Cole Hamels' gem against Milwaukee on Wednesday night was the latest reminder that the National League is brimming with young talent.
The NL has so many good youngsters that you get the feeling it could actually win an All-Star Game one of these years. It hasn't won one since 1996, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
Facing one of the most rugged hitting teams in the league, Hamels carried a perfect game into the seventh inning Wednesday night. He ended up allowing two hits while striking out 11 over eight innings.
Afterward, the 23-year-old lefty said pitching a no-hitter remained a goal of his. Actually, he said he'd like to pitch one every year.
"He could do it," said one scout who watched from behind the backstop as Hamels dazzled the Brewers with a three-pitch mix - fastball, changeup and curveball. "There aren't many young guys in the game close to him. He's got as good a changeup as anyone in the game. His fastball was 93 [m.p.h.] in the sixth inning, and he has the ability to add and subtract to it. When he uses his curveball, he's even better. He could be great."
Entering Friday, the NL leader boards were teeming with burgeoning young stars age 25 and under.
Hamels was leading the league with six wins. His 70 strikeouts were one fewer than leader Jake Peavy of San Diego. Peavy was second in the league with a 1.64 ERA. He doesn't turn 26 until later this month.
Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who won the rookie of the year in 2003 and finished second in the Cy Young race in 2005, seems like he's been around forever. But he's just 25. The Giants recently recalled 22-year-old righthander Tim Lincecum, their first-round pick in last year's draft. He pitched seven innings and allowed one unearned run while striking out 10 in the Giants' win over Houston on Thursday.
"He's unbelievable," Astros third baseman Mike Lamb told reporters afterward. "He was throwing 97 [m.p.h.] with movement. You don't see that every day."
There are a slew of 25-and-under hitters that would make a loyal NL lifer like Bill Giles smile.
Three of them - Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks - were just in Philadelphia with the Brewers.
Hardy, a 24-year-old shortstop, left Philadelphia leading the NL in homers (13) and RBIs (39). Fielder, 23, was second in homers (12) and third in RBIs (33). Weeks, 24, was among the league leaders in runs.
Some of the best 25-and-under talent resides right here in the NL East. The Mets' Jose Reyes, who turns 24 in June, is one of the most exciting players in the game. He leads the league in stolen bases and ranks high in batting average, hits and runs. He stole 64 bases and drove in 81 runs last season. Teammate David Wright, an all-star at third base last year, is just 24.
The left side of Florida's infield - third baseman Miguel Cabrera, 24, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, 23 - is also brilliant. If Cabrera stays motivated (i.e., keeps his weight down), he will break the bank when he becomes a free agent after the 2009 season. Ramirez, the NL rookie of the year in 2006, entered Friday leading the league in hits. He had 46 doubles and 51 steals last season and has the makings of a brilliant power-speed package.
Atlanta has two tremendous 23-year-olds in catcher Brian McCann and rightfielder Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur entered Friday with 30 RBIs, and 22 of them came with two outs, the best in the league.
Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, 22, also plays in the division. He had 20 homers, 47 doubles and 110 RBIs while finishing second in the rookie-of-the-year voting last year. He can also pick it like Scott Rolen.
The NL West is also ripe with young talent, especially Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who turned 25 earlier this month, and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, 24. Gonzalez entered Friday in the top five in homers and RBIs. Martin was hitting .385 with runners in scoring position, sixth-best in the league, just ahead of the aforementioned Cabrera, Gonzalez and Reyes.
The All-Star Game will be played July 10 in San Francisco. Surely, some of these impressive young players will be there, trying to help the NL break its victory drought.