The lead is the half the size it was at this time last year, but a 3.5-game cushion with 17 games to go still feels pretty good.
The Mets swept the two-game series with the Nationals tonight, by outscoring a Nationals' attack that's suddenly firing on all cylinders. Anyone who thought the Nationals were going to be pushovers because they're in last place haven't been paying attention. The offense is almost completely healthy, for one, and ended up scoring 18 runs in the abbreviated series with the Mets. Cristian Guzman-Ryan Zimmerman-Lastings Milledge-Elijah Dukes is nobody's idea of a juggernaut, but the men in the middle of the Nats' lineup have all had solid second halves of the season. Since the All-Star Break:
Luckily for Mets fans, New York simply has a deeper and more talented lineup and are a vastly superior defensive team. David Wright broke out of his short slump in a big way during this series, with six hits in the last two games, and suddenly appears to be locked in at the plate again. The Phenom has taken a step back from his 2007 numbers, but a big playoff series or two will re-establish him as one of the five best players in baseball. If it wasn't for Wright, the results of the last two games might have been wild Washington wins, and Phillies fans wouldn't be wondering tonight if their luck has run out.
So the Mets are surging and the Phillies are stumbling, even though the pitching performances from the last two nights are causes for concern. There was a lot of sarcasm directed Oliver Perez's way after last night's stinker, with the recurring theme being that his perceived free agent demands will need some readjusting. After the way the Nats smacked around Mike Pelfrey tonight, though, some people might owe Ollie an apology.
Aaron Heilman, though, that's another story. Heilman's Met career certainly seems to be drawing to a close; he is so unpopular with the fan base right now that he is veering dangerously close to Doug Sisk territory. It's not entirely fair - Heilman gave the Mets three excellent seasons in middle relief going into this year - but he has been so consistently ineffective this season that it's hard to justify giving him a baseball at a meaningful point in a game again this season.