Mets(courtesy of mlb.com)
Following the major shakeup in the National League East standings this week, the Mets, winners of seven straight games, get their first oppurtunity to defend their first-place standing against the division-rival Phillies in a three-game set this weekend.
Armed with hot bats, the Mets travel to Philly for Game 1 on Friday, when New York will be looking to avenge last season’s results, when the defending East champs took 12 of 18 contests. The Mets are back on track this season, and with a place at the top of the standings at stake, both clubs are ready to resume one of the NL’s biggest rivalries.
The Mets, however, have been riding their starting pitching during their recent winning streak. Jonathon Niese, Friday’s starter, has been a big part of that, but hasn’t been rewarded with a win of late. In his last outing, Niese allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings against Atlanta, but took his third consecutive no-decision.
Niese will have one thing in his favor on Friday: unfamiliarity. The young hurler has never faced the Phillies and will get his first taste of the division rivalry in Game 1.
Hisanori Takahashi (2-1, 3.77 ERA) has also played a key role in the Mets’ recent success. The left-hander currently leads all Major League relievers with 21 strikeouts. He’s averaging 13.19 strikeouts per nine innings. His success, especially in long relief, has prompted questions about the possibility of moving to the starting five if Ollie Perez can’t get on track. “He’s making a strong case for himself to be a part of the rotation if we continue to have issues,” said Mets manager Jerry Manuel.
Phillies(courtesy of mlb.com)
After dropping two of their three series on their recent road trip, Philly will be looking for a strong start from Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick, however, has struggled to find any sort of a groove as a starter.
Kendrick hasn’t been that far from the mark, rather he’s just been inconsistent in the season’s early going.
“The first month of the season hasn’t been very good [for me],” said Kendrick. “I’ve been pretty erratic. … I’ve had some good spots and some bad ones. I’ll just have to keep working on it.”
In his last start, Kendrick looked as if he had solved the puzzle early, but fell apart in the fifth inning, allowing five runs in the frame to take the loss.
Despite Kendrick’s struggles, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t have many other options for his spot in the rotation until Joe Blanton is activated, which could happen as early as this weekend.
Ryan Howard broke the longest homerless drought of his career — a span of 65 at-bats — on Wednesday by going deep off Tim Lincecum. Howard hadn’t homered since April 10, and his previous long drought was 57 at-bats. Howard, the fourth player in big league history to have four straight seasons with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs, also doubled on Wednesday.
And perhaps not surprisingly, the Phillies found a way to win in extra innings. Philadelphia is now 4-0 this season when Howard hits a home run, and it went 26-13 under those circumstances last season. Howard, who ranks fifth in franchise history with 226 home runs, has seen his team manage a 132-70 record in games in which he hits a homer.