Surging Phillies face Mets in doubleheader

NEW YORK — The last time the Philadelphia Phillies visited the New York Mets, Phillies rookie manager Gabe Kapler was in the midst of one of the worst first weeks on the job imaginable while the Mets and their rookie skipper, Mickey Callaway, were embarking upon one of the best starts ever enjoyed by a first-year manager.

A little more than three months later, things are much different for the Phillies, who are on the verge of achieving something they haven’t done in seven years, and for the Mets, who are flirting with ignoble history on an almost nearly daily basis.

The Phillies will look to move into first place in the National League East Monday afternoon and evening, when they play the Mets in a doubleheader at Citi Field. The twinbill — necessitated by a snowout on April 2 — opens a four-game series between the division rivals.

The opener is expected to pit Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin (7-2, 2.97 ERA) against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler (2-6, 4.36 ERA). In the nightcap, ace Philadelphia right-hander Aaron Nola (11-2, 2.41 ERA), who was named to the NL All-Star team for the first time on Sunday night, is scheduled to oppose New York rookie right-hander Corey Oswalt (0-1, 7.94 ERA).

Both teams lost Sunday. The visiting Phillies had their six-game winning streak snapped during a 4-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-1, while the host Mets were limited to two hits in falling to the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-0 and were blanked for the second straight game.

The loss cost the Phillies (49-38) a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the NL East. The Atlanta Braves (50-39) lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, which leaves the two teams virtually tied atop the division for the third straight day.

However, the Braves are off Monday, so the Phillies will take over first place in the NL East with a sweep. Philadelphia has not been in first place after May since 2011, when it won the last of five straight division titles.

“It’s a great opportunity to go in and win two ballgames and kind of show everyone we’re really here to stay,” Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp told reporters following Sunday’s game.

Such a scenario as the All-Star Game approaches was hard to envision during the first week of the season, when the Phillies lost four of their first five games and Kapler was criticized for pulling Nola after five scoreless innings and 68 pitches in the season opener March 29 and for putting left-hander Hoby Milner into the game March 31 without calling down to the bullpen to tell him to warm up.

Things were going much smoother back then for the Mets, whose wins over the Phillies in the snow-shortened two-game series started a nine-game winning streak that gave them an 11-1 record, which tied Callaway with Pat Moran of the 1915 Phillies for the second-best 12-game start by a rookie manager.

But it’s been all downhill for months for the Mets (35-51), who are 24-50 since their hot start and 8-25 since May 31 — including 5-21 in June, which was the third-worst month in franchise history. They have lost or split 14 straight series since May 18-20.

The Mets threatened to bottom out Sunday, when Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi carried a perfect game into the seventh inning before leadoff batter Brandon Nimmo laced a clean single. New York has been no-hit through at least three innings 12 times this season.

“We have to get things going,” Callaway said following Sunday’s loss. “It’s a situation where we need to get some momentum going into the All-Star Break, take a few days off and then come back clicking on all cylinders.”

Eflin and Nola each won their most recent starts against the Baltimore Orioles last Tuesday and Wednesday. Eflin allowed two runs over seven innings in a 3-2 victory Tuesday while Nola gave up one run over seven innings in a 4-1 win Wednesday.

Neither Wheeler nor Oswalt factored into the decision in their most recent starts last Tuesday and Wednesday, when they opposed the Toronto Blue Jays. Wheeler gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings Tuesday as the Mets fell, 8-6, while Oswalt surrendered two runs over four innings Wednesday in New York’s 6-3 victory.

Nola is 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA in five starts against the Mets, Elfin is 0-2 with a 4.41 in three starts against New York.

Wheeler is 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA in eight career starts against the Phillies. Oswalt has never faced Philadelphia.