The Rockies, star-crossed for most of the year, now are red-hot. The Reds remain young, exciting and surprisingly consistent. The Giants have a great one-two pitching combination, a nice thing going and a relatively favorable finishing schedule. The Padres still possess plenty of pitching, if not the momentum. And the Braves have a nice balanced team for
But of all the National League contenders, it is the resurgent two-time defending champion Phillies, winners of 12 of their past 13 series, who are truly intriguing baseball insiders now. After all they've been through, including the 17 player stays on the disabled list and assorted surprise hitting slumps, they are perceived by many around baseball now as the National League favorite.
This Philly team, which is 11-3 in September and overtook the Braves in the East, could make it three straight World Series appearances. It is creating such a stir partly because of its revival but mostly because of its vaunted top trio in the rotation of
"If I was a real smart guy we'd have all four of 'em,'' Phillies GM
Another positive sign: Amaro's to the point where he can joke about the trade of Lee that created more second guessing than just about any move made this year. Amaro said again by phone that there wasn't a way to fit both Halladay and Lee at the time, so he made the choice for the pitcher who was willing to sign up for three more seasons, which was Halladay, who also happened to be the pitcher the Phillies liked above all others in baseball.
But by finding room a few months later to add Oswalt, who unlike the free-agent-to-be Lee, is under contract for next year as well, and making that trade with Astros GM
"I think they have the best team. There's not a better team in the National League,'' one National League scout said. "Each of their first three starters has been a No. 1. There may be a dozen legit No. 1s in baseball, and they have three. Philly is really the first team I've seen with three No. 1s like that. Hamels, the World Series MVP (in 2008), is your No. 3 starter? You've got to be kidding me.'''
Hamels had thrown 25 straight scoreless innings -- a streak snapped Tuesday -- by featuring a 94-mph fastball and his usual superb changeup. Amaro said, "I can't say enough about Cole Hamels. A lot would say Cole Hamels has been our MVP this year. He's been so consistent, he just doesn't have the wins to show for it.'' (He is 11-10 after beating the Marlins on Tuesday.)
Oswalt has been his usual second-half dynamo after
"He's been a great addition,'' Amaro said. "We gave up a lot. J.A. Happ is a great pitcher. But for now and the foreseeable future, we have a very strong top of the rotation.''
Talk of the Phillies being the best team in the NL is not something Amaro chose to repeat. What he did say was, "I think we're in decent position. Guys have to continue to battle and swing the bats well.''
Beyond all the injuries, or in fact partly because of them, the Phillies' offense has been the one major issue for them this year (though they are hitting .321 in the last eight games). It has underperformed expectations for much of the year.
"It's been pretty well documented we didn't have our lineup for most of the year,'' Amaro said. "We didn't have a real good flow to things.''
While Rollins is still nursing a hamstring injury, the rest are back. And more importantly, the Phillies don't necessarily need to put up big offensive numbers with that kind of pitching. "All they need is one or two runs,'' the scouted pointed out.
The Phillies are a team of stars, of course. But their complementary players have been productive.
Of unheralded catcher
Even the Phillies' extra players, like shortstop
The bullpen has been an issue with the Phillies over the last couple years. But as the scout pointed out, "Each of their top three pitchers will go seven innings. If you get seven, you don't need that deep of a bullpen.''
• New Padres owner
• Arizona interim GM
• Most baseball people don't believe
• Of course