The Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets began the season considered NL East front-runners for the fourth consecutive year. After the opening month, the Phillies look like contenders while the Mets are in disarray.
The Phillies seek their sixth win in seven games Friday night when they open a three-game set and the season series with the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia (11-9) capitalized on late collapses by the Mets (9-12) to win each of the last two East titles. In 2008, the Phillies overcame a 3 1/2-game deficit with 17 to play and went on to win their first World Series title in 28 years. It was the third consecutive season either the Phillies or Mets won the division.
“It takes more than one player to bring home a championship,” Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said during the club’s victory parade, citing the Mets’ acquisition of ace Johan Santana prior to last season.
The clubs both expected to contend again in 2009, but so far only the Phillies look the part. Philadelphia, which saw its five-game winning streak halted with a 4-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday, is second behind East-leading Florida, while New York is fourth after dropping seven of its last 10.
The Mets’ woes continued Wednesday when they stranded 14 runners and J.J. Putz gave up a two-run single in the eighth to waste a stellar start from Santana en route to a 4-3 loss to the Marlins. New York went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in its second straight loss after taking the series opener 7-1.
Now, New York will try to bounce back and repeat its success against the Phillies from 2008, when it took 11 of 18 meetings.
“I think any time you play a divisional rival, it’s a big series,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel told the team’s official Web site. “They are the world champions, and you like to go in there and play against them to see how you match up. I think for the most part, it will be, obviously, exciting because we consider that a rivalry.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to seeing how we react more than what they do. I want to see how we do, how our guys do.”
Manuel will give the ball to Mike Pelfrey (2-0, 6.32 ERA), who is 1-2 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. The right-hander allowed two runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-2 victory over Washington on Saturday.
Pelfrey will have to contend with a Philadelphia club that ranks among the league leaders with 29 homers and 119 runs.
The Phillies are now getting production from Rollins, who went 6-for-14 (.429) with two doubles and an RBI in the last three games after hitting .162 in his first 16 contests of 2009.
The All-Star shortstop has thrived in his last 16 home meetings with the Mets, batting .358 with four homers, eight RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
Philadelphia will hand the ball to Chan Ho Park (0-0, 7.16), who is looking for his first win since a relief appearance last July 1 for Los Angeles. Since then, the veteran right-hander is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 35 games - five starts.
Park allowed four runs and five hits - two homers - in seven innings, while also helping hitting a solo home run Saturday at Florida in a game the Phillies won 6-4 in 10 innings.
He’s 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA in 15 career games against New York, including nine starts.