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Mets return home to face a Phillies team that refuses to fade

New York and Philadelphia are a lot closer in the standings than we’d like.

Philadelphia Phillies v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

If you told me at the outset of the season that the Mets would only be five games ahead of the Phillies in the standings towards the end of August, I’d take it as a bad sign for New York’s 2016 prospects. Sure enough, the Mets are just one game over .500 following Thursday night’s series-clinching victory over the Cardinals. That still leaves New York four losses behind St. Louis in the Wild Card hunt, but things could have been worse if New York’s offense hadn’t perked up recently behind strong performances from Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes.

Mets offense

The longtime shortstop and current third baseman has started to look like his old self since coming off the disabled list two weeks ago. Over the 12-game span, he’s hitting .320/.393/.400 with six walks and four multi-hit games. It’s interesting that Reyes has not hit a home run in August after hitting three before injuring his oblique. This successful stretch could be just noise, or it could be the result of a more contact-oriented approach that is driving his batting average and on-base percentage higher.

Phillies offense

Philadelphia also has a player who has been productive since coming off the DL. That would be Aaron Altherr, the outfielder who missed the first two thirds of the season with a broken wrist. Since making his 2016 debut on July 28, Altherr is hitting .255/.324/.408 with four home runs. Those numbers might seem modest now, but at 25 years old, Altherr has enough power and defense potential to be an important piece for the future Phillies.

And the future is still where the franchise is focused, as evidenced by the recent trade of Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers in exchange for fellow catcher A.J. Ellis, pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans, and a player to be named later. Following the exchange of veteran backstops, the Phillies called up their catcher of the future in Jorge Alfaro, who was one of the biggest prospects obtained in the Cole Hamels deal last summer. He’s probably not going to stick around the big leagues very long for now, but if he makes an appearance in this series, fans should make a note of it. There’s a chance Alfaro becomes a thorn in the Mets’ side for years to come.

Mets fans, however, are understandably more concentrated on the present right now. Will the team come back and make the postseason in 2016, or has the window of opportunity already shut? Someone who can play a part in that narrative is Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez. He’s having a nice little season at the plate, but has been an even bigger threat recently with three home runs in his last six games. That’s a lot for a player with average power, but Hernandez had just two home runs entering play on August 16, when the power binge began. The Mets should be extra careful with the leadoff man this weekend, especially since the top of Philadelphia’s batting order is so much more dangerous than the bottom half.

Probable pitchers

Date Time Television Phillies Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
August 26, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Adam Morgan Bartolo Colon
August 27, 2016 7:10 PM WPIX Jeremy Hellickson Noah Syndergaard
August 28, 2016 1:10 PM SNY Vince Velasquez Robert Gsellman
Adam Morgan

Important stats: 75.1 IP, 59 K, 19 BB, 17 HR, 6.21 ERA, 5.39 FIP, 1.58 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (83 mph), changeup (80 mph)

Before his strong outing against St. Louis on August 19, Morgan had gone four straight starts with either more than four runs allowed or fewer than four innings pitched. That makes sense, because he’s never been a great pitcher in the major leagues. The good news for Morgan is that he’s missing more bats than he did during his 2015 campaign, when he made 15 starts and registered just 5.23 strikeouts per nine innings. That figure is just above seven in 2016, but the southpaw out of Alabama has been seriously pounded by the home run ball this year.

Mets opponent: As everyone in the rotation around him gets hurt, Bartolo Colon remains as the old rock of New York’s pitching staff. Although he faltered in July with a 5.51 ERA, the sexier version of Colon has returned in August with a 2.25 ERA and just one home run allowed in four starts. Yes, that earned run figure is deflated because of the three unearned runs he gave up in Arizona, but it’s still hard to complain about what the 43-year-old is bringing to the Mets.

Jeremy Hellickson

Important stats: 150.0 IP, 127 K, 33 BB, 21 HR, 3.60 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 1.14 WHIP

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

Hey, this guy is still here! The last time the Phillies played the Mets, we speculated that Hellickson could get moved at the trade deadline, and perhaps the front office should have pushed harder for that to get done. The 29-year-old right-hander allowed four runs in six innings on July 15 against the Mets, but since then he has a 2.35 ERA in six starts. Maybe the Mets should have tried to make a move for Hellickson instead of Jon Niese. If they’re going to export prospects within the division, it would only be fair to throw some Philadelphia’s way instead of sending them all to Atlanta.

Mets opponent: Noah Syndergaard made me smile during his last outing because it took him just 98 pitches to get through eight scoreless frames. That ended a streak of seven straight starts in which the right-hander failed to record an out in the seventh inning. Syndergaard got the job done by getting a lot of ground balls and fewer strikeouts, so maybe he’ll continue to follow Crash Davis’s advice against the Phillies.

Vince Velasquez

Important stats: 119.0 IP, 137 K, 44 BB, 19 HR, 4.31 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 1.37 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), curveball (80 mph), changeup (87 mph), slider (84 mph)

Remember when Velasquez shut down the Mets during his first start of the season on April 9? Well, he hasn’t been that good lately despite 29 strikeouts in 21.1 innings this month. The big problem during August has been the home run ball, which has bitten Velasquez a whopping eight times in his past three games. Considering that he only allowed 11 long balls during his first 19 starts of the year, the right-handed flamethrower has the chance to bounce back in a big way if he keeps the ball in the yard on Sunday.

Mets opponent: Robert Gsellman played the hero on Tuesday night, entering the game on the heels of Jon Niese’s injury and keeping the Mets’ hopes alive with three-and-two-thirds scoreless innings. The only issue is that he walked three batters during that span compared to just two strikeouts. The 23-year-old right-hander has never been a big strikeout guy in the minors, so he’s got to cut it out with the walks if he’s going to make his first big league start a success.

Bullpens

If there’s one thing a rebuilding season is good for (beside unloading payroll), it’s finding a diamond in the rough. It looks like that’s what the Phillies have done with Hector Neris, who is having an outstanding campaign out of the bullpen. The 27-year-old Dominican leads his team with 64 pitching appearances and has notched 83 strikeouts with 19 walks in 65.1 innings. With that monstrous strikeout rate as well as a 2.20 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, the kid has future closer written all over him.

When the Mets jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Thursday night, it made sense for the Mets to try to give their regular relief pitchers a break, but Addison Reed still ended up pitching an inning because everyone was giving up runs. After Seth Lugo left due to cramping in the top of the sixth inning, the recently returned Jim Henderson gave up a two-run home run to Brandon Moss, who also hit a long ball off of Josh Smoker in the eighth. That led to Reed coming in to ensure the inning didn’t get uglier. In the ninth, Sean Gilmartin gave up a pair of home runs in his first appearance in the majors since late June. In a nut shell, the back of New York’s bullpen continues to give Terry Collins little reason to trust it going forward.

Prediction: Mets sweep!

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