Phillies-Mets Preview

The Associated Press

Jonathon Niese has been the New York Mets' most effective starter this season.

Cole Hamels has been the complete opposite for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Mets would love another dominant outing from Niese as they try to snap a season-high five-game slide against Hamels and the Phillies in Sunday's finale of this three-game set at Citi Field.

Niese (2-2, 1.82 ERA) has been troubled by injuries throughout his career, and started this season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The left-hander has returned to compile the Mets' lowest ERA and WHIP (1.01) through his first six starts.

He's been even better over his last four outings, putting together a 1.01 ERA and 0.97 WHIP while holding opponents to a .194 average.

The bullpen let Niese down Monday, when he tossed seven scoreless innings before Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up three in the eighth of a 4-3 defeat at Miami.

"Anytime a game is lost, it's tough to watch," Niese said. "But it's just one game. I never want to leave a game but 108 pitches, I figured our bullpen has been doing great."

Niese's recent dominance includes a 6-1 win at Philadelphia on April 29, when the only run he allowed in seven innings came on a solo homer by former Met Marlon Byrd.

He was even better against the Phillies at home Aug. 27, tossing a three-hitter in a 5-0 victory to improve to 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in six meetings there.

Continuing that success may be vital with the Mets (16-19) on the verge of six straight defeats for the first time since May 10-15, 2013. They got closer to that mark by falling 5-4 to Philadelphia (17-18) on Saturday as Ryan Howard delivered the decisive blow with a tiebreaking single in the ninth.

Howard doubled on one of his season high-tying four hits Saturday, and he's batting .432 with five doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs over his last 11 meetings with New York.

"Yeah, it felt good. It felt like old times out there," Howard said of his performance Saturday, which gave the Phillies back-to-back wins after being swept in a four-game set by Toronto. "If we can get everybody going all at the same time, it'll be a force to be reckoned with."

Howard, though, is 2 for 18 with nine strikeouts against Niese.

While Niese is emerging as the Mets' top arm, Hamels (0-2, 7.02) is having a tough time finding his first win of the season and the 100th of his career.

One of those attempts came opposite Niese last month, when he surrendered six runs while walking five batters and hitting another in 4 2-3 innings, giving him back-to-back losses and a 9.26 ERA versus New York.

Hamels didn't show much improvement Tuesday, getting hammered for five runs and 10 hits - two homers - in six innings of a 6-5 loss in 10 to Toronto.

"He was not real sharp," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He fell behind and they didn't miss his fastballs."

David Wright is hitting .429 with six doubles and six RBIs in his last eight games. He had a double and a homer among his three hits while adding three RBIs Saturday.

The All-Star third baseman went 0 for 3 versus Hamels on April 29 after going 10 for 24 with three homers over the past two seasons.

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