Interleague play begins as Phils host Sox

Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies begin interleague play against Papelbon's former teammates. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)

For the first time since Opening Day, the Phillies are above .500. This, then, marks the first time they enter a series above .500. Just in time for interleague play.

The Phillies host their first interleague series against the Boston Red Sox, another team that struggled out of the gate but has since started to find their form. Much like the Phillies, the Red Sox are currently in last place in a competitive division. Both teams recently put together their first five-game win streaks of the season. The Phillies are currently on theirs. The Red Sox had theirs snapped on Wednesday but bounced back with a win on Thursday. That makes both teams winners in six of their last seven games.

So, with both teams hot, who are the ones to watch on the Red Sox? Much like the Phillies, it may be best to start with the players the Phillies won't see.

The Red Sox also sport a healthy amount of names on the injury list. Among them are superstars Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and Andrew Bailey, all currently on the DL.

The Red Sox still don't lack a few big names in their lineup, most notably Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. Ortiz has a team-leading eight home runs and 27 RBIs, but is also the team's DH. Since the DH rule is not being used in this series, this may benefit the Phillies, who will likely be able to avoid either Gonzalez or Ortiz in each of Bobby Valentine's lineups for the three-game set.

Among the perhaps unrecognizable names are Mike Aviles, Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks. Nava and Middlebrooks are filling in for injured players but offering solid contributions. Aviles, who won the starting shortstop job, has added 23 RBIs, tied for second on the team.

Also, a few familiar faces return. Marlon Byrd and Cody Ross are both part of the Red Sox outfield and offering offense as well.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Cole Hamels (5-1, 2.28 ERA) goes against Daniel Bard (3-4, 4.30 ERA) – Hamels continues to win games, pitching another gem against the Padres in the Phillies' 3-2 win on Sunday. Hamels allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings. In his career against the Red Sox (four starts), Hamels is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA.

Bard won his last start against the Indians with the help of plenty of run support, as the Red Sox won, 12-1. Bard allowed one run on six hits in six innings. In his career against the Phillies (four games, no starts), Bard is 0-0 with a 9.82 ERA. 

In the middle game, Joe Blanton (4-3, 2.96 ERA) faces Jon Lester (2-3, 3.71 ERA) - Blanton has been very solid this season, and continued that with another win against the Astros on Monday. He allowed one run in seven innings in the Phillies' 5-1 win. In his career against the Red Sox (10 starts), Blanton is 3-3 with a 4.70 ERA.

Lester pitched brilliantly in his last start, allowing one run in a complete game win over the Mariners. In his career against the Phillies (three starts), Lester is 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA.

In the finale, Cliff Lee (0-1, 1.95 ERA) gets the start against Josh Beckett (3-4, 4.97 ERA) - Lee looked like he was finally on his way to his first win of the season  on Tuesday against the Astros when he allowed one run on five hits in eight innings. But the Phillies starter is still without a win to his credit. In his career against the Red Sox (11 starts), Lee is 3-4 with a 3.56 ERA.

Beckett rebounded from a shaky start to pitch well in his last start. He pitched seven shutout innings allowing just four hits in his last start against the Mariners. In his career against the Phillies (20 games, 18 starts), Beckett is 8-5 with a 4.18 ERA.

Prediction:
May 18 – Phillies 5, Red Sox 2
May 19 – Phillies 1, Red Sox 3
May 20 – Phillies 4, Red Sox 2

The Phillies and Red Sox come into this game equally hot, but the Red Sox don't boast the same pitching the Phillies do. If the Phillies starters are on their game, that could hurt the Red Sox in scoring, and if the Phillies can continue to score like they have over their winning streak, then they can take this series.

It's hard to pick against Cole Hamels right now, so with an average starter going against one of baseball's hottest pitchers, advantage to the Phillies. Offense won't be huge, but the Phillies should score enough for Hamels to pick up a win.

That being said, Jon Lester can also win his own ballgame with good pitching. For as good as Joe Blanton has been this season, I have to go in favor of Lester and the Sox.

Finally, the finale comes down to two things. One, Cliff Lee must continue to pitch his 'A' game. Two, which Josh Beckett shows up? If it's the one that made a shaky start after taking a day off to play golf, then this is a lock for the Phillies. If it's the Beckett from his last start, it's more challenging. I still give the Phillies the advantage because of a pitcher hungry for a win. Lee held the Red Sox to two hits in a shutout win last season. I wouldn't be surprised if he repeated it again.

The Phillies return to play against division foes when they take on the Washington Nationals at home in their next series before playing the Cardinals and Mets as part of a road trip.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.