(AP) -- Carlos Beltran wasn't very effective in his much anticipated return to Citi Field to face the New York Mets back in June, and he's slumping currently.
Beltran is enduring a 20-game homerless drought for the St. Louis Cardinals, who are clinging to the NL's second wild-card spot as they open a three-game home set Monday against the surging Mets.
It was a major story when Beltran came back to New York (64-70) for a series that began June 1. The outfielder signed a seven-year deal worth 119 million with the Mets in 2005, and was 2 for 18 with five strikeouts in his return as St. Louis (72-62) dropped three of four.
Beltran is hitting .160 with 23 strikeouts in the 20 games since he went deep Aug. 10 at Philadelphia. He was 5 for 35 with 10 strikeouts on the Cardinals' 4-6 road trip.
With little chance of catching Central-leading Cincinnati, St. Louis is one-half game ahead of the Dodgers and 1 12 in front of Pittsburgh in the race for the second wild card.
Five of the last six starters to face the Cardinals have not allowed an earned run against them, with Stephen Strasburg pitching six scoreless innings Sunday in Washington's 4-3 victory.
"I hate walking out of here when we could have been, through a tough trip, 5-5," manager Mike Matheny told the Cardinals' official website.
Mets starters fared well in the June series against St. Louis, with the first three not allowing a run before Dillon Gee gave up three in the finale. The Cardinals batted .180 with 41 strikeouts in those four games.
St. Louis will get its first look at New York right-hander Collin McHugh (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who will make his second career start. His debut was outstanding as he struck out nine and yielded two hits over seven scoreless innings Aug. 23 in a 1-0 home loss to Colorado.
"It was trying to contain the nerves," said McHugh, an 18th-round draft pick in 2008. "A lot of people gave some really good advice and said you're going to be nervous. It's a fact. Just contain those and go out and do your thing."
The Cardinals' top hitter, Yadier Molina, will be back in the lineup to face McHugh after Matheny gave him Sunday off. Molina, bothered by shoulder and neck pain, is batting .322.
"We just try to give him a little time when we can, even though it doesn't seem like September is the time to do it," Matheny said. "He needs it."
The Mets have won seven of eight after completing a three-game sweep in Miami with Sunday's 5-1 victory. Jason Bay, making his first start since Aug. 25, hit a grand slam to highlight a five-run first inning.
"It didn't feel any different - that was the weird part," Bay said. "My first start in a week or whatever it's been, but I've done this a million times, it wasn't really that awkward."
The Cardinals will start rookie Joe Kelly (4-6, 3.61), who owns a 2.30 ERA in day games as opposed to a 4.25 mark at night. Kelly also is better at home with a 3.06 ERA compared to his 4.45 road ERA.
The right-hander returned to the rotation to replace the struggling Lance Lynn on Wednesday and yielded five runs over five innings in a 5-0 loss at Pittsburgh.