Coming into the year, the National League East figured to be a battle between the Mets and the Phillies with the Braves and the Marlins having a shot if everything broke right.  Now at the end of May, the Phillies hold a half-game lead over the Mets with the Braves four games back and the Marlins six and one-half out.

But while the Phillies and Mets are neck-and-neck, the way they got to the end of May was entirely different.  The Mets have a 28-21 record by playing in a traditional manner of winning two-thirds of the time at home while playing .500 at home.  New York is 17-9 at Citi Field and 11-12 on the road.  Philadelphia has the best road record in baseball with a 16-6 mark, yet are under .500 at home at 12-14.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for both teams through the first two months of the season:

Philadelphia

Pros – Free agent acquisition Raul Ibanez has been better than anyone could have possibly hoped.  He has a .333/.397/.683 line in his first 47 games with the Phillies.  Chase Utley has been a regular since Opening Day and not missed a beat with his recovery from a hip injury.  Utley’s .965 OPS ranks second on the team.  Ryan Howard is on track for another 40-HR season with 14 homers.  Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz both are hitting over .300 through two months.  Clay Condrey, Ryan Madson and Scott Eyre have been effective out of the bullpen.

Cons – Jimmy Rollins got off to a poor start and is still scuffling.  One year after being perfect in save opportunities, Brad Lidge is 0-2 with an 8.06 ERA.  The starting pitching has been a disaster with Brett Myers 4.66 ERA being the best mark on the staff.  And now he’s likely out for an extended period of time.

The Phillies are simply bludgeoning their opponents.  They lead the National League with a 5.60 runs per game mark.  However, their pitchers rank 13th in allowing 5.17 runs per game.

The reason Philadelphia is staying in the race is the schedule maker.  The Phillies have had the great good fortune of playing the 13-36 Washington Nationals 12 times already.  Philadelphia’s record in those games is 10-2.  Now, the mark of a good team is beating the teams that you’re supposed to beat.  But without the Nationals, the Phillies are a .500 team at 18-18.

New York

Pros – Carlos Beltran and David Wright have been having outstanding seasons, despite some boneheaded criticism by people who should really know better.  Luis Castillo played as if he had a fork sticking out of his back last season but has been an asset in 2009.  Johan Santana has been outstanding while Livan Hernandez, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey have been great in the month of May.  With the exception of Sean Green, the Mets bullpen has been fantastic.

Cons – An alarming number of injuries.  Not only are starters going down, reserves are coming up lame, too.  Jose Reyes is out and so is backup Alex Cora.  Beltran is day-to-day and now Angel Pagan left Sunday’s game.  Five players who started on Opening Day were out with injuries at the same time in May.  Oliver Perez is also technically on the disabled list, but his “injury” has more to do with general terribleness.

The off-season renovation of the bullpen has been fantastic.  What was easily the weakest link of the team is now one of its strong points.  The starting pitching has been outstanding (fifth starter excluded) in May, keeping the teams in games with half of the starting lineup on the disabled list.  Gary Sheffield has been a gift from above, as has Omir Santos.  The expiration date on both of those players is likely coming due, but hopefully the regulars can get back and the offense can once again pull its weight and lead the team into first place.

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