Buck Showalter
Tommy Gilligan | USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the summer began, the NL East was viewed by most as a two-team race. The reigning world champion Braves got off to a slow start. But the return of all-star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was what the team needed to get hot.

With a 14-game winning streak in early June, the Braves were headed back where they belonged atop the division.

Only one problem: The other team — the Mets — continued to play like a true contender as well. The Braves got within a half-game of first place, but the Mets were relentless.

Fast forward to mid-August, just a week after the Mets confidently took four of five from the Braves in Queens. Atlanta now sits 7.5 games behind New York and their wheels in the division seem to be falling off.

Which brings us to Friday, when the biggest series of the Mets season thus far kicks off. Haven’t we heard that before? We have. But this time the Phillies come to town, and they represent the last hurdle between the Mets and their first division title since 2015. Yes, the Braves are still a contender for the East as well. But the Mets have already proven they can handle them.

The Phillies, winners of seven of their last eight contests, are one of the hottest teams in baseball now. Still not to the level of the Mets and Dodgers recent success, though. The Mets beat up on Philly earlier in the year – the no-hitter, the seven-run comeback, and the Nick Plummer game-tying home run all occurred against the Phillies. But this is a new team playing in the city of brotherly love.

With Joe Girardi out of the skipper role, new manager Rob Thomson has led the Phils’ to an incredible 40-20 record. So those amazin’ Met wins earlier in the year against Philly can more or less get thrown out the window.

But the Mets are playing stellar baseball of their own. This is a classic matchup of two darn good teams going head-to-head in an old fashioned pennant (division?) race.

For the Mets though, they already hold the better deck, having controlled first place in the division since the season began. If they can continue their winning wins and assert their dominance over Philly, this division may be close to wrapped up by the time NFL season rolls around in mid-September.

Eagles-Giants games are known to bring out the intensity in the New York/Philly rivalry. This year, Mets-Phillies has the potential to play up to that level.

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