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Universal Truths and Cycles: Phillies at Orioles, June 28-29, 2006

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June 28 (1): Orioles 7, Phillies 4 W: Bedard (8-6) L: Hamels (1-4)
June 28 (2): Orioles 12, Phillies 5 W: Benson (9-5) L: Mathieson (0-2)
June 29: Phillies 4, Orioles 0 W: Madson (8-5) L: Lopez (5-9) S: Gordon (21)

Already down to one starting pitcher with any experience, the Phils will be further pressed to find arms to start games on Friday and Sunday thanks to yesterday's rainout. Cole Hamels--who, with Brett Myers gone, is probably the putative ace after starting this season in A-ball--goes in the opener of today's doubleheader, and thus will not pitch Sunday. Scott Mathieson, also with about a dozen starts above A-ball, is now assured of staying in the rotation for the next couple weeks at least. Ryan Madson, who lost his starter job last month on merit and has done little to earn it back, is no worse than the #3 starter for the indefinite future.

So who will it be? I can't really find grounds not to have Ryan "Boom-Boom" Franklin go now; though I'll expect a four-inning, six-run disaster, he's still a better option than Eude Brito (4.17 ERA at Scranton, 10.38 with the Phils) or Gavin Floyd (5.68 in AAA, 7.29 in MLB). Clay Condrey? Geoff Geary? Marty Bystrom? Does it matter?

As Ray Liotta's Henry Hill said in GoodFellas, "This is the bad time." After Monday's painful loss to the Red Sox, Charlie Manuel made postgame comments the likes of which I can't remember ever seeing matched for raw, unedited despair:

"I don't know what we can do," Manuel said after yesterday's 8-7 loss in 12 innings to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. "I don't know what we can do right... . It seems like everything we do kind of backfires on us. I think about everything I possibly can. We have a hard time knocking runners in. It always comes back and gets us. And we can't hold people. I don't know what we're going to do."

The one semi-consoling thing about "the bad time,"  though, is that it won't last: hope will return. The Phils' current opponent offers probably as good an example of that truth as any club in baseball now.

At 35-42, the Orioles actually have a worse record than the Phils beginning this series. Their prospects for turning that around and making a playoff run are also as or more dim than the Phillies'. Playing in the ultra-competitive AL East, where Yankees and Red Sox roam the earth and the Blue Jays have spent like drunken Steinbrenners to elbow into the mix, Baltimore likely will be at a disadvantage for years to come.

But they've got pitching. So they've got hope. Erik Bedard, the lefty who starts today, was on pace for an all-star campaign in 2005 before getting hurt. He was uneven through the first two-plus months of this season, but recently rediscovered his strikeout mojo: over his last three starts, Bedard has 27 Ks in 19 innings. One suspects the presence of legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone is beginning to tell with Bedard's performance. The 25 year-old righty Daniel Cabrera might be even more talented: he has 75 strikeouts in just 68.2 innings. If Mazzone can give him slightly better control (60 walks thus far in '06), Cabrera could join with Bedard and currently injured Hayden Penn to give Baltimore an imposing rotation troika. Veterans Kris Benson--enjoying a career renaissance this year with an 8-5 record--and Rodrigo Lopez round out a rotation that should keep the O's in virtually every game they play.

And, from a Phils phan perspective, doesn't that sound nice right now?