What was considered the New York Mets' primary weakness entering the 2007 season has been one of the team's greatest strengths so far.
The Mets look to continue their run of strong outings from their starting pitchers when John Maine takes the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies in New York's home opener Monday.
The Mets (4-2) are looking to win their fourth straight opener at Shea Stadium. To do so, they'll need to bounce back from consecutive losses that ruined their perfect start.
New York was 4-0 for the first time since 1985 before dropping back-to-back games to Atlanta over the weekend.
Despite coming out on the losing end Saturday and Sunday, the starting pitching was solid in both outings, giving up only three earned runs in 11 1/3 innings. Mets starters are 4-1 with a 1.41 ERA in 38 1/3 innings.
Orlando Hernandez allowed one earned run Sunday, but the bullpen surrendered two runs in the eighth inning as the Mets fell 3-2 to Atlanta in the decisive game of the three-game series.
The New York lineup that dominated the first four games of the season was quiet for the second straight game. The Mets outscored opponents 31-3 in the first four games but managed only five runs combined in the last two.
The Mets look to rebound against a struggling Phillies team that has surrendered at least five runs in four of its six games.
Philadelphia (1-5) is coming off back-to-back losses to Florida. The Phillies drew 11 walks but stranded 14 runners in their 6-4 defeat Sunday, falling to 1-5 for the third time in four seasons and the second year in a row.
"It's a concern. You can't say that it's not," third baseman Wes Helms said. "It is only six games, but if you go 1-5 in the middle of the season, you don't look at it as much as when you are 1-5 at the beginning. We want to correct this quick. We don't want to get so far down that we have to climb and climb."
NL MVP Ryan Howard broke out of a 3-for-19 start to 2007 with a two-run double in the first inning, his first extra-base hit and first two RBIs of the year. He went 2-for-4 with a run Sunday and improved his season average to .217.
"I have been here before, so I just have to get through it," Howard said. "Knowing the situation, I am just trying to right the ship."
Last year, Howard went 2-for-8 with a home run against Maine, who dominated Philadelphia in 2006. The 25-year-old right-hander went 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA in three starts against the Phillies.
Maine allowed one hit in seven innings against St. Louis in his first start of the season Wednesday, a 10-0 Mets win.
The Phillies will send 23-year-old left-hander Cole Hamels to the mound Monday. Hamels went 9-8 with a 4.08 ERA after a May call-up in 2006, including a 3-1 record with a 2.45 ERA in his last six starts.
Like Maine, Hamels threw seven shutout innings in his 2007 debut. He allowed four hits while striking out eight in the Phillies' 3-2, 11-inning loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.
Hamels was outstanding in one start against the Mets last year, throwing eight innings and giving up four hits with nine strikeouts as the Phillies routed New York 13-0 on Aug. 14.
Philadelphia went 8-11 against the Mets in 2006, including 3-6 at Shea Stadium. They haven't won a series at Shea since taking two of three Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2005.