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New York Mets start second half of season in the friendly city of Philadelphia

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Can the orange and blue start the second half with some wins against their rebuilding rivals?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After limping into the All-Star break with three straight losses to the rival Nationals and minor injuries suffered by star players Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets could use some wins to open the second half of the season. Not only did New York's losing streak allow Washington to establish a six-game lead in the National League East, but it also let the pesky Marlins pull even with the Mets for second place in the Wild Card standings. Both teams are just one game in front of a Cardinals team that has the third best run differential in the league and figures to make yet another run at October.

So yeah, the Mets are in a perilous spot right now, especially considering the injuries they have suffered, but it's not all doom and gloom. There are 13 games with the Phillies to look forward to between now and the end of the regular season. That's 13 chances for the Mets to make up ground on their rivals, who are presumably playing tougher opponents. Sure, New York only won three of its first six against the Phillies back in April, and no, this opponent isn't a total doormat at 42-48, but with a minus-87 run differential and the prospect of sending away players at the trade deadline ahead, Philadelphia is still a team that is ripe for the picking.

Phillies offense

The Philly offense continues to be led by two of its younger players in 24-year-old Odubel Herrera and 23-year-old Maikel Franco. The latter has been particularly hot lately with seven home runs and a 1.209 OPS in the 19 games before the All-Star break. Franco has now had about the same amount of plate appearances as he had all of last year, and while he has struck out more often and gotten on base less often, it's an encouraging sign that he has topped his home run total by four and is on pace to hit more than 30 this year thanks to the recent bonanza.

Herrera, meanwhile, is showing outstanding improvement over last year, when he was considered a great value for a Rule 5 draft pick. All he's done this year is cut his strikeout rate by almost six percent while more than doubling his walk rate to create an on-base machine who can serves the Phillies for years to come.

Another Phillies player who has improved his approach at the plate this year is Cody Asche. The 26-year-old outfielder struggled to get on base in 2015 and missed the first two months of this season due to an oblique injury. However, since returning to the lineup, Asche has hit .259/.317/.473 with a 19-percent strikeout rate that is much improved over the ones he posted during his first two major league campaigns.

Joining Asche in the middle of Philadelphia's lineup are Camera Rupp and Tommy Joseph, who are both having breakout seasons despite their lack of plate discipline. Both guys are easy enough to convince to swing at a baseball, but both can punish the Mets with their surprising power. Joseph was brought up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley back in May to give the Phillies a more promising first baseman than the still-in-decline Ryan Howard. The 24-year-old has filled that role nicely with 11 home runs in just 46 games, including one last Saturday when he went 4-for-4 and fell a triple short of the cycle.

Rupp has been stuck behind Carlos Ruiz for his whole career but is finally getting some time to shine and is doing the most with it. The 27-year-old backstop has hit .287/.329/.507 with nine home runs in 56 games. Not quite as impressive as Joseph, but very powerful all the same. Still, with both Joseph and Rupp posting walk rates under five percent, there are plenty of ways to get them out as well.

Mets offense

We know that the New York lineup has struggled to produce runs for large stretches of 2016, but it doesn't look like that area of the team is going to be a target for the front office at the trade deadline. Sandy Alderson recently told reporters that his club was most likely to acquire relief pitching rather than a starting arm or a bat.

The strategy might frustrate some fans who still see the offense as the weak link of a team desperate to put its window of contention to good use. On the other hand, it's going to be tough to improve over the eight starters the Mets already have without paying a hefty price. Just look at third base, the position that used to be the biggest hole on the team. Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores are hitting home runs regularly as of late. It's dubious that both guys will be reliable sluggers down the stretch, but if the Mets can get solid production out of just one of them, they won't be pressured to empty the farm for Evan Longoria.

The same can be said for first base. James Loney wasn't supposed to be anything more than a fill-in who wouldn't strike out all the time, but he's given the Mets four home runs and a .336 on-base percentage in just 37 games. There's a good chance that he seizes to be a positive force in the lineup sometime soon, but even if Lucas Duda is slow in recovering from his back injury, there are still Flores and Kelly Johnson to serve as reinforcements.

Both of those backups can also play some middle infield, but it's unlikely the Mets are going to replace Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera before the end of 2016. Although Walker has been pretty lousy since June started, both players should continue to be positive offensive contributors at their positions.

The same can be said for Curtis Granderson, who is just going about his business having another very nice season at the plate. Hopefully the addition of Reyes will give the veteran more opportunities to drive in runs, but even if it doesn't, he is just as happy drawing walks and allowing the other hitters to drive him in.

The bigger problem is in left field, where Brandon Nimmo is striking out 25 percent of the time while slugging just .318. If the rookie continues to hit like that, he's going to need to be replaced, but the best replacement could already be in the Mets' system. Michael Conforto, who was sent down to make room for Nimmo about three weeks ago, is raking at Triple-A Las Vegas and should be given another shot with the big club before the front office looks outside the organization for help.

