Ranking New York Mets' 5 Most Important Pre-All-Star Break Series
Baseball is a game in which you can predict the upcoming series that are the most important on the schedule.
The New York Mets have a handful of such series on the schedule before the All-Star break that is scheduled to being on July 9th.
Terry Collins has the Mets tied with the Atlanta Braves for second place, five games back of the red-hot Washington Nationals. If they want to make up some ground before the Midsummer Classic, they'll need to perform well before their early-July hiatus.
Here we'll rank the five most important pre-All-Star break series that will make or break the second half of the Mets' improbable season.
5. Three-Game Series Against the Cincinnati Reds (June 15-17)
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This three-game set may not seem like it holds that much weight, but the Cincinnati Reds are atop the National League Central.
The Mets need to prove to themselves (and the fans) that they can score a series victory over a first-place team that isn't too far ahead of them in terms of talent.
Terry Collins needs to instill in his players that this is a team that they should beat. They really aren't that scary of a club considering their position in the standings.
Joey Votto can hit, Jay Bruce can hit and Brandon Phillips always kills the Metsies. He has a .307 batting average against them over the last three seasons, but hasn't been his usual self this season, despite posting decent numbers.
We're nearing the back end of one of the toughest stretches the Mets will endure all season.
In June alone, they've played the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees. They will then play the Reds, Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees again and three games of a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If the Mets don't take at least two-of-three from Dusty Baker's club, it could send them in a dangerous tailspin before the month is out.
4. Three-Game Series Against the New York Yankees (June 22-24)
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The Mets were emasculated in their first series of the season against the New York Yankees.
As much as I hate to say this, that's just like it's always been. The little brother of New York can't get over that hump and beat their rivals in the Bronx, even when Derek Jeter and company haven't been playing that well.
The first game of that three-game set was a real wake-up call. Johan Santana got his lunch from the Yankees after pitching a no-hitter in his previous start.
Is there anything you hated more in that series than watching Russell Martin hit a line drive to right that snuck over the fence at Yankee Stadium? The dimensions on that field just aren't fair. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are great hitters, but it's no secret how they hit 30-40 homers a year in a park that's the size of Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport.
Enough of the past, though. The Yankees are on a roll, and could be playing even better by the time the two teams meet at Citi Field on June 22.
It seems like the Mets lose four-of-six to the Yankees without fail. Before the start of the season you might as well pencil in a .333 winning percentage against the crosstown rivals.
This is a huge confidence-building series for the Mets. The entire organization has been inferior to the Evil Empire for so long, but the talent gap seems to have shrunk this season.
If the Mets can prove that when they take the field in Flushing by smacking the Yankees in the mouth and taking at least two-of-three, they'll be in great shape heading into their final two June series.
3. Three-Game Series Against the Philadelphia Phillies (July 3-5)
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The Philadelphia Phillies are in panic mode right now.
They are four games under the .500 mark and have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Cliff Lee doesn't have a win. Roy Halladay is firmly planted on the disabled list right next to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Joe Blanton's ERA has ballooned to 5.40 on the season.
That's a lot of things that have gone wrong in this early season for a team that won 102 games last season.
Now there's no telling if they will get on a hot streak before their early-July series against the Mets, but it doesn't seem likely. Charlie Manuel has seen his team fall to 9.5 games back of first place, and the future doesn't look bright unless he can get his three star players back on the diamond.
This is crazy to say, but if the Mets can sweep the Phillies in this series, it would destroy the positive morale that any player in that clubhouse might have. It would send the Phillies into their last series before the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak and could put the team out of commission.
While it's absurd to say that a sweep in July would effectively end a team's hopes of making the playoffs, it's not absurd to say that the Phillies would reach DEFCON 1 at the halfway point in the season.
2. Four-Game Series Against the Los Angeles Dodgers (June 28-July 1)
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The man in the above picture, Matt Kemp, is currently on the disabled list.
The original prediction was that he would miss up to four weeks with a balky hamstring, and it remains to be seen if that will be correct. That evaluation would peg him to return sometime in the middle of the Los Angeles Dodgers' series against the Mets, but as of now, the team doesn't know that will work out.
It would obviously be a huge advantage for the Mets if Kemp were to miss the series, but they need to take at least a split with the Dodgers either way.
The Dodgers have the best record in baseball at the moment, so it wouldn't be the end of the world if the Mets were to lose three-of-four. It wouldn't be a good omen, though.
If the Mets can manage to take three-of-four from the Dodgers, it could act as a springboard to success for the rest of the season. Winning three games against the best team in baseball can do wonders for the psyche of a young, up-and-coming team like the Mets.
Los Angeles is second in on-base percentage, fifth in batting average and ninth in runs scored. They put in a lot of work at the dish, but the Mets' starting pitching has been a revelation for Terry Collins as of late.
Excluding the series against the Yankees, the Mets' pitchers allowed over five runs just four times over a span of 19 games. You're not going to lose many ball games if your guys are dealing on the mound like that.
Above all else, this series will serve as a barometer for the Mets to gauge where they are against the current best team in the league.
If all goes well, it could wind up being a snowball effect. If it doesn't go so swimmingly, we could be in for a sad July.
1. Three-Game Series Against the Chicago Cubs (July 6-8)
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The Chicago Cubs stink. They're 20 games under .500 and are just 8-25 on the road this season.
Lucky for the Mets, the Cubs are coming to town the weekend before the All-Star break.
The Mets have a much better team than Dale Sveum has to work with on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubbies are 26th in the league in runs scored, 21st in batting average and 25th in team ERA. If the Mets don't mash on the Cubs and come away with a sweep, it needs to be looked at as a disappointment.
Bob Murphy forbid that the Mets lost two-of-three in this series. We always see the Mets do something like this at least once over the course of a season, which is very concerning to me. They play down to their competition and lose some game in heartbreaking fashion that they should have easily won.
You know exactly what I mean, Mets fans. I'm talking about the 7-6, 12-inning loss to the Washington Nationals on June 5. That was the single most brutal loss of the season for the Mets. They lost four-of-five following that display of bullpen futility, but have gotten back on track thanks to their pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays.
That's the kind of loss that sends a team into a tailspin. A game that you know you should have won but couldn't get the job done is the worst thing that can happen to a team that is fighting to make up ground every day.
This series could be a great indicator of which direction the Mets are headed. If they take advantage of the Cubs' inferiority and make a statement with a convincing three-game sweep, everybody is feeling good about themselves heading into the break.
Confidence heading into the break leads to confidence coming out of the break. They're going to need all the momentum they can get after the four days they have off, as series against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals (two series), Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are looming.
Those five teams are currently 43 games over .500 collectively (177-134). That's a pretty scary schedule.
The Mets need to finish the first half strong or else they'll be in for a rough July.