NEW YORK -- New York Mets manager Terry Collins knew the pursuit of a National League wild card would not be easy.
The Philadelphia Phillies can follow in the footsteps of another NL East rival Thursday and make it even tougher for the Mets.
The suddenly skidding Mets will host the Phillies on Thursday night in the first game of a four-game series at Citi Field. It is the final home series of the regular season for the Mets, whose chances of reaching the wild card game took a hit when the NL East cellar-dwelling Atlanta Braves completed a three-game sweep Wednesday with a 4-3 win.
Despite the loss, the Mets (80-72) remain in a three-way tie for the two wild cards thanks to losses by the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. Still, it was a disappointing series for New York, which has the easiest remaining schedule of the three wild-card contenders and began Monday with a one-game lead on the Giants for the first wild card and a two-game lead on the Cardinals for the second wild card.
"The perception from the outside is that it's easy, you guys have got the easiest schedule when you look at wins and losses," Collins said of the Mets, who are 20-10 since Aug. 20 and whose final three opponents -- the Braves, Phillies and Miami Marlins -- are a combined 44 games under .500. "But don't tell the guys on the other side of the field."
Like the Braves, the Phillies (69-83) aren't acting like a team playing out the string. Philadelphia has won four of its past five games, and it knocked around American League Cy Young Award contender Chris Sale in an 8-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday to complete a two-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park.
"You beat a guy like Sale today and maybe he wasn't at his best, but it doesn't matter to me, we beat him," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "So going into New York to play them, they're going to be tough, they've been playing pretty well, and they're still playing for something. So it would be nice to be a spoiler."
The Mets will look to an unlikely stopper Thursday when rookie right-hander Seth Lugo (4-2, 2.35 ERA) will oppose second-year Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan (2-10, 5.57).
Lugo, who didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start last Saturday after giving up one run over five innings against the Minnesota Twins, is 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in six starts since replacing injured southpaw Steven Matz in the rotation.
New York has won each of Lugo's last five starts. He has never faced the Phillies.
Morgan didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start last Friday, when he gave up two runs (one earned) over 4 1/3 innings against the Miami Marlins. He has won just one of his past 18 games (16 starts), a stretch in which he has compiled a 5.87 ERA.
Morgan is 0-1 with an 11.42 ERA in two career starts against the Mets.