The Mets and upwards of 10,000 of their vocal supporters will be in town each of the next three nights and this late Spring match-up is clearly being viewed by all parties concerned as crucial for a number of reasons.
A sweep by either side would put further distance between the first place Mets, who lead the second place Phils by four games, or narrow the gap considerably. As significantly, it will establish the tone for future games between the division rivals.
After struggling at home and abroad through April, the Phillies returned to the Bank, swept Atlanta and San Francisco, and evened their record there to 10 – 10 while winning eight straight overall. The just-concluded raucous weekend series with Barry Bonds and the Giants drew more than 100,000 people and reminded sports fans throughout the region that the Phils are not merely the only game in town right now, they are potentially the most exciting one going forward as well. The series with the Mets can go a long way toward creating a lasting buzz about this team.
Make no mistake about it, these Phillies are not your older brother or sister’s Phillies of recent yesterdays. The quiet intensity of Chase Utley and obvious passion of Aaron Rowand have not been seen in these parts for a long time. Only a month ago this team wasn’t fun to watch. That is no longer the case. Even Pat Burrell is getting into the act, giving interviews and, can it be, appearing to enjoy himself??!!! Different heroes step up each night, the mark of a club that is beginning to believe in itself.
Lest we get carried away, there are still concerns about the starting pitching in particular, but a look around the division doesn’t reveal too many clubs other than the Mets who can throw out two or more top line starters. After Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, the Mets don’t have much depth in their rotation and the question always remains how healthy Martinez can remain deep into the summer months. After those two pitchers, the Phils match up very well against the Mets. Other than third base, the Phils have the clearly superior infield. The outfield is no less than a toss-up with the Phils holding the edge. The Mets have the better catcher. The Phillies bullpen is equal to or better than that of the Mets and we all know about the closers.
The joker in the deck isn’t even on the roster. Enter Cole Hamels? While none of us outsiders is in a position to know how much is enough seasoning for a young pitcher, there are a few things we can know. Hamels has pitched just over 195 innings in the minors. That works out to roughly 21 plus nine-inning games so the guess is he has made something on the order of between 25 – 30 starts. In the past, some pitchers signed out of high school or college made the jump directly to the majors. Granted, not many, but it has happened. Others have signed out of college, played the remainder of that spring and summer in the minors and made the jump to the majors the following season. It isn’t unheard of. In Hamels’ case the biggest obstacle to his advancement has been his health and his off-field adventures. If he remains healthy and controls his temper, there is no reason to suppose he cannot make the jump to the majors this season. Certainly his first three starts since arriving at AAA have been spectacular.
I would imagine the Phils will give him at least a few more starts at Scranton before deciding. If they continue to stay close to the Mets, it will afford them the luxury of waiting a little longer before calling Hamels up. If they falter, however, the pressure will be tremendous. Should Hamels be called up, he would likely replace Ryan Madson in the rotation rather than Gavin Floyd. Madson can fill a role in the bullpen while Floyd cannot. Additionally, Floyd appears to be gaining confidence from his last few outings and might yet develop into a solid number four or five guy.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first order of business is to take at least two of three from New York.