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Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies

The Mets play seven of their next 10 games against the Phillies, who aren't playing like pushovers anymore.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The story with the Mets and the Phillies this year has been all about New York beating up on their Turnpike rivals in order to sustain a win/loss record that oftentimes threatened to dip below .500. In nine games against Philadelphia in 2015, the Mets have won eight, and you can bet that they're chomping at the bit for a shot to increase their five-game National League East lead. With seven games against the Phillies in New York's next 10, there's certainly a chance to do that, but beating Philly won't be so easy this time around.

That's because these Phillies haven't been such a bad team since the All-Star break. After a shocking run of 11 wins in 13 games to end July, the front office traded away star southpaw Cole Hamels as well as closer Jonathan Papelbon and useful outfielder Ben Revere. Even in the wake of those moves, Philadelphia has persevered to go 10-10 against stiff competition so far in August. How have the Phillies been so solid when they supposedly have little to play for?

The next great Phillies?

Infielder Cesar Hernandez is a big part of Philly's new winning formula, especially now that Chase Utley has been shipped to Los Angeles. The 25-year-old Hernandez was up with the big club last year, but back then he wasn't getting on-base or stealing bases. In 2015 with a big boost in playing time, he's got his walk rate up to nine percent and is striking out less for a .345 OBP. He's not going to ever hit for power, but if Hernandez can continue to walk, steal bases (18 in 2015) and play solid defense at multiple positions, he could be a piece of Philly's next contender.

Rookie third baseman Maikel Franco has been another big part of the Philadelphia offense. He just hit the disabled list with a wrist injury, but before that Franco was hitting .277/.340/.490 with 13 home runs in 77 games played. With a strikeout rate of just 15 percent, Franco could be a future All-Star as a rare power hitter who knows how to make contact. Even if this season is just beginner's luck for him, the Mets would love to get out of David Wright what the Phillies were getting out of Franco before he got hurt.

For their next seven games against the Mets, Andres Blanco will be the likely starter at third for the Phillies. He's a 31-year-old journeyman with a career 81 wRC+, so it's pretty surprising see him hit .308/.375/.554 (155 wRC+) in 146 plate appearances this year. Hopefully that kind of productivity won't continue for Blanco much longer.

Perhaps the most surprising Philadelphia batter in 2015 has been Odubel Herrera, the 23-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick from the Texas organization. Sure, his .327 OBP might be entirely due to a .372 BABIP, but Herrera also sports a .132 isolated power that is better than anything he did in his minor league career. If that pop is real and the contact rate improves (along with his four-percent walk rate), Herrera can use his wheels to be a productive outfielder in the future.

The beginnings of a new pitching staff

The young "stars" on the Phillies, as well as they've played, don't have tremendous appeal. Franco could form an All-Star left side of the infield with hot prospect J.P. Crawford someday, but Herrera and Hernandez might turn out to be just nice utility guys.

The pitching staff is also badly in need of a makeover, but the trade of Cole Hamels helps, as well as the one guy whom the Mets will not face this week. That would be Aaron Nola, who looks solid so far in just his second season as a professional (the Phils chose him out of LSU in the first round of the 2014 Draft). Thanks to a brilliant outing on Sunday against Miami, Nola is already third on the Phillies in pitcher WAR among players who are still with the team.

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Phillies Probable Starter
August 24, 2015 7:05 PM SNY Jacob deGrom Adam Morgan
August 25, 2015 7:05 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard Jerome Williams
August 26, 2015 7:05 PM SNY Bartolo Colon Jerad Eickhoff
August 27, 2015 7:05 PM SNY Jon Niese Aaron Harang

So how about the guys that the Mets are playing against? There's not much to be excited about here, unless you're looking forward to the Mets scoring 14 runs in a game again (oh wait, most of you are excited for that!). Adam Morgan is a soft-tossing lefty who only strikes out five batters per nine innings, but he's coming off of three straight quality starts, with the most recent against the mighty Blue Jays. The 2011 third-round draft pick could be a future back-of-the-rotation man for Philadelphia, but he's also the perfect guy for Wright to face in his first game back.

Jerome Williams just got shelled by Miami, but before that he was in a nice, consistent groove. No matter which version of Williams the Mets see, the Tuesday night matchup will likely come down to how well Noah Syndergaard pitches. The young right-hander hasn't been particularly awesome in his last three starts, and that normally wouldn't be a problem for a rookie. However, the Mets are counting on Syndergaard more and more when you consider Bartolo Colon's struggles and the team having concerns about Matt Harvey's stamina. It would be sweet to see Thor look like a superhero again versus a watered-down Phillies lineup.

Another new face for the Mets will be Jerad Eickhoff, the right-hander who just came to Philly in the Hamels trade. After three solid starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Eickhoff made his big league debut on Friday in Miami. That resulted in six shutout innings against the Marlins, and you now have to consider Eickhoff as a young guy with a lot of momentum in his favor. Wtih Colon reeling from a shaky Colorado start, this could a game in which the Mets slip up. On the other hand, Colon has alternated poor starts with amazing ones for the past month.

In the series finale, the Mets will send Jon Niese to the hill. Like Colon, he had a rough time in Denver, but overall Niese has been very productive since the end of May. Starting opposite him with be Aaron Harang, the veteran who has two solid performances against the Mets this season. However, Harang has been brutal since the calendar turned to June, and the last time he faced New York was May 9.

Prediction: Mets win three of four.

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