NEW YORK -- The hot streaks the Phillies and Mets have been on have rekindled a rivalry, and these late-summer games are intense because of the stakes between two contenders.
But even as the Phillies have played like one of baseball's best teams over the last 2 1/2 months, a Mets problem is still nagging at them. They haven't been able to get over the hump against New York.
"We played a really good team over there, and these are the kind of games that you expect from two good teams," said Phillies starter and ex-Met Zack Wheeler. "It kind of shows us where we are."
The Phillies have one series left, four big games at Citizens Bank Park starting on Friday, to prove they can beat the Mets. Doing so would mean something extra, considering every meeting between these two teams is a potential October preview, and that the Phillies, on the fringe of the postseason picture, could use some statement wins against playoff-caliber teams down the stretch.
These three meetings in New York had all the makings of a playoff series -- and the Phillies had every chance to win it. They took the opener against Max Scherzer and had their pair of aces, Aaron Nola and Wheeler, going in Games 2 and 3, both in front of over 40,000 fans.
But New York has its own aces. Jacob deGrom just barely outdueled Nola on Saturday, and then the Mets got to Wheeler for six runs in the series finale, the most Wheeler has ever allowed in 11 starts against his former team.
"The pitching did their thing, really, except for me today," Wheeler said.
Wheeler had a 2.48 ERA and 0.995 WHIP in his first 10 starts against the Mets since joining the Phillies. Then came Sunday's six earned runs in six innings, 10 baserunners and a loud home run to Daniel Vogelbach.
"If I didn't have my thing today, then it would've been a tight series all the way around."
There's still the fact that the Phillies scored two runs total against the Mets in this series -- both in the first game -- and it was still tight. But not every game can be a pitchers' duel, and when the Mets finally got to Wheeler on Sunday, it put the Phils on the receiving end of back-to-back shutout losses to close out the set.
"When the runs are at a premium, sometimes you try to do too much, and I saw a lot of that today," interim manager Rob Thomson said.
Entering the weekend, the Phillies were 41-20 since the beginning of June, a .672 winning percentage that ranked third in the Majors over that time behind only the Dodgers and Braves. They're now 42-22 -- only a small statistical difference to be sure -- but this was the first time the Phillies faced the Mets under Thomson, and it was a great chance to change the 2022 narrative against their division rivals.
Of course, getting their two biggest bats, Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper, back into the starting lineup will go a long way toward the Phillies winning big series like these. Schwarber was limited to pinch-hitting against the Mets due to his right calf strain, and his return to full DH and outfield duties is still to be determined. Harper's return is finally on the horizon, as he's about to take on-field batting practice for the first time since fracturing his left thumb on a hit-by-pitch on June 25, with real games on a Minor League rehab assignment to come soon after.
"Well, [missing Schwarber on top of Harper] obviously weakens [the lineup], because he's one of the best hitters in baseball this year," Thomson said. "But, as I've said all along, guys gotta step up."