NEW YORK (AP) - Daniel Murphy likes the makeup of the New York Mets, and expects there will be no fading from the playoff chase after the break this season.
``I think you take on the identity of your manager, a fiery guy who never gives up, unbelievable starting pitching and when we needed to lean on the bullpen, we leaned on them, and then number 5,' Murphy said after the Mets lost to the Chicago Cubs 7-0 on Sunday.
``I think the break couldn't come at a better time for the Mets,' he added. ``We're three days closer to getting Frank Francisco back, three days closer to getting J. Bay back and I think that makes for a dangerous ballclub in the second half.'
Under second-year manager Terry Collins and behind the All-Star production of No. 5, David Wright, the Mets were in a position to move a season high-tying eight games above .500 but continued a recent trend of trading wins and losses. They go into the All-Star break 46-40, third place in the NL East. New York finished a homestand against lowly Philadelphia and Chicago, 3-3.
The Mets haven't been to the playoffs since 2006, and they were over .500 the last two seasons - including 48-40 in 2010 - at the break. Injuries and poor play, though, sent the Mets into second-half tailspins. This year they are relatively healthy and should get back closer Frank Francsico and left fielder Jason Bay soon.
``We got to start next week, realizing we're in a fight. We got to get ready,' Collins said. ``If we can duplicate the first half, I'll take our chances. If we can win 46 in the second half, I'll take our chances.'
The Mets had their chances Sunday but Ryan Dempster extended his scoreless innings streak to 27 in his first start in three weeks. All-Star Starlin Castro hit a three-run homer off Jonathon Niese to win the three-game series.
Dempster (4-3) was activated from the disabled list then pitched five innings of four-hit ball in his first outing since June 15, when he experienced tightness in a back muscle. His lengthy string of zeros is the Cubs' best for a starter since Ken Holtzman went 27 innings in 1971.
The Cubs made it as comfortable as possible for Dempster, scoring four runs before he even threw a pitch.
Alfonso Soriano had an RBI single, Jeff Baker a run-scoring double with a jam shot to the opposite field and Geovany Soto drove in two runs with a single against Niese.
Niese (7-4) had only given up four or more runs in a game five times - 16 starts - this season entering Sunday.
``They came out swinging,' Collins said. ``He was trying to get ahead (and) they were hammering the first pitch.'
Collins said Johan Santana will not start Friday. Instead, he'll go Sunday or Monday to give his ankle a chance to fully heal. Santana twisted it in Friday's start, when he gave up a career high-tying 13 hits.
``We're going to let Johan's ankle have an extra day or so,' Collins said. ``He's fine. Don't misread anything.'
The Cubs finished the first half in the midst of a modest surge, winning nine of 13 to improve to a disappointing 33-52 in Theo Epstein's first year in charge. It's their worst record before the break since 2006 when they were 34-54.
The team has been a little up and down but everybody hustles right now,' Castro said. ``Let's see in the second half everybody pull a little bit together and win more games.'
Dempster put his streak in jeopardy by allowing a one-out triple to Scott Hairston in the second but he got Jordany Valdespin to line out to second and Josh Thole to groundout to shortstop. Niese and Ruben Tejada opened the third with singles but the Nos. 2-3-4 hitters couldn't capitalize.
After Tejada's hit, Dempster retired nine in a row before being lifted.
``He was way more efficient than we thought,' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ``Everything went well. He feels great.'
The right-hander was scheduled to start the Cubs' first game after the All-Star break on Friday but Sveum said Dempster will start Saturday instead to better fit his throwing program. Paul Maholm will move up from Saturday.
Dempster has won four in a row after an 18-start winless streak dating back to Aug. 11. He struck out four and walked none.
Maholm came on in relief for the first time. He made 201 consecutive starts until he entered in the sixth and gave up two hits. But the Mets failed again with runners on. Ike Davis popped to shortstop and Lucas Duda grounded into a double play.
Manuel Corpas, James Russell and Shawn Camp finished the eight-hitter.
Niese had settled in after the first, allowing only one hit until Luis Valbuena singled with one out in the seventh. Reed Johnson singled with two outs and Castro hit the first pitch for a three-run homer, his seventh long ball this year.
Niese allowed seven runs and nine hits in seven innings.
``I thought I made a lot of good pitches,' Niese said. ``And then when I had guys in scoring position, I made mistakes and they punished `em.'
NOTES: To make room for Dempster on the Cubs roster, Chris Volstad was optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Volstad is 0-7 this season. ... Mets prospects RHP Zach Wheeler and 3B Wilmer Flores were scheduled to play in the MLB Futures Game in Kansas City Sunday. ... Valdespin started in center field for first time in his career. ... The game took a crisp 2 hours, 8 minutes.
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