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Us and Them

The 2014 Mets have their problems, goodness knows — tepid hitting, shaky defense, ever-shrinking payrolls, changing stories and omnipresent drama.

But at least they aren’t the 2014 Phillies.

My word. The snarky term in vogue for what the Phillies are is “tire fire,” and it’s a good one — tire fires are gag-inducing, visible for miles and hard to extinguish and clean up. But that doesn’t really do the current incarnation of the Phils justice, and I’m not sure what would.

The Phillies are the backed-up commode on a transcontinental bus with no air conditioning.

How’s that? Hmm. No, the damage is too limited.

The Phillies are a full sewage pumper truck overturning on the hill above the town reservoir.

That’s better. But it still doesn’t really capture the scope of the problem.

The Phillies are $178 million in contracts [1] — more than twice the payroll of the Mets — for a 70-win team. Where’d that money go?

Ryan Howard [2] is 34, helpless against lefties and will get $25 million each of the next two seasons, with a $10 million buyout after that.

Cliff Lee [3] (age 35) is due $25 million next year, with a $27.5 million 2016 Omarpalooza option and the right to reject a trade to 70% of MLB teams.

Ill-advised shit-talker Cole Hamels [4] is 30 and owed $22.5 million a year through 2018.

Chase Utley [5], a 35-year-old betrayed by 70-year-old knees, is owed $10 million next year, with some kind of option that made me too dizzy to process.

Jonathan Papelbon [6] is 33, about as reliable as a meth-addled babysitter, and owed $13 million next year.

Yipes! Let’s give it one more try.

The Phillies are baseball Chernobyl, a man-made disaster that will render their surroundings uninhabitable for years to come.

Yep. There it is.

We should keep this in mind for a few reasons.

First off, of course, because it’s fun — the Phils’ brief renaissance was singularly unpleasant to live through, particularly since it coincided with the Mets becoming the Kansas City Royals East.

Second, because it’s a useful reminder that there are worse things than watching raw kids and reclamation projects fail and be discarded in favor of other raw kids and reclamation projects. Sandy Alderson repeating Jeff Wilpon’s tale du jour isn’t fun to witness, but I’ll take it over Ruben Amaro [7] Jr. trying to create a time machine at the center of a vortex of money, or whatever his plan is.

Third, because beating the Phillies four out of five might otherwise make us think that the Mets are good, when the actual answer is just that they’re better than the Phillies.

Don’t get me wrong — tonight was fun [8], particularly because it didn’t take an absurd number of innings. There was Matt den Dekker [9] stepping in for the injured Juan Lagares [10] and proving himself a very capable understudy. The Phillies seem also to have signed the wrong scouts: The moment den Dekker scooped up Ben Revere [11]‘s single in the third, I was screaming that he was going to throw Reid Brignac [12] out, which den Dekker did by approximately a ZIP code. There was Bartolo Colon [13] ambling through the enemy lineup with his usual Hakuna Matata shrug and even hitting a couple of respectable-looking foul balls. There was Bobby Abreu [14] continuing to show me that I was wrong about him and his bat is young even if the rest of him is not. There was Daniel Murphy [15] with one great goofball moment, overrunning home plate and then nearly corkscrewing himself into the dirt turning back to unmiss it. There was Phils skipper Ryne Sandberg [16], inexplicably positioning his fielders in to transform double-play grounders into Met hits. And finally, there was Wilmer Flores [17] simply unloading for an unMetsian grand slam, parking the ball in a spot that would have been out in a normal-sized park too.

It was all fun, of the stress-free variety for a change. But I’m not going to take it too seriously. For that, I need the Mets to keep playing well against lousy competition and hold their own against mediocre foes, to say nothing of taking on the big boys of the NL. I need to watch a lineup that scares somebody other than me. I need a whole lot that this team shows no signs of delivering quite yet.

The Mets aren’t there yet. They may never get there in this incarnation. But I am certain of one thing: By the time we figure out what this Mets team might realistically become, the Phillies will still be what we saw tonight, only even older and more bloated with disappointment. I’d much rather be us than them, and around here that’s progress.