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Now, Later, or Never: Mets at Phillies, June 13-15, 2006

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June 13: Mets 9, Phillies 7 W: Bradford (3-2) L: Madson (6-4) S: Wagner (13)
June 14: Mets 9, Phillies 3 W: Oliver (3-0) L: Myers (4-3)
June 15: Mets 5, Phillies 4 W: Trachsel (4-4) L: Lidle (4-6) S: Wagner (14)

For more on the Mets, please visit our SBN sister site Amazin' Avenue

While the Phils faded at the end of their 11-game road trip, losing three of four to a very hot Nationals team, the Mets kicked it up a notch by sweeping the reeling Arizona Diamondbacks in a four-game set. In less than 72 hours, the Phils' gap in the NL East went from a very manageable 3.5 games to a daunting 6.5 game deficit.

Is it over? Of course not. At this time last year, remember, the Orioles, Rangers and Nationals all looked playoff-bound; none finished above .500. The Mets are much better than any of those teams, and they've got the payroll to prove it, but the point remains that anything can, and probably will, happen. Still, Beerleaguer for one argues that the Mets have built their current edge in no small part because GM Omar Minaya has been more proactive in solving problems--specifically, the mess at the back of the rotation--than his Phillies counterpart Pat Gillick.

Looking at the pitching matchups for this three-game set, neither team seems to have a clear advantage. Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, a decent bet to start next month's all-star game for the NL, goes against Ryan Madson and his 5.74 ERA in the series opener. But Madson handles the Mets: in 18 career appearances against New York, he's put up a 1.61 ERA and held Met hitters to a .177 average. All those appearances were in relief--most recently that heroic but doomed seven-inning stint in last month's 16-inning loss--but, one would hope, pitching is pitching. With Jon Lieber out, Randy Wolf still down, Gavin Floyd and Eude Brito nowhere, Madson pretty much has to be a viable starter for the Phils to hang in this playoff race.  

On Wednesday, Phils ace Brett Myers, coming off his worst start of the season, faces Mets retread Orlando Hernandez, coming off his best. It's hard to predict how Myers will bounce back from his Friday night meltdown in DC; Charlie Manuel took a big risk pulling his struggling starter after just three innings, but the bullpen kept the Phils in the game and Myers hopefully got a chance to clear his head. This is already Brett's third start against New York this season; in the first two, he outdueled Pedro Martinez over 8 innings but took a no-decision as the Phils won 5-4, and gutted out seven tough innings to salvage the getaway game in a 5-3 win at Shea. As with Glavine and the Phillies, there isn't much mystery here.

Perhaps the really worrisome matchup is in Thursday afternoon's finale, when Cory Lidle faces Human Rain Delay Trachsel. Last month, the Mets splattered Lidle all over the road, inflicting on him the Phils' only loss during their 13-1 stretch: 2 innings, 7 hits, 1 walk, 8 runs, 5 earned. Trachsel will be facing the Phils for the third time this year: in the first one, the rain-shortened Aaron Rowand crash game, he allowed two runs in four innings and took a 2-0 loss. Trachsel also started the marathon contest the Mets won 9-8, though he was gone after five innings and six runs allowed.

Call me irrational, but I just don't see the Phils smacking him around two straight starts. If there's cause for hope, it's that Trachsel is a much less effective pitcher against lefties: they're hitting .323 against him this year, compared to .261 for righties. Thursday afternoon might be a good time to get David Dellucci into the lineup and let Pat Burrell rest that foot.

Also, Phillie-killer Cliff Floyd returns from an ankle injury tonight, looking to add to his career 27 homers and 92 RBI against the Phils. Floyd's next most victimized opponent is Atlanta, against whom he's launched 19 bombs and driven in 63.