Phillies-Mets Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies are trying to stop their free fall,

and getting Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence back should help.

Visits to Citi Field also usually aid the five-time NL East

champions, but Cole Hamels hasn’t had success anywhere against the

New York Mets.

With Howard and Pence slated to return Saturday, Hamels tries to

help the Phillies avoid their longest slide in more than five years

when they open a day-night doubleheader against the Mets after

Friday’s matchup was postponed due to rain.

Philadelphia (98-58) has clinched the best record in the NL and

is three wins shy of the club record set in 1976 and matched in

1977. The Phillies, though, have lost six in a row since clinching

a fifth consecutive East title with last Saturday’s win over St.

Louis.

Thursday’s 6-1 loss to Washington put Philadelphia on the brink

of its first seven-game skid since June 20-28, 2006.

“I’m concerned some but I’m not in a knee-jerk reaction,”

manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’m not going to panic. If you panic,

you get beat.

“We have six games left and that’s definitely enough time but

it’s time for us to get ready for the playoffs. We’re sitting in a

real good position but we definitely need to pick it up some.”

Philadelphia may be in position to start picking it up again

with Howard and Pence returning.

Howard, the team leader with 33 homers and 113 RBIs, has missed

each game of the losing streak with an ankle injury, while Pence’s

left knee has sidelined him for three contests.

A series at Citi Field may also provide a lift for the Phillies,

who have won eight of their last 11 there and hold a 10-5 overall

advantage in the season series with New York (74-82).

Hamels (14-9, 2.80 ERA), one win shy of tying his career mark

set in 2007, hasn’t been a big part of that success against the

Mets, going 3-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 16 starts.

The left-hander has lost six of his last seven starts versus New

York behind a 5.49 ERA, including an 11-2 defeat at Citi Field on

July 16. He was tagged for seven runs and eight hits with four

walks in 4 1-3 innings.

Hamels hasn’t been much better over his last two starts overall,

losing both while posting a 6.00 ERA.

The Mets have dropped nine of 12 but thrived in a spoiler’s role

Thursday, rallying for six runs in the ninth to beat the wild-card

hopeful Cardinals 8-6.

“When you go to work you should go to work hard,” said Willie

Harris, who scored and drove in two runs in two plate appearances

in the ninth. “I think (Thursday) shows these guys in this locker

room care about each other and we want to win.”

Mets Game 1 starter R.A. Dickey (8-13, 3.35) could use another

strong effort from the offense after he got two runs of support

while losing his last two outings. The knuckleballer had a 1.84 ERA

in those starts.

Dickey is 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in three career starts against the

Phillies at Citi Field, losing 7-2 on July 15. He allowed four runs

in seven innings after tossing 15 scoreless frames in the two

previous home meetings.

Shortstop Jose Reyes, hitting .329 and in a tight race with

Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun in trying to become the first Met to win the

batting title, is hitting .423 in his last 12 home games versus

Philadelphia. He is a .324 career hitter off Hamels.

Reyes, though, may want to take the second game off. He is 4 for

21 (.190) against Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.30), who will be making his

fourth appearance and first start since returning Sept. 12 after

missing four months with an elbow injury.

The right-hander has pitched just three innings since coming

back, allowing a run and three hits while striking out four.

He got roughed up in his only start against New York this season

but didn’t receive a decision after allowing seven runs and 10 hits

over 4 1-3 innings of a 10-7 win in Philadelphia on April 6.

Blanton had been 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in his first seven starts

versus the Mets, who will counter with Dillon Gee in the

nightcap.

Gee (12-6, 4.48) is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in his last four starts,

and the right-hander’s numbers may not improve with a matchup

against Philadelphia.

He is 0-1 with a 20.25 ERA in two appearances – one start – this

season versus the Phillies, both coming on the road. He has never

faced them at Citi Field.