Yet, the outfielder the Mets will encounter on Friday is also different. Beltran is on pace to crush his numbers from a season ago. In 49 games this season, Beltran is hitting .290 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs. In his final 98 games with the Mets last season, Beltran hit .289 with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs.
"I'm not too excited [to face Beltran] because he's having a great year," said Mets third baseman David Wright. "He's picking up right where he left off last year. He's healthy and looks great."
"I've certainly been aware of when he was red hot and hit all the homers," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's still got 15 homers and he's having a great year, and I'm very happy for him.
"He's a great guy. He came here and played his heart out for me. But if there's a time he gets cold, I hope it starts Friday night. It will be nice to talk to him, nice to congratulate him for the start he's been off to this year, but we've got to get him out."
Beltran, who was out of the lineup on Wednesday but expected to be ready for Friday's opener, takes his hot bat to New York as the Cardinals come off their first off-day in three weeks. After playing 20 games in 20 days -- their longest such streak on the schedule this season -- manager Mike Matheny acknowledged the breather was needed considering five players have gone on the disabled list since the team's last day off.
"It's taken its toll on us. It's not a coincidence with the injuries. Guys are pushing. We've had I don't know how many tight games, but it seems like it's been a lot of them," Matheny said. "And a lot of come-from-behinds, which is draining on you physically and mentally. It's been a tough run.
"We've had a good tough run here. It's a good test to see what you're made of. We might as well find out sooner rather than later."
Matheny's bats will back up Adam Wainwright, who will make the start in place of Jaime Garcia. Garcia told the Cardinals staff that he has been dealing with elbow discomfort since his previous outing. The off-day allows the rotation to move up without having to find a replacement.
Wainwright comes off arguably his two best starts of the season, back-to-back wins in which he combined to allow one earned run on 11 hits over 15 innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk. The Mets figure to provide Wainwright with a challenge. The right-hander is 1-1 in four career games (two starts) with a 6.75 ERA against them.
Likewise, Johan Santana is coming off his best start since undergoing shoulder surgery in late 2010. The left-hander tossed a four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and no walks against the Padres on Saturday. Santana has not taken a loss since April 17, and registered a quality start in six of seven starts since that date.
Cardinals: Craig expected to return for opener
The Cardinals are expected to take 1B/OF Allen Craig off the disabled list on Friday and make him available for the weekend series. Craig, who underwent a battery of tests on his left hamstring over the past week, will add depth to the middle of the Cardinals order. Matheny acknowledged that he will not protect Craig, and will use him either in the outfield or at first base. Craig is hitting .373 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 13 games this season.
Matt Adams was called up on May 20 to fill in for the loss of Lance Berkman. So far, the 2009 23rd-round Draft pick has helped fill the void with strong production. Adams is hitting .317 (13-for-41) with one home run and five RBIs. In 11 games, Adams has tallied five mulithit games, five doubles and committed only one error.
Mets: Francisco bouncing back
Frank Francisco's job as the Mets closer was in jeopardy following a very poor outing and on-field tirade May 13 in Miami. However, the right-hander has rebounded since then to allow just one earned run in his last seven innings and has converted six consecutive save opportunities, while striking out nine, allowing five hits and walking four. He has retired 15 of his last 16 batters faced. Francisco has already saved 14 games this season, coming off a 2011 season in which he saved 17 games for the Blue Jays.
The Mets went 15-13 in May after going 13-10 in April. It is the first time since 2007 that the Mets posted a winning record in both months.
The Cardinals boast a National League-best plus-65 run differential.