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Is Phillies-Mets a Rivalry Again?

Oh, for those halcyon days of January 2007, when Jimmy Rollins could claim that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East "on paper," drawing titters and derision up until the point that the Phillies won the NL East, on paper and in real life. During spring training 2008, the Mets' Carlos Beltran shot back with a "to Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat." But by last season, no one was bothering anymore. Maybe this weekend can bring it back?

Obviously, it is still only April — though May by the end of the series! – and we remind you, again, that the Mets were in first place on May 29 last season. (We're going to require them to make it to July, we think, to start getting serious about this.) But still: The Phillies and Mets have a three-game series with only a half-game separating the two teams at the top of the standings. Sure, the Nationals might be looming just one game back, with Florida just two, and we won't remember this series at all in two weeks, but whatever! This is as "competitive" as the rivalry has been in a couple of years now.

So, then, on to the pitching matchups! Tonight, you can expect some offense: It's Jon Niese versus Kyle Kendrick, essentially the fourth starters for each team. Tomorrow's the real party, with suddenly brilliant Mike Pelfrey facing perpetually brilliant Roy Halladay. The Mets have the definite edge on Sunday night's game, with Johan Santana against elderly, atrophying Jamie Moyer.

Whether the Mets win the series or get swept, this weekend won't matter much in the grand scheme of things. But that it matters at all is a happy step, and a massive upgrade over what everyone thought it might be a couple of weeks ago.

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Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images