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Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets

The Phillies are back in town, and that means it's time for an Aaron Avenue takeover.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After three tough games against Boston, the Mets will stay home this week and play three more against the Phillies. Just like we said last week, Philadelphia has been a decent team since the All-Star break, but that didn't stop the blue and orange crushing machine from beating them up for four straight games. However, not all of those contests were blowouts like the 16-7 series opener, and two of them came right down to the wire.

While the expectation will be for the Mets to continue to cast the Phillies aside as we head into September, it's hard to beat any team multiple times in a row, much less one that is playing as hard as Philadelphia is.

The other AA

The Phillies have avoided turning into a welcome mat thanks to the efforts of their hungry young players, and recently another one of those rascals was tossed into the fray. Aaron Altherr (pronounced All-Tare) started against the Mets during the final game of their series at Citizens Bank Park and hit a pair of doubles during his six at-bats. That led to three more appearances for the young corner outfielder in the middle of the lineup against the Padres last weekend.

Altherr didn't manage another two-hit game (although he did score two runs on Friday), but he's a good bet to continue to see time in right field due to the improvements he's made in the minors this year. It also doesn't hurt that Philly's other right fielder, Domonic Brown, has been a replacement-level player in the two seasons since his breakout 27-homer campaign of 2013.

Brown has surprisingly seen his strikeout rate drop since that year, but he's lost about 100 points of isolated power and his BABIP is .257 this year. Without that 2013 power and without a great walk rate (seven percent), Brown doesn't have much to offer Philadelphia on offense. At age 27, it looks like it's the right time for the Phillies to try a younger player like Altherr in the outfield.

The 24-year-old has played well enough to earn the promotion this year, but with the way the Phillies have jettisoned veteran players, he'd probably be up anyway. Nevertheless, Altherr has split time almost evenly between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year while impressing at both levels. Although his strikeout rate rose from 15 to 19 percent along with the bump to Triple-A, Altherr's wRC+ has been two points higher (147 to 145) with Lehigh Valley thanks to a little more pop.

Now in the big leagues, Altherr already has two home runs in 10 games after hitting 14 in the minors this year. His previous high in any pro season was 12, so it will be interesting to see if the 2009 ninth-round draft pick's power continues to develop against the Mets.

The new ace of Brotherly Love

Perhaps a big reason why the Mets were able to pull off the sweep in Philadelphia was the absence of Aaron Nola, the prized pitching prospect whom New York hasn't yet played against. That will end on Wednesday, when Nola faces off against Matt Harvey in the series finale at Citi Field.

The story behind Nola isn't a long one. He went to LSU, which seems like an awesome coincidence given his last name (although it would have been more awesome if he went to Tulane). Two SEC Pitcher of the Year Awards and one National Pitcher of the Year Award later, he was selected by the Phillies in the first round of the 2014 Draft. After dominating the minors leagues for a little more than 160 innings spread over two seasons, Nola was promoted for a July 21 start against Tampa. In that game, he allowed one run and one walk in six innings while striking out six batters.

Not all of Nola's eight big league starts have gone that smoothly, but he has allowed more than three runs in just two of them and has never let up more than four. Recently, the young right-hander has been on a roll with just one run allowed in his last two starts (15 innings), so it will be fun to see how he handles what ought t be a packed house on Wednesday.

Unlike Philly's old ace Cole Hamels, Nola doesn't project to be an elite player due to his below-average strikeout stuff, but New York's current staff is headlined by players who also weren't supposed to be major stars. If Nola can keep pitching the way he has lately, he might turn out to be just as dominant in the majors as he was in college.

Date Time Television Phillies Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
August 31, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Jerad Eickhoff Bartolo Colon
September 1, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Aaron Harang Jon Niese
September 2, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Aaron Nola Matt Harvey

The first two pitching matchups are rematches from last week's series. Jerad Eickhoff struggled early in his outing against the Mets before settling down and giving the Phillies a chance to come from behind. That chance almost never game, however, because of how well Bartolo Colon was pitching. That Colon start continued the 42-year-old's pattern of alternating terrific games with terrible ones. If the trend continues, he'll flop against the Phillies tonight, but maybe Colon's surprise relief appearance versus Boston on Saturday threw everything off.

On Tuesday, both Aaron Harang and Jon Niese will look to rebound from six-inning, five-run performances that they gave against each other last Thursday. Although that game resulted in a thrilling Mets victory, New York would prefer to see Niese rebound in his upcoming start. If he doesn't, the southpaw could find himself on the outside of what promises to be a tough-to-crack postseason rotation.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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