What's going on with the Phillies?
The Phillies have to be feeling pretty good about themselves right now. After closing out a 6-4 west coast trip with a series win over Arizona, Philadelphia has a 13-12 record and is above the .500 mark for the first time since it started the season with a win over Texas.
A big part of the Phillies' success has been the performance of veteran hitters Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz. Utley has had trouble staying healthy in recent years, but he's off to a scorching start, hitting three home runs and posting a .360/414/.584 line.
Ruiz has a more recent history of underperforming, as the catcher looked all but washed up in 2013. However, general manager Ruben Amaro's decision to give the 35-year-old a new contract this winter has started paying off immediately. He's hitting .296/.412/.479 and leads all NL backstops in extra-base hits and on-base percentage.
No one on the Phillies has been hotter than A.J. Burnett, though. The veteran import has allowed just two runs in three starts since being diagnosed with a hernia. If Burnett and the other old guys playing under manager Ryne Sandberg can keep up their solid performance, the Phils just might have a surprise playoff run in them. On the other hand, there's still plenty of time left for attrition to take its toll.
Who are these guys?
Marlon Byrd is a guy you might remember from last season. He played for the Mets! After reportedly being picked up by Sandy Alderson because of a favor he owed someone, Byrd went on to have a terrific season with the Mets before eventually being traded to the Pirates for Vic Black and Dilson Herrera. His strikeout and walk rates weren't great, but Byrd made up for it by making a lot of hard contact (.353 BABIP) and hitting for power (.511 slugging percentage). So far in 2014, Byrd is posting a .385 BABIP, but his overall performance in down thanks to a walk rate below five percent and a strikeout rate close to 30 percent. If those rate don't improve, things could get ugly for Byrd when the hits stop dropping in.
The son of the legendary Padres slugger, Tony Gwynn Jr. doesn't appear to have All-Star potential with the bat, but his speed and defense has helped him be a useful bench player for the Brewers, Padres, and Dodgers. This winter, the Phils decided to bring him to the east coast, and it could provide a nice opportunity for Gwynn to move into the starting lineup. That's because the man in front of him on the depth chart, Ben Revere, has never posted a season OPS above .700 and has seen his defense decline according to UZR since coming to Philly in 2013. Gwynn's history on offense is similarly dismal, but he could see some playing time if Revere goes through a slump.
Who's on the mound?
Tuesday: Jon Niese vs. Cole Hamels
When all is said and done, Hamels may go down with Chipper Jones as one of the great villains of Mets lore. For now, though, he's not a guy that the team or its fans mind seeing on the mound. In five starts against the Mets last season, Hamels had a 4.94 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. In 20 career starts against the Mets, he has a 4.44 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Whether those numbers hold up for the rest of Hamels' career is yet to be seen, but for whatever reason, the Mets have been able to hit the lefty harder than most anybody else so far. This season, Hamels has just one start because of a shoulder injury, but he used it to allow just two runs in six innings against the Dodgers.
Jon Niese is looking to continue his excellent play against the lefty-heavy lineup of the Phillies. Last season, he allowed just three runs in 15.2 innings, including a complete game shutout on August 27. A recent Amazin' Avenue Facebook poll asking who is the Mets' current ace didn't turn up too many results for Niese, but he's quietly been stellar this season with a 2.45 ERA and 1.13 WHIP against some pretty decent lineups.
Wednesday: Bartolo Colon vs. Kyle Kendrick
Philadelphia's homegrown ground ball expert was very effective against the Mets last April, with two runs allowed in two starts. One of those was a complete game shutout in which Kendrick allowed just four Mets to reach base against him. However, later in the year, New York caught on to Kedrick's tricks and hit him up for 11 runs in his most recent two starts against the team. Overall in 2013, Kendrick struggled with a 4.70 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP that is too high for a guy who struggles to strike out a batter every other inning. So far in 2014, Kendrick's ground ball rate has ramped up to 56 percent, but he's somehow managed to allow one home run per start.
That Facebook poll I was talking about before? It featured a lot of love for Colon, including some from myself. That's not too surprising considered how excellent the 40-year-old has been in four of his five starts, but it's still jarring to see him have a 4.50 ERA. If Colon continues to strikeout 26 batters for every three that he walks, that figure should correct itself over time and make the veteran one of the top steals of the offseason.
Prediction: Mets fall to Hamels, defeat Kendrick.
What about some GIFs?
This blast that Daniel Murphy hit off of Tyler Cloyd last September 21 has got to be one of the longest home runs the second baseman has ever hit.
Lucas Duda showed he can match up to Ike Davis in a rail-flipping competition by making this grab in a 4-3 Mets win on September 22.
Not to be outdone, Eric Young Jr. laid out to make sure we would all have one less Utley single to remember.