PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have been quick to remind people recently that nothing is guaranteed.
They might have a comfortable seven-game lead over the Marlins in the National League East with 20 games to play, but the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play in 2007.
But there is reason for the Phillies to feel good about their chances. Their rotation has improved considerably since the Trade Deadline thanks to the July 29 addition of left-hander Cliff Lee through a six-player trade with the Indians.
Lee is 6-2 with a 3.11 ERA is eight starts with the Phillies. He started 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA but is 1-2 with a 9.60 ERA since, and is looking to return to form on Tuesday against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
He was simply dazzling in his first five starts. In 40 innings overall, he has allowed 24 hits, six runs (three earned), six walks and zero home runs. He has struck out 39, and opponents have hit .175 against him.
"This game is not that easy. It's just not," Brad Lidge said. "It's pretty amazing. Not a whole lot of guys can say that they've done that over a five-game span. He's throwing eight different things for strikes, then he'll sneak 94 [mph] in there from the left side. He's throwing everything he wants to, basically, every single time. That kind of consistency is very hard to duplicate, no matter if you're in midseason form or not. It's just a lot harder to be that consistent than he's showing. Trust me. I've been trying to figure it out for a couple of months. It's hard to get locked in like that and be automatic on every pitch. It's impressive."
Those five outings made Lee just the second pitcher in the past 60 years to win his first five starts with a team and post an ERA of 1.00 or below. In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela had a 0.20 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lee became the first Phillies pitcher to win his first five starts since Marty Bystrom in 1980. If he had won his sixth, he would have become the first Phillies pitcher to win that many since Al Orth did so en route to winning his first eight in 1895.
Lee has struggled recently, but he allowed just four earned runs in seven innings last week against the Nationals after giving up 12 earned runs in eight innings in his previous two starts.
Maybe that is a sign he is turning things around. The Phillies hope so. They will need him in the postseason, assuming they get there.
"When you pitch as good as he has since he's been over here, sooner or later you're going to have a tough night," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's kind of how baseball is. That's the way it goes sometimes. Things don't always happen good."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.