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Coutinho: Mets Face Early-Season Test In Philadelphia

By Rich Coutinho
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The Mets completed their first homestand of the year with a 4-2 record, which in baseball terms should be viewed as successful. But if you read the tweets and messages from Mets fans, many are upset the team didn't take their last two games. More than that, they feel the injury bug is beginning to bite once again -- and some seem ready to throw in the towel.

My message: Look at the whole report card. Your team is 4-2, Ike Davis has one single, and most importantly, Johan Santana has allowed one run in 10 innings. The bullpen has shown the effects of a significant upgrade, and for the most part the starting pitching was very good once through the rotation.

As the team heads to Philly, they are a confident bunch. Confident that they are better than most experts think. Confident that they can compete in this division. And so this weekend is an early litmus test to see if their faith is warranted. They will face an offensively-challenged Phillies team without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But Philadelphia still has the best starting pitching around, with a bullpen that is solid -- and loaded with swing-and-miss guys.

Coming off two lackluster games offensively, the Mets will need a big series from the middle of the lineup, with or without David Wright. Davis has gotten off to a sluggish start and Lucas Duda has been struggling as well, with the exception of his two-homer game on Saturday. And then there's Jason Bay. Maybe getting away from the boo birds at Citi Field might help, but I think of more assistance might be the easy-to-reach walls of Citizens Bank Park.

This building has been a house of horrors for the Mets in recent years. Exorcising the demons here might be a great first step toward proving the Mets belong in the NL East conversation.

R.A. Dickey will get the first crack at the Phillies' lineup. His fluttering knuckler might prove to be mighty baffling to Philadelphia's free-swinging bats, hitters like Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. I always like Dickey opening a series. A rough night of swatting and missing could provide a sharp contrast to a harder-throwing pitcher like Jonathon Niese for instance, who goes on Saturday.

Of course, the Mets with have their hands full with Cliff Lee on Friday night. But that's part of competing in the NL East.

The Mets will head to Atlanta for three more games after Philly, ending their 12-day "baptism by fire," a long string of head-to-head encounters in the NL East. Through six games, the Mets showed they can compete with their rivals at Citi Field. But now the challenge will be doing that away from New York.

And this weekend will be the first chance we get to see how Terry Collins and his team will respond.

Do you think the Mets will come out strong against Philly? Sound off in the comments below...

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