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Morning Briefing: Mets open critical series vs. Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Get ready for a potentially make-or-break series for the New York Mets.

The Mets (62-62) trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 4 1/2 games for the National League's second wild-card spot as the teams open a three-game series on Tuesday at 8:15 p.m. ET at Busch Stadium.

Jonathon Niese (8-7, 5.30 ERA) opposes left-hander Jaime Garcia (10-8, 4.11) in the opener.

The Mets could have used the team's day off on Monday to skip Niese, but decided to keep the rotation in order because of Steven Matz's shoulder woes and Jacob deGrom's struggles in his last start in San Francisco.

So deGrom, on an extra day of rest, opposes Carlos Martinez on Wednesday, followed by Seth Lugo against Adam Wainwright on Thursday.

Matz had been lined up to start the series finale, but he instead was placed on the disabled list after his balky shoulder was examined by team doctors on Monday in Manhattan. Matz was diagnosed with a mild shoulder strain and rotator-cuff inflammation. Because of DL backdating, Matz will be eligible to be activated next Tuesday -- the next time his rotation turn comes up. It's not yet clear if he will be ready by then.

The Mets will add right-hander Robert Gsellman and infielder T.J. Rivera for Tuesday's series opener.

Gsellman, who is a combined 4-9 with a 3.99 ERA in 20 starts with Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas this season, is expected to work out of the bullpen. He was scratched from his scheduled Pacific Coast League start on Monday at Tacoma.

Rivera returns to sub for Neil Walker, who is due to be placed on paternity leave and miss the entire series.

The 23-year-old Gsellman, a 13th-round pick in 2011 out of high school in Los Angeles, specializes in keeping the ball on the ground. With Las Vegas, he recorded 2.12 groundouts for every fly out.

TUESDAY'S NEWS REPORTS:

  • Dwight Gooden refuted Darryl Strawberry's comments that he's a junkie, and told the Post about Strawberry: "He's trying to take the heat off himself. … He's cheating on his wife. He's having an affair with people. … I call him Lucifer. … [Going public] was a weak shot, and he did it to make himself look better, because he is running a drug rehab." Bobby Ojeda tells the Daily News it was wrong for Strawberry to go public with his concerns about Gooden. Read more in Newsday.

  • Terry Collins, who is under contract for 2017, wants to return. Collins tells Newsday: “If I'm back -- and hopefully I am -- I'll go after it the same way. And if I'm not, I will say thanks a million for the fun, great relationships, and I'm going to walk away with a smile on my face. … I've got no [complaints] about anything. I've been blessed.”

  • Read more on Matz headed to the DL in the Times, Daily News, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.

  • Rafael Montero tossed seven scoreless innings and Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith homered in Binghamton's 6-3 win against Hartford. J.C. Rodriguez had a three-run homer and Columbia beat Augusta, 7-5. Merandy Gonzalez was knocked out in the first inning and Lowell beat Brooklyn, 7-1. Juan Uriarte had a walk-off three-run homer in the GCL Mets' 8-5 win in 10 innings against the GCL Marlins. Read the full minor-league recap here.

  • Columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post outlines the areas that need to go right for the Mets to reach the postseason.

  • David Freese signed an extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates, depriving the Mets of a potential free agent to pursue next offseason, Joel Sherman writes in the Post.

  • Las Vegas' Brandon Nimmo and Binghamton's Phillip Evans earned player of the week honors for their respective leagues.

  • From the bloggers … Mets Report looks at the greatest pennant-race comebacks in franchise history. … Blogging Mets remembers a memorable Mets series in St. Louis in 1985.

BIRTHDAYS: Julio Franco turns 58. ... Ed Hearn is 56. ... Prentice Redman is 37. ... Pat Strange is 36. ... Raul Casanova is 44.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU'RE UP: Are the Mets making the right call starting Niese and Lugo against the Cardinals?