For the past three weeks, the Philadelphia Phillies have been playing like the team many expected to challenge for a World Series title.
Cole Hamels has been producing those types of efforts all year, especially against the Colorado Rockies.
Hamels looks to win his fourth straight decision and tie his career high for wins when he tries to beat the visiting Rockies for the third time this season Saturday night.
It has obviously been a disappointing year for the talent-laden Phillies, who will see their run of five consecutive NL East titles come to an end. Philadelphia (67-71) is also in danger of finishing under .500 for the first time since going 80-81 in 2002.
A rare bright spot has been Hamels (14-6, 3.04 ERA), who is the only pitcher with double-digit wins on a Phillies team that has former Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in its starting rotation.
Hamels has clearly been the best among the three, and he earned a six-year contract worth $144 million in late July. While he's gone just 3-2 in seven starts since inking that deal, he has a 2.54 ERA over that span.
Hamels has been even better over his past five outings, going 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA while tossing two complete games. He was in line to pick up another win Sunday after six solid innings, but the Phillies allowed Atlanta to score five times in the bottom of the ninth and lost 8-7.
While it was a missed opportunity for Philadelphia and Hamels as they try to remain in the hunt for a wild-card spot, the 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP said the Phillies put themselves in a hole a long time ago.
"I think losing six and seven in a row was way worse," Hamels said. "That's where your chances are, not one game."
The Phillies, though, have been playing better. They won for the 13th time in 19 games in the opener of this three-game series Friday night, beating Colorado 3-2 on pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz's RBI single in the ninth.
Philadelphia is within four games of .500 for the first time since June 26.
"That's kind of the way it goes," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I guess we have to keep at them. If I had my way, we never would've been under .500."
Hamels won a career-best 15 games in 2007, and he seems to have a pretty good chance to match that total against the last-place Rockies (56-81), who have lost three straight and four of five on their seven-game trip.
The left-hander has gone eight innings in winning each of his two starts versus Colorado this season, posting a 1.69 ERA and striking out 14.
He's 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four starts against the Rockies after going 0-3 with an 8.22 ERA in his first three matchups, with two of them coming in the postseason.
Colorado's Tyler Chatwood (4-4, 5.53) will be facing the Phillies for the first time as he makes his eighth start. The right-hander had a 7.62 ERA in seven relief appearances spanning two stints with the Rockies before being recalled Aug. 5 and put in the rotation.
He is 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA as a starter and has struggled with his command, walking 18 over 29 1-3 innings. A career high-tying five of them came in three innings Monday in a 6-1 loss to the Braves.
Philadelphia is 27-7 against Colorado since the start of the 2008 season, including winning a 2009 NL division series in four games.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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