As the Mets prepare for their first matchup against their pitching-loaded division rival, their one-sided duel with Marlins ace Josh Johnson on Friday might be a good thing to stow away in their memory banks.
Johnson held the Mets hitless for six innings before Willie Harris opened the seventh with a double. Afterward, the players talked about how helpless they felt against Johnson. But the Mets still mounted a late rally as he began to tire.
The lesson? Nobody's perfect, and the challenge for the Mets is to make the most of what should be very limited chances against a dominant Phillies rotation. Johnson showed them that Friday, and with the best home ERA (1.57) in baseball last season, he was every bit as fearsome as the next two aces on the Mets' schedule.
"We saw the film the next day, and in the first six innings, [Johnson] made like zero mistakes," Terry Collins said. "He finally got a ball over the plate to Willie. We know how tough it is. But you've got to stay within your game plan and stick with it. Even the best of the best once in a while give up some hits."
The Mets haven't been intimidated in the past by Hamels, who is 2-8 in 13 starts against them despite a 3.83 ERA. They have batted .306 in those meetings and have hit 11 home runs in 80 innings.
As for Halladay, he's 6-2 with a 3.86 ERA in eight career starts against the Mets, and last year -- his first full season in the NL East -- did not go well for the Mets. Halladay was 4-0 with a 2.56 ERA in four starts, with 28 strikeouts and two walks in 31 2/3 innings. That's an average of almost eight innings per start, so the Mets shouldn't plan on getting much of a breather from the Phillies' bullpen Thursday.
Even Joe Blanton, whom the Mets will face in the middle game, is 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in seven career starts against them. Blanton, the fifth starter, might pitch with more of a chip on his shoulder if he feels dissed by all of the attention given to the four pitchers in front of him.
"They're a great team," David Wright said, "but I don't think anybody is ready to hand them anything. They've done a great job putting together all of those All-Star-caliber and Hall of Fame-caliber players. We know they're one of the elite teams in baseball, but it's early and you can't predict what's going to happen."
Aside from the daunting task facing the Mets' hitters, their starters have to mentally prepare for a dogfight. Chris Young, Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese not only have to face a dangerous lineup, they have to hold the Phils in check in a notorious hitters' park. One advantage is no Chase Utley, whose knee issues could keep him out until the All-Star break.
"Their rotation might be the best in history, but that's on paper," Pelfrey said. "Guys get hurt. You never know what's going to happen."
As for all the "team to beat" talk that once dominated any meeting between these two New Jersey Turnpike rivals, it's been a moot point for years now. These days, the Mets are more comfortable coming in as the underdog.
"I don't think there's any pressure on us," Pelfrey said. "Everybody outside the clubhouse doesn't expect us to be much. But inside the clubhouse, we expect a lot from ourselves. If we play the right way, like we should, we're going to win a lot of games."