The Colorado Rockies couldn't have enjoyed getting pounded by the Phillies last night. You can be just as sure they wouldn't trade their last three victories over the Phils for a reversal of this outcome.
The games mean a lot more in October than in May, after all.
If you're looking for real meaning in this lukewarm rematch of last year's division playoffs, you have to check two places: the standings and the disabled list.
Remember how smart the Rockies organization was looking when the team surged into the postseason and then swept the Phillies and Diamondbacks to win the National League pennant? They had young stars like Matt Holliday, rookie of the year Troy Tulowitzki, and Garrett Atkins. They had an instant phenomenon in soda-soaked closer Manny Corpas. That postseason was just the beginning for them.
All of that may prove to be true, but right now the Rockies are 20-31 and not looking much like that dynasty in the making. Holliday and Tulowitzi are on the disabled list, along with Brad Hawpe and a half-dozen others. Atkins hasn't played since Friday because of a stiff neck. (And wouldn't you love to hear Derian Hatcher's reaction when he heard that one?)
Tough breaks, right?
Well, sure. But Tulowitzki was hitting .152 when he went on the DL. Hawpe was hitting .231. Holliday just went on the DL on Sunday.
Compare that to the team that lost the NL MVP for a month, has three starters with earned run averages over 5.00, and has a cleanup hitter and former MVP batting right around .200.
That team has a 29-24 record and every chance to be playing October baseball again this year.
Whatever their flaws - and they aren't hard to find - these Phillies are oddly comfortable with adversity, even if it's mostly of their own making. They are either consistently inconsistent or inconsistent to the point of consistency.
That 29-24 record? It is within a few games of their record on the previous five Memorial Days. They were 26-25 last year, 26-24 the year before, 27-21 in 2003, and 27-23 in 2002. Their only losing record on the unofficial first day of the summer season was in 2005, when they were 24-27 - again, within a few games.
So there's a strange consistency in the numbers, but they find different ways to get to this point every season. The only consistent element is, of course, inconsistency.
"I'd like to see us get about a five- or six- or seven-game lead and see what we can do," Charlie Manuel said. "We get to a point, this season same as usual, when we can really get going and for some reason we'll lose two or three and fall back. We linger around .500. We'll get four or five games over sometimes, [but] we're never 10, 12 games over .500. I'd like to see us get there one time."
The elements for a Rockies-style tumble are all there. Jimmy Rollins left a game at Shea Stadium on April 8 and there was no indication he would be out of the lineup for a month with a sprained ankle. Ryan Howard got himself mired in a profound slump for the first two months and has only lately begun to look like the 2006 NL MVP. The starting rotation, except for Cole Hamels, has been unexceptional. Team defense, a strength in the past, has been below average.
"It's inconsistent play," Manuel said. "We'll have nights where we don't catch the ball, where we keep our pitcher out there a long time because of our defense. We'll have nights where the pitching gives up a lot of runs early. We have stretches where our hitting is inconsistent."
This year, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and the bullpen kept the Phillies alive through April and early May. That got them to Memorial Day in roughly the same shape as the last few years. And yet they seem better equipped this season to make a strong push for the playoffs.
The rotation is at least set. The last few years, the Phillies found themselves scrounging around just to come up with someone to make a few starts in June and early July.
Brad Lidge has been the closer the Phillies hoped they were getting in their most significant off-season move. And he has anchored a bullpen that has been a major strength, rather than the disaster area of previous years.
Howard continued to pound the ball hard last night, and his track record suggests he will stay hot once he gets hot. With Rollins back in business at the top, the Phillies' lineup should deliver the expected run production.
It's a long way from May to October, but the Phillies have survived the journey from October to May. Ask the Rockies how hard that can be.