Last year at the All-Star break the Mets were 48-40 and in second place in the NL East. They were a game behind the Dodgers in the Wild Card race. But they started the second half of the season going 2-9 and never recovered. This year the picture at the All-Star break is not nearly as rosy, as the Mets are 46-45 and are in third place in the NL East and 7.5 back in the Wild Card.

The Mets open the second half with a three-game set against the Phillies. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to start, as the Phillies have the best record in baseball and the Mets are just 3-6 against their rival. But last year’s start to the second half looked good, as the Mets started off against two teams with a combined 81-96 record. New York went 1-6 against those two clubs.

One thing in the Mets’ favor is that they avoid both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, along with the injured Roy Oswalt in this series. While they do have to go up against Cole Hamels, the Mets have done well historically against the 2008 World Series MVP. Hamels is just 3-9 lifetime against the Mets in 15 starts, with a 4.22 ERA.

One thing that will be interesting is to see how manager Terry Collins handles his catchers in this series. Recently, Collins has been playing them both equally and not in a strict platoon. Both catchers have been hitting well and have developed a rapport with at least one pitcher in the rotation. Mike Pelfrey has pitched better since being teamed with Ronny Paulino while Jonathon Niese has done likewise with Josh Thole.

Here’s how the Mets’ primary two catchers have fared this season when matched with the five starters:

Chris Capuano
RP — .286/.338/.407
JT — .254/.316/.429

R.A. Dickey
RP — .259/.308/.411
JT — .256/.325/.385

Dillon Gee
RP — .254/.342/.373
JT — .214/.294/.327

Jonathon Niese
RP — .316/.350/.434
JT — .259/.325/.386

Mike Pelfrey
RP — .237/.282/.411
JT — .256/.325/.385

Collins has been trying to pair Paulino with Pelfrey and Thole with Niese. But against the Phillies both catchers would have the platoon disadvantage, as Niese squares off against Hamels and Pelfrey goes up against the righty Kyle Kendrick. Will Collins play Thole against the LHP to keep him with Niese? There’s an increase of 83 points in OPS when Paulino catches Niese.

Two things stand out when looking at these pitcher-catcher pairings besides the Niese and Pelfrey matchups which we’ve already discussed. First, while Thole is often paired with Dickey, there appears to be very little difference in the results if Paulino catches him. With Thole as his catcher, Dickey limits opposing batters to a .710 OPS. With Paulino as his catcher, Dickey has a .719 OPS against.

The other thing is that there is a big difference with Gee. When Paulino catches him, Gee allows a .715 OPS but when Thole is behind the plate, it’s a .621 OPS allowed. All of these pitcher-catcher splits are small samples and in regards to Gee, it could be a chicken-egg thing. Gee has struggled in his last four starts and Paulino has been behind the plate in three of those. Has Gee struggled because of Paulino or has Paulino simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Collins has generally made a lot of good decisions as manager and it will be interesting to see how he handles his catchers going forward. Let’s see if he will give up the platoon advantage to have Thole catch Niese and if he will try to pair Thole and Gee more often in the second half.

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