In most of Major League Baseball’s six divisions, hovering around the .500 mark would not make you a contender for the division title. But the Phillies are blessed to play in the National League East, where even the best teams struggle to win many more games than they lose.
Speaking of the best teams in the division, the two top teams in the East will meet in Philadelphia this weekend with only a scant half game separating them in the standings. Whichever team wins more games in this series will emerge with a very tenuous hold on the division lead as we enter the stretch run of the season.
Can the Phillies show that they’re serious about winning the division? Or when the weekend is done, will they find themselves back at the ever-so-familiar .500 mark and still in second place?
Record: 56-52 (First place in National League East)
The last time they Met
In late June, these teams played a four-game series in which the Phillies led in the final inning all four games. They only won two of those games. The Phillies have a new closer now in Ian Kennedy, and hopefully he can prevent that from happening again. However, it would help if his manager would actually use him in save situations, as opposed to when the team is leading by four or more runs.
What’s new with the Mets?
The Phillies aren’t the only team seemingly content to muddle along. The Mets have gone 16-19 since their last meeting, refusing to gain any ground in the division. They’re coming off a series in which they lost three out of four to the Marlins. (And isn’t it nice to see the Marlins consistently beating other teams in the division, not just the Phillies?)
They were active at the trade deadline, gaining reinforcements in the form of Javier Baez, Rich Hill, and Trevor Williams. Williams won’t be helping them much since he’s been optioned to the minors. Baez is off to a slow start with his new team, going just 4-25 since the trade, and at age 41, Hill is basically there to eat innings until Jacob deGrom returns from injury. (Good luck with that, Mets.)
Good thing the Mets bolstered their rotation with, uh, Rich Hill and Trevor Williams https://t.co/KalKTeqAT0— Nick Stellini (@StelliniTweets) July 30, 2021
Least valuable player
A less sophisticated writer than me might say that Kevin Pillar hasn’t been a Pillar of strength for the Mets this season. (Good thing I won’t stoop to using such a pun.) The Mets signed him this past offseason to provide some depth in their outfield, and in a way, his .623 OPS has fit right in with the rest of the Mets’ underperforming hitters.
So we're just not going to acknowledge the fact that Kevin Pillar is hitting .199/.226/.376 with a 64 wRC+ since returning from the IL on May 31?— Vas Drimalitis (@vasdrimalitis) August 2, 2021
Taijuan Walker had a very strong start to the season, and earned a spot on the All-Star team. However, he’s been struggling for most of the second half. Some might blame it on fatigue. Others might notice a strong correlation between his drop-off and MLB’s crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances.
The Phillies will get a crack at the new-and-unimproved Walker in the series finale on Sunday.
Remember a while back when I asked for mailbag questions? No? Well, reader Stephen Mabie did and he asked:
I am struggling to remember a game from the mid-70s in which the Phillies badly botched a run down play. I think they were playing the Mets, but it may have been the Cubs.
The bottom line is that after throwing the ball to almost every conceivable player on the field, the ball wound up in the hands of CF Garry Maddox, who was standing on second base, and the lead Mets (?) runner was on third. Just then, everyone (including my beloved Richie Ashburn on the mike) realized that there were seven Phillies standing around third base, and not a one was closer than 90 feet from home. So, both the runner and Maddox broke for home, and Maddox, making a diving, head first slide managed to tag out the sliding runner at home. As far as I know, that was the only time a Center Fielder made a tag play at home.
The Phillies and Mets played a lot of games in the late ‘70s, but I think I found the game he’s referring to:
Based on the box score, in the bottom of the eighth, the Mets’ Joel Youngblood was caught in a rundown while attempting to steal, and the out was eventually recorded by the centerfielder.
Unfortunately, this particular play doesn’t seem to be referenced in any recaps I can find of the game, and there doesn’t appear to be any video. Do any older fans remember this?
If you have a question or anything that you’d like to see answered here, please leave it in the comments below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note: The less research I have to do, the quicker you’ll get an answer!)
Load up on guns, bring your friends
It feels like the fans might kind of, sort of be beginning to believe in the Phillies. With the team on a five-game winning streak, first place on the line, and the Mets in town, it stands to reason that there could be a decent number of fans in the seats this weekend. It could be interesting to see how the players handle what should be a lively atmosphere. Especially if the team does that whole falling behind early thing that they so often do.
MAN I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT PHILLY BRINGS THIS WEEKEND AT THE BANK!— Archie Bradley (@ArchieBradley7) August 6, 2021
And speaking of fans at the stadium, yours truly will be at the game on Friday night. If anyone wants to come by and say how much they love my writing, please keep an eye out. I’ll be wearing a Phillies jersey and a hat so I should be easy to pick out in the crowd. Oh, and I’m also a horse.
Last series’ answer: In the Phillies’ division clinching win at Nationals Park, the winning pitcher was Roy Halladay, and the loser was future Phillie John Lannan. EbbyCalvinLaLoosh with the correct answer.
This series’ question: In 2006, a Mets pitcher set a Citizens Bank Park record for visiting players by giving up seven home runs there throughout the season. Who was the unlucky pitcher?
What to expect
- Brandon Nimmo will continue to infuriate fans when he celebrates wildly upon drawing a walk.
- Taijuan Walker’s poor second half will continue when the Phillies score five runs against him.
- Neither J.T. Realmuto nor James McCann will make the Phillies regret which catcher they signed this past offseason.
Closing thought that may or may not be related to the series
It’s amazing how good an offense can look when the three best hitters are all doing well at the same time, isn’t it? Let’s hope that continues.