Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I LOVE the new Washington/Philadelphia rivalry

Cole Hamels sent a message the other day when he hit Bryce Harper, but I don't think it was the message he THOUGHT he was sending.

I'm not really impressed when pitchers hit batters, quite frankly. And the best way for Cole Hamels to make Harper realize he is being a cocky twit is to strike him out and look unprepared, NOT to put him on base!

But the real message was sent to the rest of baseball. The Nationals and the Phillies could be the best new rivalry in the game right now.

I'm not saying for all time. Red Sox and Yankees have generations of bad blood and the Giants and Dodgers have been battling on two different coasts.

But just for this year, 2012, Washington and Philadelphia could wind up being the most intriguing match up of teams in the game.

Geographically the rivalry couldn't be more appealing. Just 137 miles (and Baltimore) separate the two cities. It's about a 3 hour drive from park to park. Philadelphia draws from Eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.

The Nationals pick up whichever baseball fans in DC didn't grow up with the Orioles, whatever baseball fans exist in Virginia and of course staffers of Congressmen and women who try to look cool offering access to the Nats game to visiting lobbyists.

In terms of personnel there is a wonderful contrast. The Phillies have the weathered veterans, many with World Series experience. Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino are still there. So are Joe Blanton, Hunter Pence and Roy Halladay. World Series winners like Juan Pierre and Jonathan Papelbon have been added to the mix.

And if Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee and Jim Thome come off the disabled list anytime soon, this will be a "Who's Who" of respected veterans.

The Nationals represent a new face of baseball. What two recent prospects have been brought up with more hype and fanfare than Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper? And so far they have lived up to the hype.

With the likes of Steve Lobardozzi, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler and when he comes back, Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats have created a nice core of home grown talent.

Throw in some former Phillies like Brad Lidge and Jayson Werth, and it becomes very interesting on the East Coast but South of Red Sox/Yankee land.

But there is more to this than geography and age differences between the players.

The Phillies have been THE team in the National League for five seasons. Between 2007 and 2011, they won all five Division Titles, made three trips to the NLCS, two trips to the World Series and won it all in 2008.

But with upset losses by the Giants in 2010 and St. Louis last year, there is a sense that the Phillies should have at least one more trip to the World Series on their resume.

And with injuries and age creeping up on the team, this could be the last year for them to be a legit pennant winner and have a chance for multiple titles (and a first ring for Halladay, Lee and Thome.)

Yet who is in first?
Even after they were swept by the Dodgers, the Nats remain on the top, 6 games ahead of the Phillies in the loss column.

Washington hasn't seen post season baseball since the 1933 Senators lost the World Series to the Giants. That was around the time King Kong was released. It has been remade twice since then.

Basically we have the old veterans looking for one last gasp of glory against the young phenoms who don't want to wait their turn and be respectful to the codgers.

So who is going to win?
Well, I think it is going to be the Marlins who are getting their groove back. But the fight for a playoff spot between these two teams who don't seem to like each other could be as entertaining a match up as we'll see this calendar year.

That's not a bad message for Hamels to send.

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