Mets-Phillies Preview

It’s been more than two months since the Philadelphia Phillies

last faced the New York Mets, and the three-time reigning NL East

champions would rather not relive the memory.

The Mets blanked their rivals throughout an entire three-game

sweep from May 25-27, but the surging Phillies appear considerably

more confident as they get set to host New York on Friday

night.

Philadelphia’s mysterious midseason slump is one reason the club

remains two games behind first-place Atlanta.

The Mets became the first team since 1983 to shut out the

Phillies for an entire three-game series, part of a stretch when

Philadelphia averaged 1.3 runs in 11 games from May 22-June 2.

Despite lacking injured regulars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and

Shane Victorino, the Phillies (60-48) are playing much better.

They’ve won four straight – three since Howard (sprained ankle)

went on the disabled list – and 12 of 14 while averaging 5.4

runs.

Raul Ibanez’s RBI double was among the key hits during a

game-tying rally in the ninth inning at Florida on Thursday night,

and Carlos Ruiz’s home run in the 10th provided the winning margin

in the 5-4 victory.

“The other day I was talking to my ma, and she asked me about

Howard,” Ruiz said. “I told her we have to keep going and pull

everything together. So far, the guys are doing pretty good.”

The catcher also doubled twice, improving to 18 for 41 (.439)

with 13 RBIs in his last nine games. Ibanez has been just as hot,

batting .447 with 13 RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak.

The duo should provide a challenge for emerging Mets rookie

Jonathon Niese (7-5, 3.78 ERA).

After going 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in June and July, Niese’s August

got off to a rocky start Sunday against Arizona. He didn’t allow a

hit through three innings but ended up surrendering seven runs in 4

1-3 innings of a 14-1 loss.

“They made the adjustments well and I didn’t make the

counter-adjustments,” Niese said.

The Phillies had few answers for Niese on April 30, when the

23-year-old left-hander held Philadelphia to four hits and a run in

seven innings of a 9-1 road win, striking out seven. That’s one of

just two New York victories in its last 11 games at Citizens Bank

Park.

Niese hopes for more run support than the Mets have been

providing their pitchers lately. New York has totaled eight runs

while losing three of four, with star third baseman David Wright

going 0 for 15.

The Mets (54-54) also made four errors in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss

to Atlanta, slipping eight games behind the Braves and six back of

Philadelphia.

“That was bad,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “We didn’t play very

well. We’re a better team than that. We have to get back on

track.”

Facing Joe Blanton (4-6, 5.86) may help. Opponents are hitting

.301 against the big right-hander, who has allowed at least three

runs in all but one of his 17 starts.

He has worked at least seven scoreless innings in three of his

five career starts against the Mets, but he struggled in Queens on

May 26, allowing five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-0 loss.

Blanton, however, hasn’t lost at home since May 8, going 3-0

despite a 5.11 ERA in his last six outings in Philadelphia.