So Santana will take the mound at Citi Field on Friday against the Cubs, setting up a pitching rematch from less than two weeks ago against Travis Wood.
It creates matchup problems for both lineups, which struggle against left-handed pitching. The Cubs won the first meeting between the southpaws, 6-1 -- one of only six wins for Chicago when facing a left-handed starter -- but four of those runs were unearned against right-handed reliever Jon Rauch. Santana held Chicago to two runs in six innings, while Wood kept the Mets off the board through seven innings.
The Cubs, for one, are starting to try something different to get it going.
Manager Dale Sveum held left-handed hitters Bryan LaHair and David DeJesus out of his lineup in most starts against lefties, and with good reason. LaHair earned his first All-Star Game bid with his ability to hit right-handers, but he enters the weekend series hitting .075 (3-for-40) against lefties. DeJesus, who is a career .257 hitter against left-handers, is uncharacteristically struggling this season, hitting .163.
Still, Sveum played both Thursday against Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor.
"It's just a matter of picking the right lefties to face," said Sveum before LaHair went 0-for-2 against the lefty Minor and DeJesus went 1-for-4 against Minor and lefty Eric O'Flaherty in a 7-3 loss. "At the same time, I still have to get [Jeff] Baker at-bats. It just might not be as consistent as it was because [Anthony] Rizzo is going to be playing every single day at first base."
So Sveum will have some decisions to make with his lineup, but Collins has the luxury of knowing third baseman David Wright will hit just about anything, and Scott Hairston provides plenty of pop against left-handers.
Wood held Wright, who is hitting .359 against lefties this season, to one hit in three at-bats in their last meeting, and he held Hairston hitless in three trips to the plate. But Hairston showed just how well he is hitting left-handers Thursday night against one of the best in the league in the Phillies' Cole Hamels. Both Hairston and Wright took Hamels deep, giving Hairston nine of the Mets' 25 home runs this year against lefties.
"We went into Spring Training, and one of the things that was pretty blaring was the number of home runs [Hairston] hit last year off of righties. Now he's doing it off lefties," Collins said. "We always knew he hit left-handers for average, but this year he's hitting left-handers for power, which we need."
Cubs: Dempster's return depends on bullpen session
Ryan Dempster could start the series finale Sunday at Citi Field, but it depends on how his bullpen session goes Friday before the series opener in New York.
"He's good enough to keep thinking about it," Sveum said.
Dempster missed the Cubs' series with the Mets at Wrigley Field while on the disabled list with a sore right lat. He did not allow a run in 22 innings over his three starts prior to landing on the disabled list.
A post-All-Star break return originally appeared more realistic, but Dempster progressed well enough to make Sunday an option. If Dempster is not ready, Chris Volstad is the likely choice, but he allowed at least four earned runs in each of his past seven outings and lasted six innings in only three of those starts.
Mets: Nieuwenhuis likely to start despite platoon preferences
Kirk Nieuwenhuis will likely start Friday in center field, despite a platoon that prefers to play him against right-handed starters, as Andres Torres deals with back pain. The Mets will evaluate Torres before the game to see whether a stint on the disabled list is necessary. He was already on the DL this season with a strained calf.
Nieuwenhuis started Thursday and went 0-for-3 against Hamels, lowering his average against left-handed pitchers to .147. He hits .302 against right-handers, making a perfect platoon partner for Torres, who has the inverse splits.
Torres, a switch-hitter, hits .266 against left-handers and .162 against right-handers.
The Cubs took two of three from the Mets in their series in Chicago, but the Mets still drastically outscored the Cubs, 21-12, thanks to a 17-1 win in the series finale.
Mets pitchers lasted at least six innings in 18 of their past 19 outings, dating back to Santana's second start following his June 1 no-hitter against the Cardinals. He allowed 10 runs in 10 innings in his first two starts following the first no-hitter in franchise history, then allowed two runs in 20 innings since.