20 Reasons the Phillies-Mets Rivalry Is Still Alive and Well

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2011

20 Reasons the Phillies-Mets Rivalry Is Still Alive and Well

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    Not all that long ago, match-ups between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets were games that topped season-ticket plans and made for must-watch television, but as time has worn on, some would argue that this long standing rivalry has lost some of its luster.

    Time to wake up and smell the coffee, folks. This rivalry isn't dead. It's alive and better than ever.

    We may not have seen many benches-clearing brawls in recent seasons, but that doesn't mean that these two teams have decided to bury the hatchet. Looking forward to 2012, both teams are wielding their respective hatchets and are ready to use them. The Mets will hack at the legs of the Phillies, trying to climb back towards the top, and the Phillies will make sure they're doing what it takes to stay there.

    To say that this rivalry doesn't exist any longer is a short-sighted statement. The real question is a bit more philosophical. What makes the first place Phillies and last place Mets such bitter foes? Where does the anger and competitive edge come from? For what reason, other than the uniforms they wear, do these players legitimately dislike one another?

    The answers may be less obvious than you think.


The History

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    Say what you want about the current state of this rivalry, but if you're going to make the argument that it's no longer relevant, try telling that to the players that have to step in between the lines and play the game. This rivalry may not be on the same plateau as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, but the players on both sides have no trouble hyping themselves up for these games.

    For a few series per year, all that matters is winning. Position in the standings doesn't matter. The players on the field don't matter. All that matters is beating the Mets, or beating the Phillies, and that is the essence of a great rivalry. 

    However, this rivalry isn't new. With the introduction of the Mets to the National League in 1962, these clubs became rivalries. It is that history that keeps this rivalry fresh today, and as long as these two teams are in the same division, in the same league, and just in baseball, they're not going to like each other.

The Past

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    With the Mets having played their inaugural season just a few years before this moment, this rivalry was still kind of fresh. In 1964, the Phillies were sitting atop the division while the Mets struggled to find balance on their club. As the two teams squared off, the meetings became more of a spectacle, highlighted by their Fathers Day double-header.

    In the first game, Jim Bunning took the mound for the Phillies and threw a bit of history, tossing a perfect game for the Phils, which was the first in the history of the franchise. Unable to collect a single hit—draw a single walk—the Phillies bested the Mets on this day and got the rivalry going.

    This would be far from the last time that these two clubs traded blows, however. After trading Tug McGraw to the Phillies, the Mets watched their former closer taunt them with the World Series trophy in his hands, and later, in 1986, the Phillies would watch the Mets hoist the trophy.

    For much of the next decade (and then some,) the Phillies would be a team just trying to spoil the Mets' postseason hopes, though they did steal a few players away, like Lenny Dykstra.

    Whether it was the Phillies throwing at Doc Gooden or the entire Mets team putting a bounty on Darren Daulton's head, calling him a "cheap-shot artist," the rivalry was better than ever.

The Present

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    At present, some would argue that the rivalry between the Phillies and Mets has lost its edge, but is that accurate? As recently as 2006, the rivalry was alive and better than ever. After watching the Mets win the National League East that season, Phillies' shortstop Jimmy Rollins went into the following Spring Training with a different attitude.

    Tired of losing and realizing the potential of the nucleus of players the Phils had built, Rollins boldly proclaimed that, on paper, the Phillies were the "team to beat." The soundbite took off from there, becoming more of a slogan amongst the fans.

    After trailing by seven games with 17 left to play, Rollins and the Phillies made good on their words. As the Mets began to collapse, the Phillies picked up steam, and the latter won the first of five consecutive division titles.

    Many people would argue that this was the beginning of the end for the Mets. With poor decision-making in the front office and a lack of results on the field, these teams were moving in two completely different directions.

The Future

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    What does the future hold for these bitter rivals?

    From a Phillies' perspective, the future is bright. Now firmly cemented of one of baseball's largest streams of revenue, the Phillies are in a position to be competitive on the field for a long time, armed with one of baseball's best ballparks and a front office that values scouting and player development as much as it values the product at the MLB level.

    As some of the Phillies' core gets older, younger players will emerge. Though Domonic Brown has yet to reveal his full potential, he hasn't gone anywhere just yet. With pitching seemingly bursting at the seems in this organization, it is hard to imagine a day when the Phils are not a competitive team.

