The New York Mets are capitalizing on a favorable schedule to get more comfortable atop the NL East, and things should get cushier over the next week.
The Mets look to extend their longest winning streak over the Philadelphia Phillies in 43 years Thursday night before facing another last-place opponent.
New York (70-56) leads the East by 6 1/2 games over second-place Washington and is on the verge of its second seven-game winning streak this month after beating the Phillies 9-4 on Wednesday.
The Mets' current run includes three wins each over Colorado and Philadelphia (50-77), occupants of last place in the West and East. Following the conclusion of this four-game series, New York's next nine games come against last-place Boston, the Phillies and Miami before a series with the Nationals that may lose its importance to the division race.
"If you want to make the playoffs, you have to beat the teams you should," catcher Anthony Recker said.
The Mets have won 28 of the last 35 matchups with Philadelphia, including eight straight for their longest winning streak in the series since a 10-game stretch from 1971-72. New York is making itself at home at Citizens Bank Park, winning 17 of the last 20.
Jonathon Niese (8-9, 3.80 ERA) looks to keep it going. The left-hander is 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA over his last seven starts against Philadelphia, winning both this year while yielding one earned run in 13 1-3 innings.
Niese wasn't nearly that effective Saturday, surrendering seven runs and 11 hits over 5 1-3 innings in a 14-9 win at Colorado. He was 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA over the four prior outings and had a 2.84 ERA in his first 11 road starts.
The Mets are hitting .347 with 16 homers while averaging 10.7 runs over the last six games.
"You talk about hitting being contagious, you stop putting pressure on yourself," Michael Cuddyer said. "Because we have confidence in the guys around us, we've had success."
Cuddyer is 7 for 10 with two homers, three doubles and six RBIs in this series after coming a triple shy of the cycle while plating three runs Wednesday. He's batting .461 during a 21-game hitting streak against the Phillies, hitting .600 with four homers and 11 RBIs in the last six.
Yoenis Cespedes has a .400 average with five homers and 13 RBIs in his last five games. He has a pair of homers and a triple among his five hits in this series.
The Phillies have dropped six of seven at home and are turning to Aaron Harang (5-14, 4.67), who's tied with Milwaukee's Matt Garza for the most losses in the majors. The right-hander is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA in his past four starts.
The best of that recent bunch came Saturday, though he still had control issues. Harang only gave up two hits over seven innings, but three of the four walks he allowed came in a two-run third inning in a 4-2 win at Miami.
"It felt like ever since I came back, I was rushing a little bit and not getting my arm on top enough," Harang told MLB's official website.
He's yielded four runs in 13 innings while losing both of his starts against the Mets this season, including one May 9 opposite Niese.