Once upon a time, there was a serious rivalry brewing between the Mets and Phillies.
They bickered about who was the team to beat in the NL East, the Phillies taunted the Mets about being choke artists and the results of their games helped shape the playoff picture. The thing about rivalries, though, is that both sides have to keep up their end of the bargain and that didn't happen in this case.
The Phillies won in 2007, they won in 2008 and the Mets didn't answer the bell last season. Just as quickly as it began, the rivalry was dead and settled. This year began with the Phillies positioned as the best team in the National League and the Mets fighting for a .500 record, a situation that doesn't lend itself to rivalries outside of college sports.
Here's to unexpected surprises, then, because this weekend's series in Philadelphia is pretty big. To everyone's astonishment, the Mets are in first place and riding their hottest streak in decades. If they keep up their good play, they could actually give themselves a little bit of wiggle room in the NL East as the season enters it's second month.
That's right, it's only May and there's a better than average chance that this series will wind up amounting to little when all is said and done. That doesn't render it meaningless, however. Opinions will vary about the importance of things like chemistry, momentum and karma to professional baseball outfits, but it is hard to argue with the idea that the last 10 games have been awfullu important to the psyches of everyone around the Mets. From the players to the manager to the fans, it's a lot easier to face each day with a little wind at your back.
A win in this series would create a gust to rival anything at Citi Field during the blustery Dodgers games. A loss or, worst case scenario, a sweep would change the tenor of things from a Mets team that's heading in the right direction to one that merely caught fire against three teams playing bad baseball. Nothing that can't be reversed, but a bump in the road nonetheless.
Happily, the Mets appear to be catching the Phils at the right time. Jimmy Rollins is on the disabled list and he was joined there Friday by Ryan Madson. Madson's injury comes just as Brad Lidge is joining the team for the first time this season. Lidge, coming off elbow surgery, hasn't pitched yet this season and it was assumed the Phillies would want to ease him back into the closer role. Madson's injury robs them of that luxury, however. The Phillies have also lost starting pitchers J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton to injuries already, a situation that a Mets fan might find awfully familiar to the state of affairs in Queens last summer.
That about wraps up what you need to know entering a weekend that matters a lot more than you thought it would a couple of weeks ago. That might not make it vitally important, but it's a big one for the Mets and should be the baseball highlight of the weekend.