Whatever happens over the next week, the Phillies have already won three times as many games on this homestand as they did on their previous one. But with very winnable series against the Reds and the Pirates standing in between now and the All-Star Break, they won't be satisfied with a mediocre homestand that fails to add to their one-game lead in the NL East.
I know the recent revival of Jimmy Rollins is an encouraging sign -- Rollins went 7-for-15 and hit a leadoff home run in yesterday's win -- but the biggest key in this recent three-game sweep of the Mets was the starting pitching.
Now, the question is whether the three straight quality starts and victories by Rodrigo Lopez, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton were just a brief reprieve from the rotation's struggles, or if the unit might finally find some consistency.
A source familiar with the Phillies' thinking said today that the organization has had talks about free agent righthander Pedro Martinez over the last couple of weeks, and that the team has not ruled out adding the veteran righthander. Earlier this season, the team did not consider Martinez a viable option, given questions about his performance as well as a price tag that several media outlets reported to be in the $5 million range. But internal discussions about the future Hall of Famer have intensified since last month, and the Phillies are currently one of several teams who are hoping to see him pitch in the near future.
That said, the Phillies by no means view Martinez as a panacea for the rotation. And a number of hurdles would have to be cleared for him to be considered a serious option. First, the Phillies would have to decide that Martinez is pitching well enough to represent an upgrade over Rodrigo Lopez or the prospects the team could consider for the fifth spot in the rotation. Second, Martinez's asking price would have to jive with the Phillies' summation of his talent. Third, Martinez would have to want to pitch in Philadelphia.
Keep in mind the Phillies scouted Freddy Garcia last season, but never came close to signing him. But at least for now, the possibility of Martinez is there.
Here are the probable pitching match-ups for the final seven games:
Tonight vs. Reds: LHP Cole Hamels vs. RHP Johnny Cueto
Tomorrow vs. Reds: LHP J.A. Happ vs. RHP Aaaron Harang
Wed. vs Reds: RHP Rodrigo Lopez vs. RHP Homer Bailey
Thu. vs. Reds: LHP Jamie Moyer vs. RHP Micah Owings
Fri vs. Pirates: RHP Joe Blanton vs. LHP Zach Duke
Sat. vs. Pirates: LHP Cole Hamels vs. RHP Ross Ohlendorf
Sun. vs. Pirates: LHP J.A. Happ vs. RHP Virgil Vasquez
I found it interesting that Ryan Braun called out his starting pitchers after the Brewers' loss to the Cubs yesterday.
"No matter who is in there, we have to find a way to throw the ball better for us to have success," Braun said, accoridng to the Associated Press. "I think when you're constantly behind in games, it's not easy and it's not fun. Their starting pitcher was clearly better than ours this series."
Brewers starters are 14th in the National League with a 4.99 ERA. Phillies starters are 15th with a 5.09 ERA.
From my point of view, this drives home how difficult the trade market will be this month. Of the six teams with the worst starting ERAs, four harbor serious playoff aspirations: the Brewers, the Mets, the Marlins and the Phillies. While Florida probably won't be a serious competitor for a starter, the Mets and Brewers could. I still think something will happen. The way I look at it, the Phillies have the most to gain and the most to lose by either acquiring or not acquiring a starter. Therefore, I think they will be in a position to be more aggressive than any of the other teams. For now, though, we'll just have to wait and see.