New York and Philadelphia are separated by less than 100 miles, making the Phillies the closest geographical rivals to the Mets in the National League. However, upon further inspection of the NL East standings over the past half-century, "rivals" might not be the correct word to use.
Since the Mets came into existence in 1962, both the Phillies and the Mets have finished with a winning record in the same season a mere eight times.
- 1975: Phillies (86-76, 2nd place); Mets (82-80, 3rd place)
- 1976: Phillies (101-61, 1st place); Mets (86-76, 3rd place)
- 1986: Mets (108-54, 1st place); Phillies (86-75, 2nd place)
- 2001: Phillies (86-76, 2nd place); Mets (82-80, 3rd place)
- 2005: Phillies (88-74, 2nd place); Mets (83-79, 3rd place)
- 2006: Mets (97-65, 1st place); Phillies (85-77, 2nd place)
- 2007: Phillies (89-73, 1st place); Mets (88-74, 2nd place)
- 2008: Phillies (92-70, 1st place); Mets (89-73, 2nd place)
Meanwhile, over the same time period, other well-known traditional rivals have had much more of a rivalry. Since 1962, the Red Sox and Yankees have both finished with winning records in the same season 30 times, including each of the last 13 seasons. The Dodgers and Giants have both been above .500 in the same season 22 times since 1962. Even the Cubs and Cardinals have both finished with winning records in the same season 14 times in the past half-century, which is remarkable considering that the Cubs have only had 18 winning seasons overall since 1962.
Prior to 2007, the Mets and Phillies never had a bonafide rivalry. Although the two teams finished in first and second place in the NL East in both 1986 and 2006, the Mets won the division handily each time. Not until the back-to-back collapses suffered by the Mets in 2007 and 2008 did the teams play for a division title. Unfortunately, those two seasons were the only two in which the Mets and Phillies had a legitimate rivalry in the standings, as the Phillies continued winning in 2009 and 2010, while the Mets forgot how to do so.
Therefore, although it is very early in the season, when the 3-1 Mets take on the 3-1 Phillies tonight at Citizens Bank Park, it will mark one of the few times over the past half-century that both teams have been in the top two positions in the NL East as they played each other.
It may be silly to say that tonight's game is a battle for first place, but why not say it? After all, battles for division supremacy between the Mets and the Phillies have been about as rare as the Cubs winning the World Series. But at least the Cubs have more of a rivalry with another divisional foe.
Enjoy seeing tonight's first place showdown between the Mets and the Phillies while you can. It might be the only time we can say that this season.