A sweep in St. Louis!
Last year the Phillies began their push for the Wild Card with an impressive road trip to the West Coast. Could their short hop to the Midwest portend another late season dash? With much of the National League treading water, the Wild Card remains very much up for grabs with the Phils trailing the DBacks and Red Legs by 2.5 games.
Regardless of the answer to the above question, one thing is clear: the new-look Phils are suddenly fun to watch. There are several subplots unfolding beginning but hardly ending with Chase Utley’s hitting streak. No storyline is more intriguing and heartwarming than the continued emergence of 33-year old rookie Chris Coste. Making his fifth start behind the plate in the last seven games, Coste began his night by throwing out the dangerous David Eckstein attempting to steal in the first inning, raised his batting average to .375 with four singles, and called a good game with fellow rookie Cole Hamels, ten years his junior, on the mound. Can Coste fill the hole at catcher for next season? Why not, inquiring minds want to know?
Hamels had a second straight strong outing, going seven plus innings, striking out twelve batters for the second time in three starts and keeping the Cards off balance all night. He had all three pitches working and he mixed them well, further tribute to Coste as well as the young left-hander himself, who did not appear to shake off his catcher often. The Hamels we’ve been anticipating is clearly emerging. If Scott Mathieson can keep pace, the outlook for the Phils’ starting pitching will brighten considerably.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Phillies’ bats have come alive, especially at the start of the game. Nothing helps a pitcher more than to be handed an early lead. For much of this season, the Phillies came to bat trailing. Worse, if they cut a deficit or even managed to take the lead, their pitching invariably went out and handed it right back to the opposition. Nothing demoralizes a team faster.
The new lineup still has Jimmy Rollins leading off with David Dellucci batting in Chase Utley’s old number two spot. Dellucci continues to get on base and deliver in the clutch. Chase has dropped down in the order to Bobby Abreu’s old place while Ryan Howard has moved up a notch to cleanup with Pat Burrell dropping down to number five. Utley may be seeing better pitches with Howard right behind him than he did when Abreu was batting third. It’s one thing to face a guy who is more than likely to walk as opposed to one who has 36 home runs. The Black Hole, RIP, has brightened considerably with Chris Cost providing most of the illumination at number seven between Aaron Rowand and Abe Nunez.
Given up for dead a mere week or two ago and baseball’s biggest sellers at the trade deadline, the Phillies are suddenly the life of the party. The three-game set in New York this weekend should go far in determining whether the ride will continue.