It's the first week of May. But it's hard to deny, despite the early time of their meeting, that the upcoming four-game tilt between the Cardinals and the Phillies is a big deal.
The Cardinals have the best record in the National League and the Phillies are the defending league champions. While their offense puts up runs in bunches, Philadelphia has had problems with a top heavy rotation and a weak back end of the bullpen.
The Cardinals are expected to send rookie Jaime Garcia (2-1, 1.04) to the hill Monday against Joe Blanton.
Garcia is coming off a seven inning, four hit performance in which he earned a win over the Braves. But this is going to be a much tougher test. Atlanta hasn't been hitting much while the Phillies have one of the best offenses in the senior circuit -- and they play in one of the most offense friendly ballparks in the majors. Blanton will make his first start of the year after being on the disabled list since spring training ended with a strained oblique.
Blanton is 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA in 44 starts since being traded to Philadelphia from Oakland.
In game two on Tuesday, Adam Wainwright (4-1, 2.13) is scheduled to face enigmatic lefty Cole Hamels(2-2, 5.28). Possibly in preperation for his tilt with Philadelphia, Wainwright was only allowed to throw 75 pitches in his last start before being yanked. Hamel struck out 10 Giants in six innings during his last start but gave up four earned runs on nine hits and four walks.
Brad Penny (3-1, 1.56) is lined up to meet Kyle Kendrick (0-1, 7.61) in game three on Wednesday. Penny pitched well against the Reds Friday night -- until conditions became sloppy as the game was allowed to continue in a downpour just long enough for Cincinnati to take a 3-2 lead. Kendrick is desperately trying to hang onto his spot in the Philly rotation after five lousy starts.
In the finale, Kyle Lohse(0-1, 5.28) is set up to face Phillies ace Roy Halladay (5-1, 1.47).
Lohse is coming off his best start of the season, seven innings with five hits and no walks allowed against the Reds. He struck out eight and allowed one earned run. He left with a 3-1 lead, but the bullpen couldn't hang on, costing Lohse a win. Much of the credit for Lohse's newfound success was a tweak to his windup. He used to lift his hands over his head as he prepared to pitch but eliminated that motion last season after being injured. He went back to what used to work for him and it's paying off.
Halladay has three complete games already this season and two of them were shut outs.