There will be more awaiting the Phillies than San Diego's relentless sunshine and Los Angeles' excessive glitz during a 10-game trip that ends with three games against the New York Mets.
There will be plenty of potential trouble as well because it just so happens the Padres and Dodgers are not only hot, but they also have the two best home records in the National League.
Tonight, the Phillies will face the Padres, who have won 12 of their last 15 games and are 17-6 at Petco Park. They have the majors' leading home-run hitter in Adrian Gonzalez, who hit his 20th yesterday. Ace Jake Peavy, who has been bothered by right ankle tendinitis, will pitch tomorrow, when the Phils counter with Antonio Bastardo. The 23-year-old lefthander is making his major-league debut filling in for the injured Brett Myers.
The Dodgers are 18-5 at home.
"It's going to be a long road trip, and we need to get on the right page with everybody and go out there and play as hard as we can, because this will really set us up for the summer," pitcher Cole Hamels said yesterday after the Phillies wrapped up a six-game homestand with a 4-2 win over Washington at Citizens Bank Park. "And it'll set us up for what it'll be like down the line, because these are the types of teams we're going to play, or have to really watch, in the last couple of weeks of the season."
Despite the loss of Myers, the Phils hit the road feeling a little better about their pitching. In the last week, they got solid starts from Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Jamie Moyer, and closer Brad Lidge showed signs he's back on track with three crisp saves in the last three games.
"San Diego's been hot. And, of course, the Dodgers - it looks like they're trying to run away with their league," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Then we come back and play the Mets. It's a huge road trip."
Blanton, who will start tonight in San Diego, said the best way to approach a long, important trip is to think one series at a time.
"The goal is to try to win every series," Blanton said. "You break it down to one series at a time, and not look at the trip as a whole. You break it up. It makes the game simpler that way."
Blanton is coming off his most impressive start. He pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out 11 in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Florida.
"I feel like things are coming around," he said. "But it's one game. You just can't get content with it. I've got to keep pushing to get better."
On board. Along with Bastardo, J.C. Romero joined the Phillies for the flight to Los Angeles after yesterday's game following his final stint at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Bastardo received the call to take Myers' spot in the rotation following two impressive starts at Lehigh Valley after moving up from double-A Reading. In those two starts, he went 13 innings and had an 2.08 ERA while allowing 11 hits.
Barring rainouts, Romero's 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance would end Wednesday, making him eligible to pitch.
Back in the groove. Lidge completed a flawless weekend yesterday with his third save in three games, and he sounded confident his problems are behind him.
"I feel really good right now," said Lidge, who has 12 saves in 16 opportunities. "My command has come back, and my stuff has come back. Even when I wasn't going good, I felt like this was going to happen. It just took longer than I hoped it would."
Manuel attributed Lidge's recent success to a more aggressive approach.
"He's throwing fastballs on the inside of the plate, standing people up, driving them off the plate," Manuel said. "It makes all the difference in the world."
Extra bases. Clay Condrey had eight consecutive scoreless appearances before Josh Willingham homered off him in the seventh inning. . . . The Phils have won seven in a row over Washington. . . . Yesterday's crowd of 45,239 was the Phils' 20th sellout in 26 home games.