The Mets powered their way into first-place with some help from Chicago's Rich Hill.
As Orlando Hernandez and Carlos Beltran were leading New York to an 11-3 victory over the Marlins on Thursday night, Hill was shutting down the Atlanta Braves.
New York and Atlanta swapped places atop the NL East standings on their way to a three-game series at Shea Stadium, starting Friday night.
El Duque struck out 10 in seven innings, and Beltran went 4-for-6 with a home run to help the Mets complete an impressive two-game sweep in Miami. New York outscored the Marlins 20-5 and outhit them 33-7.
``We're swinging the bats well,'' Mets manager Willie Randolph said. ``It's a good time to have this challenge against the Braves.''
Hill allowed four hits in eight scoreless innings and Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez backed him with solo homers in a 3-0 victory at Atlanta.
``He's good, man,'' said Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson, who went 2-for-3 with a double. ``He threw a lot of strikes. Strikes, strikes and more strikes. That's all it was.''
In other NL games Thursday, it was: Philadelphia 4, Washington 2; Milwaukee 7, Pittsburgh 5; Los Angeles 8, Colorado 1; San Diego 11, Arizona 6; San Francisco 6, St. Louis 2; and Houston 8, Cincinnati 6.
Backup catcher Ramon Castro homered and drove in three runs for the Mets, Jose Valentin hit his first homer, and David Wright's two-season hitting streak reached 26 games.
The Mets hiked their batting average to .303, best in the majors, and their pitching was decent, too. New York gave up only four hits and struck out 15.
``Everyone contributed tonight,'' Randolph said.
After enduring some cold early-season conditions, the Mets thrived in South Florida's 80-degree weather and came way with their first sweep in Miami since May 26-27, 1998.
``We just feel good in this kind of weather,'' Beltran said.
Chicago, which had lost two straight and seven of nine, received a third straight masterful start from Hill (3-0). He struck out seven and walked three, lowering his ERA to 0.41, best in the majors.
``He's pitching as well as anybody in baseball,'' Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. ``Today we really needed to rest our bullpen one more day, and he gave us what we needed.''
As for the Braves, they had won two straight and three of four, but they had runners in scoring position just three times against the Cubs. The heart of Atlanta's order _ Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur _ went 1-for-10.
They'll try to fare better Friday night against Mike Pelfrey (0-0), making his second start for the Mets. Atlanta counters with Tim Hudson (2-0), who's been brilliant in three starts. The right-hander, coming off the worst season of his career, has a 0.86 ERA with just 11 hits allowed in 21 innings.
Phillies 4, Nationals 2
Jamie Moyer took a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning, and Aaron Rowand hit his first homer to visiting Philadelphia.
Tom Gordon made things interesting in the ninth, loading the bases with no outs and allowing a run to score before getting his third save.
Philadelphia, which entered a league-worst 3-10, won despite playing without reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard, who hurt his left leg during Wednesday night's 13-inning loss to Washington.
John Patterson (0-3) allowed three runs, seven hits and four walks over four-plus innings for the Nationals.
Brewers 7, Pirates 5
J.J. Hardy snapped out of an early slump, going 3-for-5 with a two-run homer and four RBIs to help Milwaukee complete a two-game sweep of visiting Pittsburgh.
Milwaukee went on to score four runs in the first off Zach Duke (1-2), who gave up seven runs and 11 hits in four innings.
Xavier Nady hit a two-run homer off Jeff Suppan (2-2) in the sixth, then singled in a run off Derrick Turnbow in the eighth. Francisco Cordero struck out the side in the ninth for his fifth save.
Dodgers 8, Rockies 1
At Denver, Mark Hendrickson got his first win as a starter since August, allowing one run in 5 2-3 innings, filling in the injured Jason Schmidt.
Hendrickson (1-0), who had pitched 11 innings in three relief appearances, made his first start since Sept. 5 at Milwaukee. He scattered five hits, struck out two and walked one.
Jeff Kent had three hits, two RBIs and two runs.
Aaron Cook (0-1) extended his winless streak to nine starts since Aug. 27, giving up five runs.
Giants 6, Cardinals 2
Rich Aurilia hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to break a tie, helping Noah Lowry (1-2) to his first win of the season for host San Francisco.
St. Louis starter Kip Wells (1-3) homered, singled and scored two runs, but allowed five runs, four earned, in six innings. The Cardinals lost their four straight and their 6-9 start is the worst by a reigning title team since the 1998 Florida Marlins opened 1-11.
Padres 11, Diamondbacks 6
At San Diego, Padres ace Jake Peavy drove in two runs with his first career triple and added a double to help offset a shaky outing on the mound.
Khalil Greene and Rob Bowen hit solo homers for the Padres, who scored a season-high in runs.
Peavy (3-0) struck out eight but allowed five runs _ four earned _ on 10 hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings. Arizona starter Livan Hernandez (1-1) allowed seven runs in five innings.
Astros 8, Reds 6
Luke Scott hit a bases-loaded double to highlight another eighth-inning rally and Houston completed a two-game sweep at Cincinnati.
The Astros scored five runs in the eighth inning for the second straight night. Lance Berkman started it with a run-scoring single and the Astros loaded the bases against closer David Weathers (0-2). Scott, who had homered in the seventh, drove a ball to the wall in right-center field to score three runs for a 6-all tie. Scott later scored on Morgan Ensberg's sacrifice fly.
Brad Lidge (1-0) got the victory with one inning in relief, and Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect ninth for his third save.