Red Means Both Stop and Go
One color, two very different teams. At least over the weekend. You may remember the Reds from such roles as first place, Central Division. Well, that was a long time ago. Over a week, in fact. After tearing up the league with its potent offense, the Little Red Machine That Couldn't trotted out a merry-go-round of confused hitters for six games, barely making the scoreboard in most of those. Meanwhile, the Phillies Phestival came a week early, showing up on the road in Cincinnati to showcase its new strength: starting pitting. Cole Hamels: one-hit ball in his major league debut. Jon Lieber: perfect through 6 2/3 and one out from a CG shutout. Brett Myers: the usual 7-inning, one-run game. Anyone else see three guys who might like to try on a post season series? The wily veteran, the stud power pitcher, and the cocky left-handed rookie. Sounds like something to read about in October.
We're getting ahead of ourselves here, obviously. Looking in the near future, the Phils have a pretty formidable run staring them in the face. They will be in Milwaukee for three against the respectable Brewers, owners of the most HRs in baseball at the moment -- powered by their own slugging first baseman vying to be rookie of the year -- and takers of 2 of 3 from the Mets over the weekend. They then return home to square off against Red Sox Nation, then visit Shea for three, back home for the Beeracrats and the Nats to close out May. June then begins in earnest with 11 straight games on the road, starting out West.
No doubt, the team is playing good ball right now, the best it's played all year, which, after April, ain't saying much. Lately, the pitching has been sold and the hitting has been timely, if not hot. Their reward? The Mets have cooled off and the Division is a two-horse race at the moment. No rest for the weary in Flushing, either, as the Cards and Yanks come calling before another NL East showdown May 23-25. In that series, if the rotation holds through days off, the Mets will see Gavin Floyd again, followed by King Cole and then Lieber.
One thing about the Phils current starting rotation, for probably the first time since the team has started winning 80-plus games, all five spots feel taken. Granted, Hamels has had just one performance -- and what a performance -- and Floyd has been spotty, but there are no Paul Abbotts or David Coggins taking up space every fifth day. While in reality it's probably too much to ask, the level of play, pitching and otherwise, absolutely has to stay at its current high water mark through to June. No dropping 2 of 3 to lowly Washington. No getting their doors blown off by the cocky Sox like last year. No laying eggs at Shea. They've made incredible progress, injuries and all. If the last two weeks of ball felt like the stretch run at the tail end of last year, the next stretch feels like a trial run through the playoffs. The rookies have been good to the Phils thusfar. How long can it be expected to last?
The next two weeks could be the answer, one way or the other.