NEW YORK -- The Mets' championship chances next year may come to depend on how well they fare against teams in the National League Central in the final weeks of the season. In the schedule for 2010, released Tuesday by Major League Baseball, the Mets are the only NL East team that plays an inordinate number of games outside the division in late August and September.

The new schedule has them playing the Astros at Citi Field in late August, followed by visits from the Pirates and Brewers in September. Moreover, the Mets travel to Houston and Pittsburgh in mid and late August and Chicago in early September.

Routine qualities exist, of course, as do several Interleague highlights, the most prominent of which is a three-game series against the Yankees at Citi Field May 21-23 and the Mets' three-game visit to the Bronx June 18-20. Their Interleague schedule also includes trips to Baltimore June 11-13 and Cleveland June 15-17 and home series against the Tigers June 22-24 and Twins June 25-27.

The Mets will travel to Baltimore to play the O's for the second consecutive year after having not played at Camden Yards before this season since 2001. They'll also visit Cleveland for the first time since 2002. The Tigers will play at Citi Field for the first time and in Queens for the first time since 2004. The Twins -- whose manager Ron Gardenhire spent his playing career with the Mets -- played at Shea Stadium in 2007.

The second season at Citi Field begins April 5 with a day game against the Marlins and includes a four-game visit by the Cubs April 19-22. Late April and May at Citi will have a 50's feel as the Dodgers come East for three games, beginning April 26-28. And the first series at Citi in May (7-9) brings the Giants to town.

The Phillies make the first of their three visits to Citi in May (25-27) following the Yankees. They play a second three-game series in Queens Aug. 13-15 and a third Sept. 10-12. The Mets' home season ends in October with a three-game series.