    The Mets are building with an eye on the future as well. With young players like Ike Davis and Jonathan Niese already contributing at the MLB level, growing the farm system is the main priority. Acquiring top prospect Zach Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants was an excellent start, and the Mets are also developing a number of pitchers with high ceilings, as well as hitters such as Brandon Nimmo and Cesar Puello.

    Will these young players carry on the tradition of this long-standing rivalry?

The Reyes-Less Mets

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    With the Mets entering more of re-building phase than anything, there was always very little chance that Jose Reyes would stay with the club after entering free agency this off-season. However, now that all of the dust has settled and fans realize that their former shortstop is now suiting up for the new-look Miami Marlins, it is time to face the music: He's gone.

    After playing an integral role in this rivalry for most of nine seasons, Reyes will lead the rejuvenated Marlins into the good fight for the foreseeable future, so the larger question is what impact will that have on the rivalry between the Phillies and his former team, the Mets? 

    Was the loss of Reyes the final dagger in the heart of the Mets, or is his departure a new reason to do battle with the Phillies, as the club fights to show that they can win without him?

Rollins Re-Ups

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    Unlike his fellow shortstop Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins re-signed with the Phillies this off-season for what, in all likelihood, will turn out to be the next four seasons. Like Reyes, Rollins plays a huge part in this rivalry and has over the course of his entire career.

    Back in 2007, Rollins entered Spring Training with a mind-set. The Phils' vocal leader, he made it known to the media that they were done finishing in second place. They had spent years climbing out of the cellar and now, heading into the '07 season, they were the team to beat.

    With Rollins at shortstop, the Phillies have captured five consecutive National League East division titles. While the Mets lost a bit of star power this winter, the Phillies re-signed their brightest personality, and the Mets won't be catching a break from Rollins any time soon.

"Utley's Corner"

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    It didn't take long for the Mets and the rest of baseball to figure out that Citi Field wasn't a hitter's ballpark. The walls were deep, high, and created a number of odd angles. It was going to be a place that pitchers loved and hitters hated, unless of course, you are a hitter by the name of Chase Utley.

    Utley has fared quite well in Citi Field, thanks in large part to the fact that his short, compact swing gives him a ton of power down the left field line—a part of the ballpark that most would say is much easier to hit home runs in. Utley has done this frequently, leading that part of the ballpark, in New York, mind you, to become known as "Utley's Corner."

    However, this slide is less about Utley's Corner and more about what players excelling in a rivalry can do for its strength. Utley hitting well against the Mets only intensifies the rivalry. Johan Santana did much of the same for the Mets, as most times, the Phillies found him completely un-hittable.

    If this rivalry is going to thrive, it needs to have star-power, and both the Phillies and the Mets have some of that.

Respect

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    What a lot of people refuse to understand is that a rivalry is much more than games played during a single season. What most people see during the season are two clubs featuring a pair of 25-man rosters making a ton of money, and not the fact that each and every one of those 50 players wants nothing more than to beat the other team.

    This rivalry isn't fought over a game in the win column or falling a game behind. It's about respect. It doesn't matter if one team is ahead of the other by 20 games in the standings. At the end of the day, MLB players are prideful men who want to win, and that's true for any game during the season. Pit them against a rival and it's about more than that. It's about respect.

Competitive Edge

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    Just because the rivalry was born and has grown out of pride and respect does not mean that these teams gain nothing by playing each other, obviously.

    The Phillies and Mets play in the same division, and that means that they'll be meeting each other at least 18 times a season. When you play in the same division, 18 games can really turn the standings on their head. Neither team has a better chance to run away with the division more so than when they're playing each other, or other teams in the NL East, and that obviously makes the stakes higher and the rivalry stronger.

The Fans

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    Any time that the fan base is able to get involved in a rivalry, the on the field showdown is just that much better. Both the Phillies and Mets have passionate fans, and any time that these two clubs meet each other, that much is obvious.

    Whether that means either team's fans supporting them at home or traveling well on the road, the fans bring the rivalry to an entirely different level. For everything that was said about respect and competitive edge, the fans multiply those seemingly secondary aspects ten-fold.

    After all, the fans want to win at least as much, if not more, than the players do, and that is what keeps a rivalry going.

