Lincecum Takes Hill As Giants Host Santana's Mets To Open Season's Second Half

(Sports Network) - Tim Lincecum didn't help the National League break its lengthy losing streak in the All-Star Game, but the New York Mets may have wished he had.

The rested two-time NL Cy Young Award honoree will take the mound when the San Francisco Giants start up their second-half schedule tonight against the Mets in the opener of a four-game series between postseason hopefuls from AT&T Park.

Lincecum received a third consecutive All-Star nod after compiling a 9-4 record with a 3.16 earned run average and a league-best 131 strikeouts through 18 pre-break starts, but didn't pitch in the NL's 3-1 victory over the American League in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic. That will enable the hard- throwing right-hander to start tonight's matchup of this key set, which takes place on his 26th birthday.

The San Francisco ace was last in action on July 7, when he struck out 10 Milwaukee batters and yielded just one run and four hits over seven sharp innings to defeat the Brewers. It was a needed return to form for Lincecum, who was reached for eight runs over a combined nine innings in back-to-back losses to Boston and Colorado during his two previous starts.

For all the success Lincecum has attained since breaking into the majors in 2007, he hasn't fared well in past matchups with the Mets. The former first- round pick has registered a loss and three no-decisions in three prior matchups with New York, while pitching to a subpar 5.04 ERA in those games.

Lincecum will be getting the call for a San Francisco squad that finds itself just two games back of fellow NL West members Colorado and Los Angeles for the lead in the league's Wild Card standings and is four behind first-place San Diego in the division race. The Giants closed out their first half strongly, winning six of their final seven contests and taking the final two bouts of a three-game series at Washington that culminated with Sunday's 6-2 triumph.

Travis Ishikawa went 2-for-3 with three RBI and rookie sensation Buster Posey delivered an two-run triple to help support a strong six-inning start from Giants youngster Madison Bumgarner in Sunday's victory. The 20-year-old Bumgarner (2-2) held the Nationals to one run and struck out a career-best six without a walk in earning his second win at the major-league level.

"My last two starts have been a little better," said Bumgarner, who's posted consecutive wins after losing his first outings since being recalled from Triple-A Fresno in late June. "I would have liked to go a little deeper [Sunday], [I] threw more pitches than I needed to early on, but that's a good hitting team. They're aggressive and are going to make you make good pitches."

Posey, San Francisco's other prized prospect, has been on a serious tear during his team's recent strong run. The highly-regarded catcher is batting a torrid .516 (16-for-31) with five homers and 14 RBI during an eight-game hitting streak that has raised his season average to a robust .350.

Closer Brian Wilson finished off Sunday's win by throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings and helped the NL prevail as well in the All-Star Game, working a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth to protect the Senior Circuit's two-run lead.

The Mets currently sit just one game off the pace in the NL Wild Card picture and are four behind Atlanta in the battle for first place in the NL East. New York will also get a welcome boost to its lineup as it begins the season's final 2 1/2 months, with standout center fielder Carlos Beltran set to make his 2010 debut this evening.

Beltran, a five-time All-Star selection with three Gold Gloves to his credit as well, sat out the entire first half recovering from knee surgery performed in January. The speedy switch-hitter, who hit .325 for the Mets last season and has knocked in at least 112 runs in three of the past four years, completed a successful minor-league rehab stint last weekend and is expected to bat cleanup in the lineup tonight.

"I'm happy to be back and be part of the team [and] to try to help accomplish our mission, which is to try and win a division and try to be in the playoffs," Beltran told the Mets' official site on Sunday.

While Beltran is ready to go, it's unclear as to whether the Mets will have leadoff hitter Jose Reyes available for the opener. The dynamic shortstop sat out both Sunday's 3-0 victory over Atlanta and the All-Star Game due to an oblique strain that has plagued him for the past two weeks.

New York didn't need Beltran in their last game, thanks to a top-notch performance out of starting pitcher Johan Santana. The two-time AL Cy Young recipient firing seven shutout innings as the Mets averted a three-game sweep by the division-leading Braves on Sunday, scattering five hits and three walks in improving his 2010 record to 7-5.

The Mets also received some clutch hitting on the afternoon, with both Alex Cora and Josh Thole coming through with RBI singles and Ike Davis supplying a solo home run as part of a 2-for-3 day. Angel Pagan finished with three hits for New York, which halted a three-game overall losing streak with Sunday's verdict.

"We scratched a couple runs on the board and got a [win]," said Davis afterward. "It's huge."

New York hopes to carry that momentum over into a critical 11-game West Coast road trip that begins this evening. The Mets have amassed an impressive 30-16 mark at home this season, but are a lackluster 18-24 away from Citi Field.

The Mets have acquitted themselves well as the visitor in this series, however, winning in nine of their last 12 stops at AT&T Park. New York took three of four matchups with the Giants held in San Francisco last season and also won two of three bouts between the teams at Citi Field back in May.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel will hand the ball to R.A. Dickey for tonight's opener, with the journeyman seeking to build off his pleasantly surprising first half. Since joining the club's rotation in mid-May, the knuckleball specialist has gone 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 10 starts and lasted at least six innings in all but one of those appearances.

Dickey has struggled some as of late, however. After ripping off six straight wins from May 25-June 23, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in a three- start span. His latest defeat took place against the Braves last Saturday, where he was reached for four runs (three earned) and gave up a pair of homers in 6 2/3 innings.

The 35-year-old, who's 3-1 with a 3.32 ERA in six road starts so far this season, has never previously faced the Giants.

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