By Matt Straub
What a difference a weekend makes. When Friday began, the New York Mets were getting set to battle the Braves with first place on the line and looked to be ready to make their fans’ postseason dreams a reality. The Phillies had looked positively awful against the Red Sox and ready to live up to their last-place expectations.
Fast forward to the end of Sunday, and each team finds itself at 3-3 and two games back of the Braves in the NL East. The Mets are far from eliminated, but the dreams of a fast start have cooled off. The Phillies are still not contenders, but they suddenly seem a little less awful than they did just days ago.
Now comes a series which could see one team fall back from the pack a bit and another put itself in a nice spot nine games in. Here’s a look at a series the Mets would love to win to get back on track and the Phillies would feel happy about taking and starting to make those who doubted them doubt themselves.
Philadelphia Phillies (3-3, 2nd place NL East)
at New York Mets (3-3, 2nd place NL East)
Monday, 1:10 p.m.
Aaron Harang (1-0, 0.00) vs. Jacob deGrom (0-1, 3.00)
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00) vs. Matt Harvey (1-0, 0.00)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.
Jerome Williams (0-0, 1.50) vs. Jonathan Niese (0-0, 1.80)
The Mets have lost theirs. After a statement series victory over preseason favorite Washington, the Mets came back to Earth by losing two of three in Atlanta. They scored three runs in each game, but gave up five twice and four once. A competitive road series loss and a two-game deficit in the standings six games in aren’t much to get upset about, but the Mets were set up to make things really interesting with two straight series wins coming home. They aren’t selling playoff tickets in Philadelphia yet, but a series win and 3-3 mark after six games is better than most could have expected against Boston and Washington. In fact, it’s the Nationals who might be feeling some early-season jitters right now, having lost two of three to both teams. No one will win or lose the division this week, but having a good feeling early in the year is a huge help, which is what the winner of this series will have.
Three Mets Storylines
1. The bullpen is now officially in shambles. Jenrry Mejia was already hurt, but now getting an 80-game ban for steroid use leaves the Mets without a closer for much longer. Bobby Parnell is still a ways away as he begins a rehab assignment, leaving Jeurys Familia as the likely ninth-inning guy for now. The Mets now need Parnell to come back and be effective while they try and figure out how to structure the bullpen, which is especially important this time of year when the starting pitchers typically only go five or six innings.
2. Harvey’s second start will give us a better indication of how he feels than his first one, when adrenaline served him as well as his fastball. How does his new elbow respond after a real game and rest? If there’s no soreness this time, I think it’s safe to assume he’s in the clear healthwise. Mets fans will hold their breath at least once more, however.
3. The offense needs to get going. Three runs a game isn’t enough to take heat off the pitchers. The Mets aren’t exactly a juggernaut offensively, but forcing the pitchers to hold the other team to two runs a game is not a recipe for success.
Three Phillies To Watch
1. Aaron Harang went 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA against the Mets last year while with Atlanta and looked very good in his first start this season. The Mets will have their hands full against him in this series.
2. Darin Ruf broke out of his slump Sunday with a home run, and the Phillies need him to provide them with a power source. I’ve seen him in the minors and always thought he had a chance to be a big league slugger, but he’s running out of time to develop. If he gets hot, the Phillies might have something.
3. If Cody Asche keeps rolling like this, the Phillies will need him to play every day. He didn’t play Saturday, but went right back to work Sunday and is up to .429 for the season. He has six hits in his last three outings.
The Marlins come to Citi Field later this week.