PITTSBURGH: The last time the Mets swept a road series against a National League team of three or more games was September 2008. It’s hard to believe, but that’s a fact.

Today, the Mets can end the drought by beating the Pirates. With Johan Santana on the mound against Pittsburgh, you’d think there’s no way the Mets can lose.

Hopefully, that’s the case, as the Mets try to pick up more ground in the NL Wild Card chase.

It may be a long shot, but the Mets last night cut the deficit to 7.5 games behind the Phillies. If they can sweep the Pirates and perhaps cut it to 6.5 before returning home, the dream may be well in reach.

Santana has thrown back-to-back complete games, although his last one came in a losing effort.

So far in four starts this month, Santana has had either two types of effort. Twice, he’s allowed four runs and nine hits, and twice he’s allowed no runs and four or five hits.

The former was the effort he made in his last start on Tuesday against the Astros. He got burned by two Hunter Pence home runs, one being a three-run shot in the first inning.

He then put up six scoreless innings from the second through the seventh, before allowing a go-ahead homer to Pence in the eighth. It was a start in which he couldn’t find himself early, dominated in between, and tired late.

Even with the four earned runs allowed, Santana kept his ERA below three at 2.97. He may not need to throw a complete-game this time around.

With last night’s rain-shortened six-inning game, the Mets didn’t have to use their bullpen. On Friday night, the Mets only had to use Bobby Parnell after Mike Pelfrey’s eight-inning performance. Therefore, if need be, Santana has a fresh crop of relievers behind him.

He will be matched by Pirates left-hander Zach Duke. The 27-year-old burst on to the seen in 2005 when he made 14 starts for Pittsburgh. In those starts, he went 8-2 with an incredible ERA of 1.81. He was never the same after that.

In his five seasons since then, Duke’s lowest ERA has been 4.06 last season, but with 16 losses. He has a career record that’s 25 games below .500 at 42-67. This season, he’s having a career-worst season.

Duke’s problems have always been limiting hits. In 2006 he allowed 255 hits in 215.1 innings. His problems aren’t any different this season. In 120 innings pitched, he’s allowed 157 hits.

He had a bad start his last time out against the Marlins on Tuesday. In 5.2 innings, he allowed five runs on nine hits. His season ERA is 5.33.

The Mets meanwhile, have been hitting like they haven’t in ages. It may be against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, but they have scored 12 runs in this series in two games.

Last night, they scored five runs in five innings, and who knows how many they would’ve gotten hadn’t it been cut short.

In all likelihood Jerry Manuel will continue to bat Chris Carter cleanup and keep the lineup as is until his luck runs out. Only problem is, Duke is a lefty and Manuel may want to play Jeff Francoeur instead.

If he decides to play a right-handed lineup, expect to see Ike Davis sitting. Henry Blanco will do the catching.

The Mets have the advantage with Santana against an easy-hitting Duke. Can they actually get a sweep? It would be hard to imagine how they wouldn’t.

Johan Santana vs. Pittsburgh (career)
2-1, 1.88 ERA, 28.2 IP, 18 hits, 5 BB, 22 SO

Zach Duke vs. New York (career)
3-1, 3.20 ERA, 39.1 IP, 43 hits, 5 BB, 20 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Pittsburgh)

Aug. 20: New York 7, Pittsburgh 2
*Aug. 21: New York 5, Pittsburgh 1
Mets lead series 2-0

*Rain-shortened, six-inning game

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