NEW YORK: The Mets have let two straight opportunities get by, losing a series to the Marlins after winning the first game.

Each of the last two days, the Phillies lost and the Mets lost games they could have and should have won easily.

Ironically, the team that tried to help them out are the Houston Astros, whom the Mets begin a series with tonight.

The Astros have had a very bad season, and a dreadful first half. They got off to an 0-8 start and were 17 games under .500 at the All-Star break.

They started hitting a little better in the second half, and their pitching has been good. So far this week, they pulled something off that is mind-boggling.

The Astros went into Philadelphia and swept a four-game series from the “Phightin’ Phils.”

How is that even possible? How can a team as bad as Houston sweep a series (four games yet) on the road against a two-time defending pennant winner?

They beat the Marlins in Florida on Sunday, so they have won five straight games, and are playing a major spoiler role as we near September.

Not that the Mets are a team good enough to get spoiled, but if they have any hopes of getting into the race, Houston could be a pain in the neck.

Trying to cool the Astros off will be Mike Pelfrey. He’s turned his season around after an awful stretch, allowing three runs or less while pitching at least seven innings, in each of his last three starts.

During that span, he’s 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA, improving to 12-7 on the season.

Pelfrey’s next win will tie him for most wins in a season in his career. He won 13 games in 2008 against 11 losses.

His last start came in Pittsburgh a week ago tonight, so he’s pitching on six days’ rest. In that start, he allowed one earned run in eight innings, in a Mets 7-2 win over the Pirates.

That got the Mets off on the right foot against a bad team, and he’ll try to do the same tonight.

Pitching for the Astros will be Nelson Figueroa, returning to start a game in Queens. The former Met started against the Mets in Houston 10 days ago and pitched okay.

His last start was a great one against the Marlins to begin the Astros’ current five-game winning streak.

On Sunday he went six innings, allowing one run on four hits, walking one and striking out seven. The one run was on a home run by Gaby Sanchez with two outs in the sixth.

It’ll be interesting to hear the crowd reaction to Figueroa. He did pitch at Citi Field this season as a reliever on the Phillies, but this will be his first start against the Mets since his unkind parting words.

If the Mets are going to put together a good offensive output, in all likelihood it’ll be without Jose Reyes. The All-Star shortstop re-aggravated his right oblique in last night’s game on a hit.

Batting from the left side, he awkwardly reached out over the plate to poke a ball to left field. Once he got to first base, manager Jerry Manuel and trainer Ray Ramirez came out to check him out. Reyes wanted to try to test run, but that idea was denied.

He was listed as day-to-day, although with Reyes, day-to-days could be week-to-weeks or even month-to-months. Heck last season, “day-to-day” turned out to be “out for the season,” so who knows?

The Mets offense though, has started to come around. They have scored four runs or more in five of their last six games. Before that, they couldn’t muster four hits let alone four runs.

They’re being helped out lately by David Wright, who is in another one of his hot streaks. He has two home runs in his last two games, giving him 21 on the season.

One guy who’s not hot, and has apparently forgotten how to record a hit, is Ruben Tejada. With last night’s 0-for-2, he’s now 1 for his last 43.

Tejada wasn’t even supposed to play in last night’s game, but he replaced the injured Reyes at shortstop. He’ll have to start every game now that Reyes can’t play for the time being.

The Mets will begin their final home series of August, trying to put the Astros back in their place and get ready for their long road trip feeling good.

Mike Pelfrey vs. Houston (career)
2-2, 4.38 ERA, 24.2 IP, 29 hits, 5 BB, 17 SO

Nelson Figueroa vs. New York (August 17)
ND, 5 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 hits, 3 BB, 4 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Houston)

Aug. 16: New York 3, Houston 1
Aug. 17: Houston 4, New York 3
Aug. 18: New York 3, Houston 2 (14)
Aug. 19: Houston 3, New York 2

Series tied 2-2

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