For a long time during the bulk of the 2010 season, Mets left-handed rookie Jon Niese was as good as can be. Over his past two starts, he may have run out of steam, having now thrown 148.1 innings in his first full big league season.

The Mets themselves have not had a good road trip, having gone 1-5 so far on their 10-game trek. They’ve been an awful road team all season long, and can finally sense the end coming, with now only nine road games left.

The Cubs are not a great team, and in fact the Mets have more wins than they do. But just like in the Braves series prior to this one, they’ll try to salvage the finale.

In his four starts prior to his last two, Niese allowed exactly one run in each, but got one win to show for it. In 13 of his 25 starts this season (52 percent), he has allowed one earned run or less. That’s an outstanding number for a rookie who is not only in his first full Major League season, but coming off of a major injury, followed by a minor injury over the past year.

He has gone south though in his last two starts, pitching to an ERA of 8.71. Before these last two starts, the Mets brass were thinking of limiting Niese‘s innings for the rest of this season, but decided not to do so.

They may have made the wrong decision. If Niese struggles mightily once again today, he may have to take a break, especially with the Mets out of the playoff race.

His last start against the Braves on Tuesday melted down after a Luis Castillo error. After Castillo let a potential double play grounder roll between his legs, Niese gave up seven runs, capped off by a David Ross grand slam. In 4.2 innings, he allowed eight runs (three earned) on 10 hits, and he hit a batter before the error.

The Cubs are a predominantly right-handed hitting team, and Niese has struggled a little against righties this season.

Pitching for the Cubs will be Canadian native Ryan Dempster. The right-hander will reach the 100-mark one way or the other with his next decision. He has a career record of 99-99, and true to form, his last two seasons have been identical.

Other than some early-career success and a Cy Young-caliber season in 2008, Dempster has been an average pitcher.

Last season he went 11-9, this season he’s 12-9. The ERA is a difference of six points and he has allowed the same amount of home runs and struck out the same amount of batters over last season and this season.

His only problem this season has been control, as he’s walked 72 batters in 182 innings.

He got rocked in his last start on Tuesday to the pathetic Pirates. He only lasted three innings, while allowing seven runs on seven hits.

The Mets starting pitching, after a great stretch, has tapered off lately. It continued with the young Jenrry Mejia yesterday.

With 26 games remaining, the Mets front office would love to see the starters pitch effectively, in order to understand part of their 2011 rotation.

Niese will try to get the pitchers on a roll today, as the Mets look to head to the Nation’s Capital with a win.

Jon Niese vs. Chicago (April 19)

ND, 5.2 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 8 hits, 3 BB, 7 SO

Ryan Dempster vs. New York (career)
9-4, 5.57 ERA, 93.2 IP, 106 hits, 64 BB, 88 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Chicago)
April 19: New York 6, Chicago 1
April 20: New York 4, Chicago 0
April 21: Chicago 9, New York 3
April 22: New York 5, Chicago 2

Sept. 3: Chicago 7, New York 6
Sept. 4: Chicago 5, New York 3
Series tied 3-3

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