The Phillies, coming off their surprise run to the World Series last October, haven’t lived up to expectations either this season. They arrive in New York for their first meeting with the Mets in 2023 with a 25-28 record.
Here are five things to watch for in the series:
1. The Alvarez Power Show
Francisco Alvarez’s electrifying rise has made his every move a must-watch for Mets’ fans. He hit three-run home runs to put his team ahead on Saturday and Sunday, and while the pitching blew the leads on both days it didn’t diminish the significance of what the young catcher is doing with the bat these days.
Alverez has now hit five home runs in his last eight games and accounted for 13 RBI. He’s hitting .400 (12-for-30) during that stretch, even impressing Buck Showalter enough for the manager to move him from the No. 9 spot in the lineup to No. 2 on Sunday.
With eight HRs for the season, Alvarez leads all rookies and is second only to Sean Murphy among all MLB catchers. Likewise his .558 slugging percentage and .885 OPS lead all rookies who have at least 100 at-bats.
2. Where’s the October Magic?
So far the Phillies have looked more like the team that finished 14 games back in the NL East and lost 14 of 19 games to the Mets last season than the one that got hot as a wild card team and made their run to the World Series.
Actually, at 25-28 they’ve looked worse than that, and though they split a four-game series in Atlanta over the weekend, they’re only 4-9 over their last 13 games.
Starting pitching has been a key reason. Phillies’ starters have a 4.59 ERA , which ranks 12th in the National League. Co-ace Aaron Nola is 4-3 with a 4.59 ERA while ex-Met Taijuan Walker has been especially disappointing, pitching to a 5.57 ERA. Their other ex-Met and co-ace, Zack Wheeler, has been up and down but pitched an eight-inning, 12-strikeout gem in beating the Braves on Saturday.
Nola and Walker will pitch the final two games of this series. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who has a 9.82 ERA in three outings after an injury-delayed start to hit season, pitches the first game on Tuesday night.
3. Will the Mets’ Bats Stay Hot?
Bad pitching negated the fireworks over the weekend, and maybe the high altitude in Denver was a factor on both ends, but the Mets are coming off their best offensive burst of the season, having scored 32 runs in their last four games, including 17 in the last two.
Alvarez’s emergence is a big part of it, but Pete Alonso has been on a home run binge as well, and the Mets have been getting contributions up and down the lineup since their 10-1 win in Chicago against the Cubs on Thursday.
Alonso leads the majors with 20 home runs, Brandon Nimmo is sixth in the NL with a .306 batting average, and Francisco Lindor is fourth in the NL with 39 RBIs. All that and Tommy Pham had a day Sunday, going 3-for-4 with four RBI.
Team-wise the Mets have improved to sixth in the NL in runs scored, averaging 4.5 runs per game.
4. $641 Million Worth of Shortstops
In the first year of his 11-year, $300 million contract, Trea Turner seems to be having the same difficulty living up to the expectations that Francisco Lindor did in 2021, the first year of his 10-year, $341 million deal.
Turner was supposed to be the piece to put the Phillies over the top, all the more so after hitting some clutch home runs in the World Baseball Classic, but so far he has been underwhelming, hitting .243 with five home runs and a .671 OPS.
Lindor, meanwhile, is hitting only .225 with a 718 OPS yet he has been excellent in the clutch, which is why he has such a high RBI total. With runners in scoring position he’s hitting .291 with an .870 OPS and w/RISP and two outs he’s hitting .304 with a .929 OPS.
5. Will the Mets’ Pitching Come Around?
Here’s a remarkable stat that says everything about the lack of consistency in the starting rotation: the Mets are 13-0 this season in games in which their starter has pitched six innings or more.
That, of course, means there have been 41 games in which the starter has failed to go at least six innings, including the 9-7 and 11-10 losses over the weekend in Denver, and the Mets are 14-27 in those games.
That also speaks to the lack of depth in the bullpen. The Mets’ high-leverage relievers have been solid but the middle-inning guys have killed them at times, like the last two days against the Rockies.
But most importantly, with their starting-pitching ERA at 5.13, ranking 13th in the NL, the Mets will be looking for some dependability from their starters against the Phillies: Kodai Senga, Carlos Carrasco, and Max Scherzer.