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WSH@PHI: Hamels dazzles over eight shutout innings

From top to bottom, the National League East is the tightest division in baseball. All five clubs are playing winning ball, and entering Sunday, only four games separated first place from last. A good series can propel a team up the standings just as easily as a poor one can drop a club to the cellar.

It's still early in the season, but the Mets (27-21) and Phillies (25-24) are both in the midst of important stretches. The Phillies are less than halfway through a stretch of playing 20 straight games against winning teams. The Mets begin a similar stretch when they host the Phillies on Monday, the first of 25 consecutive games they will play against teams with records above .500.

A pair of southpaws, Cole Hamels (7-1, 2.17) and Jon Niese (3-2, 4.29), will open the three-game series at Citi Field on Monday, with first pitch slated for 1:10 p.m. ET.

Since starting their 20-game stretch against teams with winning records last Monday, the Phillies are 5-3. They won four of their last five after taking three of four from the Cardinals, but left St. Louis on a sour note when Roy Halladay exited after just two innings with right shoulder soreness in Sunday's 8-3 loss.

The Mets have won three straight, all against the last-place Padres. Their upcoming schedule should present a bit more of a challenge. After facing the Phillies, they play the Cardinals, Yankees, Rays, Reds and Orioles. Then, they face the Yankees again.

"When we were in Spring Training, we talked about our schedule. We know it's tough," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're in a tough division. You look at our division and every single team in our division is above .500. We've played our division. We know we have to battle. We've played pretty well against our division. Now we add the Yankees and the Rays into that mix -- welcome to the big leagues."

Phillies: Halladay exits after two innings
Halladay left Sunday's series finale with the Cardinals in the second inning as a precaution after experiencing right shoulder soreness, the club said. He will be re-evaluated in the next couple days.

Halladay gave up a grand slam to Yadier Molina in Sunday's first inning. He pitched a 1-2-3 second frame before Pete Orr pinch-hit for him in the third inning.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner has struggled as of late. He was tagged with the loss on Sunday, dropping his record to 4-5. His ERA now sits at 3.98.

• The return date for injured second baseman Chase Utley is still unknown, but Utley told reporters before Sunday's game in St. Louis that his left knee is progressing. Utley has yet to play this season with chondromalacia (soft cartilage under the knee cap).

"Every day, it seems like it's getting a little bit better," Utley told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "The last couple of days I've pushed it and increased the intensity a little bit and [the knees] have responded well, so that's a good sign in my eyes."

Mets: Rehabbing pair progressing
Catcher Josh Thole and right-handed starter Chris Young are progressing in their rehab on their way back to the big leagues.

Thole, who was been on the shelf since sustaining a concussion on May 7, is set to play his first rehab game on Monday, in Port St. Lucie.

Young allowed three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings of work with Port St. Lucie on Friday. He will now head to Triple-A Buffalo for a rehab start against Columbus on Thursday.

• Shortstop Ronny Cedeno was kept out of the lineup on Sunday after a right leg cramp forced him to leave Saturday's game in the eighth inning. Collins said the Mets kept Cedeno out as a precaution.

Worth Noting
• Hamels can take the Major League lead in wins on Monday. His seven victories is tied for the lead with the Mets' R.A. Dickey and the Cardinals' Lance Lynn, who starts Monday against the Braves. Hamels has won his last four starts, and the Phillies have won eight of his nine starts this season.

Hamels has struggled against New York in his career, however, posting a 4-10 record with a 4.33 ERA in 18 starts. In an April 15 start against the Mets, Hamels earned the win after allowing two runs on six hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings.

• Niese is 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 10 career starts against the Phillies. He's already faced the Phillies twice this season, recording a 1-0 record with a 1.54 ERA.

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