The visiting New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates have not met this season. Now the struggling Pirates could be a crucial opponent for the Mets.

The teams open a three-game series Monday and face each other seven times in the next two weeks.

The Mets have led the National League East since April 12, but Atlanta is in hot pursuit. New York is coming off a series loss to visiting Washington, including 7-1 losses on Saturday and Sunday.

The Mets have scored a total of 22 runs over their past eight games — with seven coming in one contest — in going 4-4.

“I’m always going to give credit to major league pitchers, but also we just haven’t scored runs in the area of need,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said.

Pittsburgh, last in the NL Central and losers of four straight and 12 of 14, has not fared well lately against contending teams, going 2-10 since Aug. 22 against Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Toronto, with the Blue Jays notching a three-game series sweep over it this past weekend.

The Mets would do well to ensure the Pirates don’t reverse that trend.

The Mets are heading into a stretch of 13 straight games against teams that sit in third place or lower in their division.

“We’re on the point where we have to win as many games as possible,” third baseman Eduardo Escobar said. “We’re really trying to make a big impact in this next month.”

The Pirates have been without third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes since he left Friday’s game because of left shoulder soreness.

“He’s still a little bit sore. Hopefully, we’ll have him back in the next couple days,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton told the Pirates Radio Network.

In the series opener, New York right-hander Taijuan Walker (10-3, 3.45 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (4-10, 4.43).

Keller, who has never faced the Mets, has continued on a path toward consistency as a starter.

Since a short stint in the bullpen, Keller has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 13 of 16 starts. He also has a 3.19 ERA over his past nine outings, although he is 2-4 in those games.

On Tuesday, Keller struck out a career-high 10 and worked six innings at Milwaukee in a no-decision.

“Attacking the zone and just having high velocity,” Keller said. “Everything was pretty much on, so I think that’s a good contributor to having career-high stuff.”

That outing came after he was only able to last a combined 5 2/3 innings over his previous two starts, when he gave up 12 runs, six of them earned, and 12 hits, and left an Aug. 16 game against Boston because of right shoulder fatigue.

It was quite the bounce-back.

“That’s the best I’ve seen Mitch throw the ball. That was phenomenal,” Pirates reliever Chase De Jong said.

Walker can’t quite say the same about his last outing, a no-decision Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He gave up three runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings.

It was his 18th start going at least five innings and giving up three or fewer runs.

Against Pittsburgh, Walker is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in three career starts.

–Field Level Media