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NYM@CHC: Niese hurls seven innings of one-run ball

The Phillies are trying to decide whether to play or fold. The Mets are playing with house money.

Philadelphia entered the season with vaulted expectations on the heels of a 102-win campaign in 2011. Halfway through their 2012 docket, the Phils are sputtering at 36-45 and amid a five-game skid. It's the first time the franchise has been nine games under .500 since 2006.

Now, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. must decide whether his team will buy or sell as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. Philadelphia dealt Jim Thome to Baltimore on Saturday, but second baseman Chase Utley rejoined the club on Wednesday. Philadelphia also expects slugger Ryan Howard to return from an Achilles' injury after the All-Star break.

"Hitting-wise, I don't feel any difference," said Howard, who has yet to play this season. "It's one of those things you don't even think about. I'm able to get up on the ball of my foot, on my swing, on my follow through. That to me is kind of a non-factor."

Meanwhile, the Mets, who host the Phillies for a three-game set beginning Tuesday, have been a steady force near the top of the National League East standings for much of the season, despite a roster littered with inexperienced youngsters.

A major reason for New York's success has been the club's starting pitching. The Mets entered Sunday's action leading all of baseball with 52 quality starts. R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana receive the brunt of the acclaim, but Jon Niese, who starts Tuesday, just completed a sensational June.

Niese, who will oppose Philadelphia's Vance Worley, went 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings in five June outings. His last time out, Niese benefited from an outpouring of run support, as the Mets topped the Cubs, 17-1.

"Obviously, scoring 17 runs, that just makes the pitcher's job a lot easier," he said.

Phillies: Club to send trio to All-Star Game
• Catcher Carlos Ruiz and pitchers Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon earned spots on the National League All-Star team. Ruiz is batting .356. It's his first All-Star nod.

Hamels, 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA, is headed to his third Midsummer Classic, while Papelbon, who has tallied 18 saves in 19 chances, made his fifth All-Star team.

• Outfielder Juan Pierre needs one stolen base to reach two milestones: He would tie Hugh Duffy for 22nd place on Major League Baseball's all-time list at 574 (needing six more after that to tie Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith for 21st place at 580) and it would mark his 12th straight season with at least 20 steals.

Mets: Wright, Dickey earn All-Star nods
• Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval passed David Wright in fan voting to determine the All-Star Game starters, but the Mets slugger still earned a spot on the team as a reserve. Wright is batting .354 with nine homers, 50 RBIs.

Dickey, the 37-year-old knuckleballer enjoying the best season of his career, is a candidate to start for the NL squad. Dickey is 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 116 strikeouts.

• Mets manager Terry Collins has heard that the Phillies are shopping starter Cole Hamels, but he wouldn't say that he thinks the club is dismantling.

"I don't know what their thought process is," Collins said. "I know Ryan Howard's starting his rehab and they got Chase [Utley] back. That lineup's going to get better, and when Doc [Halladay] gets back in there, they're going to be a force coming up."

Worth noting
• The Mets have won six of nine meetings with the Phillies this season.

• The Phillies' 36-45 mark is their worst through 81 games since the club was 23-58 in 1997.

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