Neither the Boston Red Sox nor the Philadelphia Phillies are accustomed to spending much time at the bottom of the standings, and neither is playing like a last-place club right now.
The standings don't lie, though, and they say this weekend's interleague series at Citizens Bank Park is a matchup of cellar dwellers.
Cole Hamels will try to move the Phillies two games above .500 for the first time this season when he gets the ball Friday night, and given his recent performances and his track record against the Red Sox he seems likely to do just that.
Should Hamels leave in line for a win, he may set the stage for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon to face his former teammates for the first time. Papelbon notched a franchise-record 219 saves in six seasons as Boston's closer before departing via free agency this past offseason.
He's been worth the four-year, $50 million investment thus far for Philadelphia, converting all 11 of his save opportunities. Since leaving the Red Sox, Papelbon has criticized both the Boston training staff and fans through the media. The Phillies do not visit Fenway Park this season.
Hamels (5-1, 2.28 ERA), meanwhile, is off to the best start of a stellar seven-year career, and he's trying to win a sixth consecutive decision for the first time. The Phillies have won each of his last six starts with Hamels compiling a 1.93 ERA.
The left-hander garnered a five-game suspension for intentionally throwing at Washington rookie Bryce Harper during a May 6 victory, but that ban only pushed his next start back one day. Hamels didn't miss a beat Sunday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball to help Philadelphia beat San Diego 3-2.
"I know if I just go out there and I battle and try to pitch deep into the ball game and we put up some runs, then I can get wins," Hamels said. "If we're able to score early then I just have to work off that. There's been a few times where we scored late. I think it's helpful just being able to go out there and know that your team is going to come through at the end.''
If a suspension couldn't slow Hamels down, the Red Sox may not be able to, either. Hamels is 3-0 in four career starts against the Red Sox with a 1.44 ERA - third-lowest of any pitcher since 1921 with a minimum of four starts versus Boston.
Curiously, Hamels is 2-10 with a 4.95 ERA against all other AL opponents.
Despite owning the longest active winning streak in the majors and a winning record, Philadelphia (20-19) remains at the bottom of the competitive NL East. The Phillies earned their fifth straight victory Thursday night, allowing four ninth-inning runs but holding on to beat the Cubs 8-7.
Carlos Ruiz had his sixth career four-hit game and three RBIs, Jimmy Rollins had two hits, a walk and scored three runs, and Hunter Pence added a two-run single.
While the Phillies boast the best record of any last-place club in the majors, the Red Sox (18-20) have the top mark among AL teams in last place. Boston has won six of seven after salvaging a two-game split with Thursday's 5-3 victory at Tampa Bay.
Cody Ross hit his seventh home run and drove in four of Boston's five runs Thursday. He could be primed for more Friday, as he has four homers in 35 at-bats off Hamels.
"Cody will give you everything he has," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said, "and it's enough for me."
Papelbon's departure from Boston appeared to leave former setup man Daniel Bard (3-4, 4.30) as the likely candidate to assume the Red Sox's closer role. Instead, he's been converted to a starter and has had mixed results heading into Friday's outing.
Bard is coming off one of his stronger starts of the season, however. The right-hander limited Cleveland to one run over six innings of Sunday's 12-1 victory.
The Red Sox hold a 27-19 edge in the all-time series against the Phillies, but Philadelphia took two of three from Boston last season at Citizens Bank Park. These clubs have met each season that interleague play has existed except 2002 and 2007.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel will miss the series opener due to a one-game suspension for his nose-to-nose argument with plate umpire Bob Davidson on Tuesday night.