The Mets Are Crafting a New Image

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    Jose Reyes may have been the final step to that complete and drastic Mets makeover we have been hearing so much about in recent years, but when you look back over the years, the Mets have changed a lot since the Phillies first stole the division crown away from them in 2007.

    Looking around the diamond, only David Wright remains among the team's regulars from that season, and moving forward, the only familiar face may be that of Jason Bay. After the trade of Carlos Beltran during the season and waving goodbye to Jose Reyes in the off-season, the Mets are a drastically different team heading in 2012.

    That isn't to say that this team doesn't have anything to prove, because the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. The Mets are a team forging themselves a new image. Once upon a time, guys like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were just prospects for the Phillies clawing their way to the top, but look where they are now.

    In 2012, plenty of fresh faces will have the opportunity to step in and play for the Mets. The real question is whether or not they can draw out their potential and give the Phillies a run for their money. They'll surely try.

The Young Blood

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    If the previous slide was any indication, the Mets are going to look very different than your big brother's Mets in 2012. Whether or not that is a bad thing is yet to be seen, but there will definitely be some young blood on that roster heading into the season.

    As long as they are healthy, the Mets will feature players like Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Lucas Duda, Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada heading into the season, a far cry from most of the regulars that the club's manager has run out to the field from as early as last season. Terry Collins may have his work cut out for him, but there is talent, especially on the mound, where guys like Jonathan Niese and Dillion Gee can support the club.

    The Phillies have more of a veteran club, and most of these guys are already familiar with the rivalry. As guys like Vance Worley and Antonio Bastardo take the mound, however, they'll become better acquainted with their division rivals in 2012.

The Veterans

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    Unlike the Mets, the Phillies will be relying on a plethora of veterans to take this rivalry to the next level. From position to position, Phillies' players have been through this battle before. Outside of whomever takes over in left field, be it John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, or even Domonic Brown, every Phillies' position player has experienced this rivalry a bit, including Hunter Pence.

    That veteran presence exists on the pitching staff as well, where each of the Phillies' five starters and several members of the bullpen have pitched against the Mets in recent years.

    From a Mets' perspective, they'll be counting on their veteran players to lead the charge. David Wright and Jason Bay will be largely responsible for helping the younger players along, and a return to form from Johan Santana would greatly improve the Mets' rotation, strengthening the rivalry.

The David and Goliath Effect

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    Over much of the last decade, and though the last couple of years may have broken the mold, the Phillies and Mets are a couple of teams that have been doing battle with each other over the top spot in the NL East. With one team always looking up at the other, something that I'm calling the "David and Goliath Effect" was created.

    For instance, take a look back at the 2006 season, leading into 2007. With the Mets having already beaten back the Phillies in 2006 to become NL East champions, the Phillies were David looking up at Goliath in 2007. They had the talent, the luck, but most importantly, the courage and willpower to take down the Mets.

    Now, at present, the roles are reversed. Though it may not be in 2012, or in the near future, for that matter, the Mets are in a position where they must re-stock some of their talent. Until they can slay Goliath (the Phillies,) the Mets are going to have their work cut out for them, and that is a huge part of the reason this rivalry is still relevant.

Division Bragging Rights

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    Similarly to the "David and Goliath Effect," as long as these two clubs both play in the NL East, there will always be some sort of incentive to keep this rivalry burning. When you take into account all of the aspects that we've already gone over, you are able to take out of them one, less obvious aspect—bragging rights.

    On the field, we know that these two clubs are going to battle until the final out every time they meet each other. Winning games against one another gives the players bragging rights, not only amongst themselves but also amongst the rest of the division.

    However, don't believe for a second that either club's public relations team will let this rivalry all to the wayside. Fans like nothing more than being able to say that, in this rivalry, they are the better team. As long as there are bragging rights to be had in this rivalry, it will continue to exist.

Reputation

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    Between these two teams, neither wants their reputation to take a hit. Neither the Phillies or Mets want to be known as the team that couldn't get the job done, thanks in large part to the competitive nature of each club.

    Looking back over this rivalry, there is a lot at stake. Each team wants to be the past, work hardest, succeed, and ultimately, win the World Series. That's a reputation that neither franchise can afford to lose and will do battle for until the very end.

