
The Mets will look to ride Pedro Martinez to their fifth straight victory on Saturday when they continue a three-game set with the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.Led by Johan Santana and the resurgent Oliver Perez, New York's starting pitchers have gone 9-4 with an impressive 3.13 ERA over their last 13 games. But with closer Billy Wagner on the disabled list, the Mets (66-56) have had some issues with their bullpen, which went 2-5 with a 6.99 ERA and five blown saves from July 26-Aug. 11.Since Tuesday, however, as New York's starters have continued their strong work, going 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA, the bullpen has followed suit. The Mets' relief corps has allowed one run in 10 1-3 innings during the team's four-game winning streak.Mike Pelfrey pitched seven shutout innings on Friday against the Pirates (55-67), and though the Mets allowed a solo homer in the eighth, Aaron Heilman shut the door in the ninth in New York's 2-1 victory.Heilman has pitched two scoreless innings since giving up three runs in the ninth on Monday in a 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh in the makeup of a rainout from April."That's the good thing about being a reliever. You're going to get another chance," Heilman said. "It feels good to go out there and nail down the victory."Offensively, third baseman David Wright continued to carry the load for the Mets. He extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the first inning, getting the team's lone RBI. Wright is hitting .386 (17-for-44) with three homers and 11 RBIs during the streak.Martinez (3-3, 5.37 ERA) will be looking for his first win since July 7, though he's pitched well recently. His last outing came at Shea Stadium on Monday against the Pirates, allowing three hits and a run over six innings."Pedro did everything we could ask of him, given the stage of his career he's in," manager Jerry Manuel told the Mets' official Web site.Martinez is 1-1 with a 2.87 ERA in four starts against Pittsburgh since joining New York.His opponent will be the same pitcher he squared off against Monday. Zach Duke (4-10, 5.10) gave up five runs -- three earned -- over six innings, but avoided losing his sixth straight start due to the Pirates' rally. Duke hasn't won since June 9, going 0-6 with a 6.41 ERA.He's 2-0 with a 2.39 ERA in four career starts against New York, though Wright is hitting .333 (4-for-12) with a homer against the left-hander."For me, it's all about executing a game plan and making sure I have a good command of my pitches," Duke told the Pirates' official Web site. "With the Mets, they're the type of team that can get on you, and before you know it, things can snowball."Duke could use more run support than the Pirates have been providing their staff recently. They've scored 25 runs in their last 10 games, struggling since outfielders Xavier Nady and Jason Bay were traded.Youngsters Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche -- both acquired in the deal that sent Bay to Boston -- have especially been scuffling. Moss is hitting .143 (5-for-35) in his last nine games, and LaRoche is hitting .136 (3-for-22) in his last seven.