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Valley of Darkness: Phillies at Mets, 9/14-16

September 14: Phillies 3, Mets 2 (10) WP: Gordon (3-2) LP: Heilman (7-7) S: Myers (16)
September 15: Phillies 5, Mets 3 WP: Alfonseca (5-1) LP: Sosa (9-7) S: Myers (17)
September 16: Phillies 10, Mets 6 WP: Geary (3-2) LP: Mota (2-2)

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

After their latest missed opportunity of a 4-3 home stand, the Phillies find themselves in what must be their favorite position this weekend: backs against the wall. With 16 games left, they're tied with the Dodgers and a game and a half behind the Padres, who have by far the easiest schedule of the wild-card contenders from here on out. The Phils start a ten-game road trip with three in New York, against a very hot Mets team bent on revenge for the four-game sweep they suffered in OFJOAB last month.

But wait--there's more! The NL East leaders send to the mound two future Hall of Famers, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, and a guy with much better stuff right now than either of them, Oliver Perez; the Phillies counter with the cooked-to-a-crisp Jamie Moyer, ace-by-default Kyle Lohse, and Adam Eaton. Moyer's had a 6.68 ERA since the all-star break, Lohse was pounded by the Mets in the 11-10 win on August 30, and Eaton is... well, you know.

And yet. The Mets' 10-2 run since the Phils swept them has effectively ended the division race, and lefty slugger Carlos Delgado is on the shelf with a strained right hip flexor--a big deal considering Delgado's absurd career numbers (.431/.507/.862, 7 HR in 65 AB) against Moyer. While the Mets players surely want payback, and the fans at Shea will be howling for vengeance, the truth is that the Phillies simply have much more at stake in this series.

Despite the much stronger pedigree of the Mets starters, it's possible neither team will get all that much from their rotations this weekend. In the case of Glavine, he's been great recently--two earned runs in his last 20 innings, starting with the seven shutout frames he threw at the Phillies on Aug. 28--but as the 41 year-old approaches the 200 inning mark, New York manager Willie Randolph likely is thinking ahead to the playoffs and won't risk wearing him out. Martinez has been sharp in two starts since coming back from the rotator cuff injury that sidelined him for a year, but he's gone just five innings in each start. Against both pitchers, the Phils will have to show the patience they displayed Thursday night against the Rockies, when the team drew nine walks in a 12-4 win. Perez, Sunday's Mets pitcher, demands patience as well: in 38 career innings against the Phillies, he's walked 31.

Last month's sweep was powered not only by Pat Burrell and the Phillies bats, but by a bullpen performance as spectacular as it was shocking. The Phillies relievers threw 10 scoreless innings at the Mets through the first three games before cracking in the finale. If nothing else, the blowouts in the last three games of the Colorado series helped ensure that Charlie Manuel's highest-leverage relievers--Brett Myers, Tom Gordon, and J.C. Romero--are relatively well rested.