Probable pitchers

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Phillies Probable Starter
July 15, 2016 7:05 PM SNY Bartolo Colon Jeremy Hellickson
July 16, 2016 7:05 PM WPIX Logan Verrett Jerad Eickhoff
July 17, 2016 1:35 PM WPIX Jacob deGrom Zach Eflin
Jeremy Hellickson

Important stats: 105.2 IP, 93 K, 27 BB, 16 HR, 3.92 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 1.20 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (80 mph), curveball (77 mph)

As the only member of the Phillies' rotation who is more than 26 years old, Hellickson has been linked to a number of teams in trade rumors. It certainly doesn't hurt that the former Tampa Bay prospect is boasting the best strikeout and walk rates of his career, but even if he wasn't, Hellickson would still be an option for clubs that need help at the back of their rotations. Even the Mets and their strong pitching staff could use an upgrade over Logan Verrett down the stretch. In the two games they've played against Hellickson this season, the Mets scored six runs in 10 innings despite striking out 11 times and walking just twice.

Mets opponent: Bartolo Colon is back! That will be the battle cry for Mets fans across the world on Friday night as the triumphant hero returns. Unfortunately, Colon didn't get to make an impact during the All-Star Game on the mound or at the plate, but he has been pitching quite solidly since late May with eight straight starts in which he allowed fewer than three runs. Just pay no mind to that drubbing Washington handed him during his latest outing. It's probably just a fluke.

Jerad Eickhoff

Important stats: 109.0 IP, 94 K, 29 BB, 14 HR, 3.80 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 1.26 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), curveball (75 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (82 mph)

Eickhoff got smashed during his last start with eight runs allowed in five-and-one-third innings, but that was at Colorado, so it's probably more important to look at some of his previous work. Leading up to that game, Eickhoff was pitching pretty well, following up a 2.23 ERA in June with a win over Atlanta in his first game of July. The 26-year-old right-hander doesn't do anything spectacularly well, but he has the makings of a solid mid-rotation guy. In fact, he might be one of those already. Against the Mets this year, Eickhoff has allowed five runs in 12 innings with 12 strikeouts and five walks.

Mets opponent: Alderson might say that the Mets are unlikely to acquire a starting pitching before the trade deadline, but there is still plenty of pressure on Logan Verrett to perform well if he doesn't want to be replaced. In two recent starts against Washington, the right-hander has allowed seven runs in 11.2 innings with nine walks and only four strikeouts. Those ratios are not indicative of someone who can help the Mets reclaim the National League pennant, and fans will be sure to let the front office hear it if Verrett lays an egg in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Zach Eflin

Important stats: 35.1 IP, 18 K, 6 BB, 5 HR, 4.08 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.22 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (83 mph), two-seam fastball (92 mph), changeup (86 mph)

Eflin's been throwing a little better recently than his ERA would indicate. That number is inflated by Eflin's first career start back on June 14 when he faced the Blue Jays on the road and was lit up for nine runs without getting out of the third inning. He made up for that by allowing just two runs in six innings at Colorado in his last outing before the break. And the start before that, he struck out a career-high six batters in a complete game victory over Atlanta. Six strikeouts isn't much for a career high, and that's because Eflin is an extreme control pitcher who walks fewer than two batters per nine innings. That leads to a lot of contact, and the .267 BABIP against him has led to some success so far.

Mets opponent: It's hard to be more consistent than Jacob deGrom has been lately. The lanky right-hander has a 2.25 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 11 walks in 52 innings since May 27. It took him a couple of months to get there, but this is the pitcher Mets fans were looking forward to seeing at the outset of the season. And with all the injury concerns surrounding the rotation, the Mets need deGrom now more than ever. If this team is destined for the postseason, deGrom will be one of the guys carrying it towards that goal.

Bullpens

While the Mets will be looking for an extra relief pitcher or two as we approach the trade deadline, the Phillies will be one of the teams trying to deal their bullpen arms away. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez are two of Philly's most reliable firemen and also two of their players who are most likely to be moved before August 1. The Mets' bullpen has been stronger recently with good performances by Addison Reed and Hansel Robles, but they can always use more help, especially if a guy like Neris is available. The 27-year-old right-hander has 57 strikeouts in 47 innings this year for a 2.87 ERA, and he still has plenty of team control left.

Meanwhile, this weekend may finally be the time for a Tyler Goeddel vs. Erik Goeddel showdown. With younger brother Tyler working as a bench bat for the Phillies these days and older brother Erik on the periphery of New York's bullpen, the matchup is unlikely to occur, but we can always dream. I'm thinking Tyler comes in to pinch-hit for the Phillies against Antonio Bastardo, who has already walked three straight batters to make an 8-3 game interesting. Terry Collins than counters with Erik, who gets his brother to fly out to the warning track for the third out.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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