Revenue up 9%. Administrative and selling costs up only 3%. Research and development spending up 14%, but it's an investment in the future. Lots of chatter about not making a large acquisition. Raised guidance. There's very little not to like about Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY) second-quarter earnings.

But then there's the future. A patent cliff that makes the Grand Canyon look like a creek bed. A pipeline that's so back-ended, it causes Sir Mix-a-Lot to salivate. The next couple of years aren't going to be pretty for the drugmaker.

What's an investor to do? The strong performance is a good sign that management knows what it's doing, but that may not be enough to get the company through the transition cleanly. The growth prospects' post-patent cliff is clearly limited, so the question comes down to whether Eli Lilly is an interesting enough value play.

At this point, the answer is a resounding maybe.

If you ignore the growth of Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Humalog and Gemzar, which will face generic competition soon enough, the rest of its offerings were up 12% year over year.

But Eli Lilly needs big hits from its newest drugs, which isn't really happening. Effient, which gained Food and Drug Administration approval this time last year, had sales of only $23 million in the second quarter. The drug was supposed to take a decent chunk of Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and sanofi-aventis' (NYSE: SNY) Plavix's multibillion-dollar market share, but that clearly isn't happening. Diabetes drug Bydureon, which it'll sell with Amylin Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: AMLN) and Alkermes (Nasdaq: ALKS), could help fill that void if it's approved by the end of the year.

It's those "coulds" and "ifs" that make Eli Lilly hard to read. The company could be a great investment in 10 years, but for now it remains a bit risky with all of its unknowns.