Free Agents Ready to Make an Impact

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    Between the two clubs, the Phillies made the bigger splash over the off-season by signing closer Jonathan Papelbon to the second richest reliever's contract of all-time. Looking over the last few off-seasons, the stories have been similar. The Phillies have made big moves and the Mets have struggled to follow suit.

    Having Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen gives the Phils' one of the league's best closers, but he is far from the only move they've made. Much of the off-season has been spent on revitalizing the bench, adding guys like Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix into the fold, making the Phillies a much deeper team than they were in 2011.

    Though their names lack the same sort of flash as the ones the Phillies have, the Mets have not sat idly this winter by any means, greatly improving their bullpen. Adding Jon Rauch, who had an interesting run-in with the Phillies as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays last season, and Frank Francisco give the Mets a pair of late-innings options. The Mets also added Ramon Ramirez (and outfielder Andres Torres) in a trade with the San Francisco Giants.

    New to the rivalry, these players will be looking to make an impact in a lot of different ways in 2011, and guys like Papelbon know firsthand what beating down an old rival can mean for the morale of a ball club.

Pitching, Pitching, and More Pitching

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    Every rivalry has its strengths, and between the Phillies and Mets, the strength of this rivalry has become its abundance of pitching.

    After assembling one of the better rotations in the history of baseball in 2011, the strength of the Phillies is no secret. In any series against the Mets, the opposition may see some combination of three of the best pitchers in the game right now—Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Those three need no explanation.

    However, the Phillies have a much deeper pitching staff than those three names. Vance Worley finished third amongst NL rookies last season in Rookie of the Year voting and looks to build on that with a strong sophomore season. The Phils' also have one of baseball's best bullpens, with Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, and Mike Stutes at the back end, with young, talented relievers on the way.

    The Phillies may have the upper hand here, but don't underestimate the Mets. Though Johan Santana's health is up in the air, RA Dickey's is not, and he has given the Phillies fits with his knuckleball in the past. Joining him in the rotation are lefty Jonathan Niese, surprising rookie Dillon Gee, and Mike Pelfrey.

    The true strength of the Mets, however, may be their bullpen, which we will touch on in the next slide. In regards to overall pitching, know this: The Phillies and Mets will be a couple of entertaining teams to watch next season.

Improved Bullpen, Improved Mets?

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    To be painfully honest, a lot of things went wrong with the Mets in 2011. From underachieving players, to injury concerns, to off-the-field scandal, the Mets were a smorgasbord of woefully terrible news in 2011. As far as actually playing the game is concerned, the bullpen was a big area to improve upon heading into the winter, and general manager Sandy Alderson has done a nice job of upgrading his relief corps.

    After trading Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers during the season, the Mets were left without a true closer, and decided to add Jon Rauch, more of a set-up man on most contending teams, to the club with a chance to close out ball games. Regardless of that, he is a solid addition, with experience in pitching in baseball's toughest division: the AL East.

    Along with Rauch, the Mets added another former Toronto Blue Jay in Frank Francisco. A quick glance at the contract he received suggests that it may be Francisco who is closing games in 2012, but that is yet to be determined. The righty struggled in the AL East last season and should benefit from a move to the NL.

    One of the winter's more underrated moves was a trade with the San Francisco Giants, where the Mets added not only a solid reliever in Ramon Ramirez, but also a center fielder with upside in Andres Torres.

    Along with those relievers, the Mets' bullpen will feature hard-throwing right hander Bobby Parnell, former Rule 5 Draft pick Pedro Beato, and lefty Tim Byrdak, among others. Compared to last season's bullpen, the Mets are much deeper in this area of the club.

    Health permitting, the Mets will add to that bullpen an improving club, with solid offensive players like David Wright and Ike Davis. They may not be a contending club right away, but they'll be an interesting team to keep an eye on.

Phillies Are Still the Team to Beat

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    At least for the 2012 season, the Phillies are still the "team to beat," and that goes a long way in keeping this rivalry relevant. As long as there is a team at the top of the division and other teams trying to knock them down, there will always be rivalries.

    As far as the Mets and Phillies are concerned, however, this is more than just a simple rivalry. There is a lot on the line for these two clubs. There is history between these two clubs, and those two things do not simply fade away when one team isn't as successful as it could be and will be again in the future.

    As long as the Phillies are the team to beat, there will be other teams trying their hardest to beat them, and that is how rivalries are born and sustained.