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In Philadelphia, an Early Test for the New York Mets

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COMMENTARY | It might sound like hyperbole, but this upcoming three-game series in Philadelphia is a big one for the New York Mets.

The Mets are 4-2 after the first week of the 2013 season. They won two out of three games against teams with low expectations. It's one thing to beat the San Diego Padres and the Miami Marlins. It's another thing to beat the better teams. That starts tonight when the Mets take on the Phillies.

The Mets could very easily be 3-3 had they not put together the season's first dramatic moment on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Trailing 3-2 entering the ninth inning, the Mets rallied to win the game, extending the hope that maybe, just maybe, this season isn't going to be as bad as so many think it will be.

After Ruben Tejada was hit by a pitch with one out, pinch hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis lined a single to left center. Tejada hustled to third and Nieuwenhuis advanced to second on the throw. With the Marlins infield playing in, Marlon Byrd pulled one down the third base line to drive home two as the Mets picked up their second straight win.

We still don't know how much winning the Mets will do this year, and that's why the series with the Philadelphia Phillies that begins tonight is so intriguing. While Philadelphia is still a legitimate playoff contender - widely picked to finish third in the National League East -- they start the season with some question marks. That's not much of a slight either, considering how good the Washington Nationals should be and how good the Atlanta Braves could be.

With the Marlins projected to finish in last place, the question for the Mets is this: Are they closer to the Marlins or the Phillies? The answer will determine whether this is a team that could hover around .500 and compete, or one due for yet another second-half slide, with this one perhaps coming even earlier.

Even though the Mets have won four games, there are still some major concerns. Their hitting, at times, has been cold. Yesterday, the 20-year-old rookie, Jose Fernandez, retired the first 10 Mets to come to the plate. The Mets didn't reach base until the fourth, and they didn't score until the fifth. They struggled late as well, unable to get the big hit in the seventh and eighth innings. It wasn't the first time this year that's happened.

There are other concerns. Tejada has made four errors at shortstop; the bullpen worked in and out of trouble yesterday and was a question mark entering the season; aside from Byrd, the outfielders really haven't been impressive.

In the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday, SNY, the television home of the Mets, posted a statistic that said the Mets were 20-22 in one-run games last year. Ron Darling, working the game as the analyst, talked about how good teams win one-run games. He also said that good teams get to the opponent's closer. The Mets did both yesterday.

We'll have to wait and see how good this team is. Are they closer to the Phillies, a playoff contender, or the Marlins, the favorite to finish last in the division?

We'll start to get some answers tonight in Philadelphia.

Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

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