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Unprecedented: Mets at Phillies, May 9-11, 2006

May 9: Phillies 5, Mets 4 WP: Gordon (2-1) LP: Heilman (0-1)
May 10: Mets 13, Phillies 4 WP: Glavine (5-2) LP: Lidle (3-4)
May 11: Phillies 2, Mets 0 (5) WP: Floyd (4-2) LP: Trachsel (2-3)

For more coverage of the Mets, please visit our SBN sister site at Amazin' Avenue

For the better part of ten years, maybe longer, a real rivalry has been building between the Phillies and the Mets. The teams' proximity, the irascibility of both fan bases, the mutual disdain between the two cities, and perhaps even the shared baseball legacy of colorful performers like Tug McGraw, Lenny Dykstra and--of course--Billy Wagner, all might help explain the bad blood.

But what's been missing from the rivalry, what's kept it from rising to the level of Yankees-Red Sox, Giants-Dodgers, or Cubs-Cardinals,  is a history of high-stakes, head to head competition. Since the start of divisional play in 1969, the Phils and Mets have never really gone down to the wire in a serious race for the postseason. For the most part, when one team has thrived, the other has faltered: the Mets were contenders through the early '70s, while the Phils were bottom-feeders; when the Schmidt/Carlton Phillies rose to greatness in the late 1970s and early '80s, the Mets meandered between middling and pitiful. In the second half of that decade, the Mets won a title and contended year after year while the Phils relocated back to the NL East basement. For awhile in the 1990s, both teams struggled; by the end of the decade, the Mets were back, but the Phillies remained in their post-1993 hangover. The closest they've ever come to simultaneous contention was 2001, when the Mets' late-season charge fizzled out four games behind the runner-up Phils and six behind division champion Atlanta, and last year, when the Mets recorded 83 wins to the Phillies' 88.

While it's still early, 2006 might be the year that all changes.

Since the end of 2004, the Mets have been on a spending binge more characteristic of their crosstown rivals, the Yankees. Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner have all come to Queens, at a total cost of more than $250 million. These additions, as well as lower-cost veterans Paul LoDuca and Julio Franco, buttressed a veteran core that included Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and Steve Trachsel and exciting young infielders David Wright and Jose Reyes. Thus far, the mix is working: the Mets' 21-10 record entering the series is the second-best in baseball.

The Mets' biggest strength, starting pitching, is also their great potential weakness. In this series, the Phils aren't missing any aces: New York sends Martinez, Glavine and Trachsel to the mound for the three contests. That's a combined 602 career wins, or 479 more than the Phils' three scheduled starters, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle and Gavin Floyd. In 2006, the three vets have recorded 11 of New York's 21 victories. For their careers, Martinez is 7-4, 2.85 against the Phillies; Glavine is 24-16, 3.77 and Trachsel 10-9, 3.93.

Where the Mets have cause for concern is the back end of their rotation. Their #4 and #5 starters who began the year, Victor Zambrano and Brian Bannister, are now on the disabled list; Zambrano, the underachieving right-hander for whom the Mets inexplicably dealt away Scott Kazmir, is gone for the season. At the moment, retreads Darren Oliver and Jose Lima round out the New York rotation; if any of the Big Three also go down--and they're 34, 40, and 35 respectively, with injury histories for Pedro and Trachsel--the Mets will be scrambling.

In the second week of May, though, that's all speculation. What we know is that the Phils enter the series playing their best ball in a long time, looking to close the four-game gap separating them from the Mets. One added bit of motivation for the home club--as if Wagner's latest rantings weren't enough--is this: in 2005, when they fell one game shy of the playoffs and two back for the division, the Mets won 11 of the 18 games between the teams, including 5 of 8 at CBP. A little payback for that would seem to be in order.