It’s much too early to tell if the New York Mets can be legitimate contenders in the NL East. Besides, a potential race with the Philadelphia Phillies might not be decided until the final days of the season.
With a strong Mets run rekindling their rivalry with the Phillies, these teams play for first place Friday night in the opener of a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park.
While Philadelphia easily won the NL East last season en route to its second consecutive NL pennant, New York was decimated by injuries and finished 23 games behind.
In each of the previous two seasons, the Phillies overtook the Mets late to win the NL East. Philadelphia clinched the division with one game remaining in 2008, it and needed a victory on the final day of the season to secure it in ’07.
Philadelphia (12-9) may have New York (13-9) to contend with again this year.
Recovered from a 4-8 start, the Mets are atop the division, a half-game ahead of the Phillies. New York has won seven straight and is coming off a 9-1 homestand, its best since going 9-1 in September 1988. The Mets haven’t won eight in a row since a 10-game run in July 2008.
“I’m kind of anxious to see when we’re hot, the opposition is hot and kind of see where that falls and see how we manage to play in that type of setting,” manager Jerry Manuel said.
New York had a strong run at the plate in a three-game series with Los Angeles, winning 10-5 on Tuesday night in the finale of a doubleheader and 7-3 the next day.
Mets third baseman David Wright(notes) got off to a slow start, but is 6 for 10 with four RBIs in his last three games. Wright, though, hit .176 (6 for 34) with nine strikeouts in nine games at Philadelphia last season.
Niese overcame wildness in his last outing, walking five but giving up one run and striking out six in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-1 victory over Atlanta.
This is Niese’s first appearance against the Phillies.
The right-hander was outstanding in his previous start, tossing eight scoreless innings in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to Atlanta on April 20. With Joe Blanton(notes) (oblique) expected to come off the 15-day disabled list early next month, Kendrick may soon be headed to the bullpen.
Kendrick is 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA in five starts against the Mets.
If he can get the Phillies to the late innings with a lead, closer Brad Lidge(notes) will likely get the nod, as he is schedule to be activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday. Lidge converted all 48 of his save opportunities in 2008, including the playoffs, but he struggled last season with a major league-worst 11 blown saves.
Philadelphia battled back after getting a poor outing from Cole Hamels(notes) in its last game, beating San Francisco 7-6 on Wednesday to avoid getting swept for the first time this season. The Phillies finished a 4-5 trip, avoiding their first four-game skid since September.
Werth hit .120 (3 for 25) with seven strikeouts at home against the Mets last season, but the Phillies won six of those contests and 12 of the teams’ 18 meetings overall.