NEW YORK—With five games left before the All-Star break, the Mets are trying to not let what was a surprisingly good first half turn into a disappointing finish.

After going on an amazing 21-7 stretch from May 22 through June 23, the Mets have played sub-.500 baseball over their last 11 games, going 5-6.

At times during their great 28-game run, the Mets seemed unstoppable and poised to take over the NL East. Lately, they’re managing to stay afloat and not fall too far behind the surging first-place Braves while maintaing a small lead over the pesky Phillies.

If they’d like to continue to play meaningful games past the three-day break starting Monday, the Mets will have to start supporting their ace, Johan Santana, and that starts tonight.

Johan Santana was great in his last start on Thursday against the Nationals, giving up one run in seven innings, but once again got minimal run support. The Mets scored one run en route to a 2-1 loss to Washington. Santana received a no-decision.

The Mets never can put together a game for Santana where they score five or more runs to give him major breathing room. In fact, the Mets have scored two or fewer runs in 10 of Santana’s 17 starts this season. In those games, the Mets are 1-9, with their only win coming on April 17 in St. Louis, 2-1, over the Cardinals.

Those stats show you that in 58 percent of his starts this season, the Mets have given their ace nothing to work with, and therefore lose virtually every time to show for it.

If the Mets are going to break out for Santana tonight, they’ll have to do it against Reds starter Aaron Harang. Harang was a last-minute scratch from last night’s game due to back problems, but the Reds have announced he should be fine to make his start tonight.

After a fine couple of seasons with Cincinnati in 2006 and ’07, going 32-17, Harang’s last three seasons, including this one, have been terrible.

From 2008 through his 17 starts this season, Harang is an atrocious 18-38, and his ERA is over 5.00 this season. His last three starts, though, may be an indication that he’s turning things around, not allowing more than three runs while pitching at least six innings in each start. 

Mets manager Jerry Manuel said yesterday that Jose Reyes should be able to return to the lineup tonight, but that was against Travis Wood, the left-hander. Wood pitched last night, replacing Harang, and being Reyes may only be able to bat from the right side, he may not return tonight with Harang being a right-hander.

The Mets finally have an idea of when center fielder Carlos Beltran may return. Jerry Manuel joked with reporters saying we may see him in New York this week, but that’s as a member of the Single-A affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones.

Beltran, barring a setback, should join the team in San Francisco after the All-Star break.

With the Phillies and Braves playing each other for a couple of days, the Mets need to win in order to not lose ground to either team. They have Santana going against a subpar pitcher, hoping to force a Wednesday night rubber-game.

Notable player moves:
IF/OF Fernando Tatis placed on 15-day disabled list (sprained right shoulder)
LHP Raul Valdes recalled from Triple-A Buffalo

Johan Santana vs. Cincinnati (career)
3-0, 4.20 ERA, 30 IP, 33 hits, 11 BB, 22 SO

Aaron Harang vs. New York (career)
2-3, 6.11 ERA, 28 IP, 37 hits, 12 BB, 25 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Cincinnati)
May 3: Cincinnati 3, New York 2 (11)
May 4: New York 5, Cincinnati 4
May 5: Cincinnati 5, New York 4 (10)

July 5: Cincinnati 8, New York 6
Reds lead series 3-1

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