By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The New York Mets were expected to be at the bottom of the NL East. Instead, the team in the cellar is the one that's won it five years running - the Philadelphia Phillies.
Roy Halladay will try to help the Phillies get back to .500 and continue his dominance of the Mets in the opener of this three-game set at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.
Philadelphia's sluggish start to the season is due largely to injuries to first baseman Ryan Howard (left Achilles surgery) and second baseman Chase Utley (patella tendinitis in right knee). The Phillies (14-15) are last in the East, 1 1/2 games behind third-place New York (15-13).
While scoring runs has been an issue without their top run producers, the Phillies had no such trouble Sunday, winning 9-3 at Washington to salvage the finale of a three-game series against the NL East leaders.
"It's a game we really needed to get," said right fielder Hunter Pence, who had two homers and four RBIs. "We did a good job of finding a way to score runs."
Halladay (3-2, 3.40 ERA) may not need many runs against the Mets. He's won eight straight starts versus New York, going 7-0 with a 1.68 ERA since joining the Phillies in 2010.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner is 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA in his last three starts overall. However, much of that damage came Wednesday, when he squandered a six-run lead by surrendering eight runs and 12 hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 15-13 loss in 11 at Atlanta.
"Honestly, I felt good," Halladay said. "There were some that I didn't execute. It wasn't anything else."
With Howard and Utley out, Pence has done his best to compensate for their absences. He's 16 for 38 with four doubles, three homers and nine RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak, collecting four hits in each of the last two contests.
Pence, though, was 2 for 12 with one RBI as the Phillies dropped two of three to the Mets at Citizens Bank Park from April 13-15.
Jonathon Niese (2-1, 4.08) earned one of those wins for New York on April 14, scattering five hits with five strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-0 victory.
The left-hander has won three of his last four starts against the Phillies with a 3.38 ERA, allowing one or no earned runs in each of the victories.
Niese wasn't nearly that sharp Tuesday, giving up five runs and two homers in the opening two innings before getting pulled in the third of a 6-3 loss at Houston.
"It's just one of those games where it gets away from you early," Niese told the team's official website. "You've just got to put it in the past and get ready for the next start."
Niese will try to use that philosophy and draw inspiration from R.A. Dickey's superb performance in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Sunday. He allowed one run and four hits in eight innings, helping the Mets take the last two of the three-game set.
Daniel Murphy collected seven hits in that series, and is 12 for 26 in his last seven games versus the Phillies.
David Wright is batting .407 with three homers, seven RBIs and 11 runs in his last 14 visits to Philadelphia. The third baseman had five hits while playing the final two games of the last series there.
New York may be without shortstop Ruben Tejada after a strained quadriceps forced him out of Sunday's win.
Updated May 7, 2012
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