New York, one game above .500 at 46-45, made itself a bubble team in the first half. Should the Mets deal away their potential free-agents and try to shed some salary by the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline? Are they strong enough contenders that they should stand pat or even add a piece?
One of those potential free agents is already gone. Late on Tuesday night, the Mets and Brewers announced that closer Francisco Rodriguez had been shipped to Milwaukee, along with cash, in exchange for two Minor League players to be named.
Of all the players the Mets could deal, though, Rodriguez had appeared to be the most inevitable. Rodriguez, 29, is in the final season of a three-year, $37 million deal, but holds a $17.5 million option for 2012 that vests if he finishes 55 games. Since taking over as Mets general manager, Sandy Alderson has often referred to the option as prohibitively expensive.
Now, with an altered back-end of the bullpen, the Mets take on a visiting Phillies team that can be even better after the intermission. That was the message that manager Charlie Manuel took into the All-Star break, and you can be certain that's what his team will be thinking for its weekend series against the Mets.
Naturally, both teams will have big-picture thoughts when the series kicks off Friday night, with Phillies right-hander Vance Worley and Mets righty R.A. Dickey taking the hill in Citi Field.
Manuel, field boss of the team with the best record in the Major Leagues, said he thinks the Phillies can make up some ground on the offensive end. Shane Victorino is on the disabled list, but Chase Utley is healthy and Manuel considers All-Star Placido Polanco a key figure in the second half.
"What do I look for in the second half?" asked Manuel. "I expect us to score more runs, especially if we can get our team back and get healthy. I felt like when Victorino went in the five-hole for us, he started showing us some consistenc,y because he's a switch-hitter and he's got some power. ... If we can get [Polanco] well, he's a .300 hitter. We've got Utley now. I don't see any reason why we can't score more runs."
The Phillies, of course, are built around their pitching rotation, and the troika of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels has produced well this season. Roy Oswalt was part of the starting before spending two stints on the DL due to a back ailment, but the Phillies have gotten a contribution from the rookie Worley, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA this season. Philadelphia has won 10 of the 12 games that he's pitched in, and Worley has started twice against the Mets. The right-hander threw six shutout innings in one game and got knocked around for eight runs in the other.
The Mets are 15-15 against NL East rivals this season, but Philadelphia has distinguished itself by going 27-15 against the NL East. The Phillies hope to get Polanco back in the starting lineup Friday, and Manuel said that he's proud of the way his team has handled a difficult first half.
"I like our team a lot. I'm proud of our team," said Manuel. "Winning is what it's all about. That's our No. 1 priority when we come to the ballpark -- it's play the game and win that game. ... That's what counts for me, and it counts for a lot of our players, and we're trying to get every one of them to think that way.
For the Mets, with speculation still out there that Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, among others, could be moved, skipper Terry Collins said he can't let it affect what he has to do on the field.
"I think that's part of my job -- to make sure they maintain focus," Collins said. "If someone is moved from this club who's a high-profile guy, my job is to make sure they understand that there's a business side to this game that you've got to be able to play through. As we didn't let some other distractions earlier in the year get in our way, we cannot let this distraction get in our way. Here's an opportunity for someone else to step up. I truly believe as a player all you can do is grasp the opportunities.
"No matter who it might be, it's going to be an opportunity for some young player to step up and say, 'Hey look, here's my chance to show I belong here.'"
Phillies: Relief corps strong entering break
Philadelphia's bullpen has worked the fewest innings (233) and allowed the fewest hits (197) of any relief staff in the league, and Manuel wants to see more of the same after the All-Star break.
"When you think of this half, our pitching definitely jumps out at you. Not only starters, but the consistency in our bullpen," said Manuel. "When [Ryan] Madson was healthy, he did a tremendous job for us. He proved that he can close games. Our bullpen definitely prospers from the fact the starters go deep into games and they're getting the proper rest and they're getting a chance to pitch. That's been very big for us this first half."
Mets: Dickey set for second half
The break couldn't be coming at a much better time for Dickey, who has been dealing with a sore back, a tight gluteus muscle and a banged-up foot. He was solid in his last outing in San Francisco, throwing seven innings and allowing two runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out four.
"I got myself ready to go," Dickey said. "Obviously there's some maladies that are there, but I think the break is coming at a good time for me. I'm hopeful that when I come back off the break, things will be a little bit better."
Third baseman David Wright played in just 39 games before the All-Star break due to a back injury, and the Mets hope he can be a factor in the second half. Wright, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 103 runs last season, was held to six homers and 18 RBIs in the first half. Wright is hitting .226, 76 points below his career average.
Victorino is expected to come off the disabled list on July 19. Madson may also be able to return during that road trip.
The Phillies lead the division by 3 1/2 games. They trailed by 4 1/2 games at the All-Star break last season.
The Mets are just 19-22 at home this season. Philadelphia is 23-19 on the road.