The Nationals have won five-consecutive series at home and are 18-12 since the All-Star break.
The Washington Nationals were supposed to lose 100 games this season. Looking over the roster, they have every right to lose that many. It hasn’t happened. The Nats have stayed competitive, splashing around the pressure-free kids pool with the Marlins while the Phillies, Mets and Braves swim in the shark tank. They’re getting good starts from inexperienced arms and journeymen. Because of it, they’re 18-12 since the All-Star break, and as Paul Hagen reported in today’s Daily News, have a better record (45-39) than the Mets and Braves since May 11.
RFK is a tough place to win ballgames, particularly for teams built on scoring. If you fall behind at RFK, Washington’s bullpen makes it very difficult to catch up. The Nationals are 10 games below .500, but 30-29 at home. It’s misguided to believe the Phils are the better team head-to-head. Washington won the 2006 season series over the Phils 10-9, including that back-breaking series loss the final week of the season. They’re 3-5 against the Phils this season, avoiding a sweep against Adam Eaton at Citizen’s Bank Park their last series. Now they host the Phils in their own building, where they recently completed back-to-back sweeps over the Reds and Cardinals, making it five consecutive series wins at home.
RFK is the polar opposite of Citizens Bank Park, which is where the Phils have been playing their best ball. I’m a little worried about the transition, and I’m a little worried the Phils will lay off the gas. They’re at that familiar stage where they’ve created some excitement and people are starting to believe. Traditionally, that’s when the wheels have come off.
Did the Phillies play well against the Braves? I’d call it good, not great. The Braves made some mistakes, Howard’s home run was huge and the bullpen keeps getting production from the middle-inning magicians like J.C. Romero and Jose Mesa. Their tricks could be exposed any time. That’s why Charlie Manuel has been yanking them in and out so quickly. Readers have lobbied for longer innings for guys like J.C. Romero and Jose Mesa to preserve Brett Myers and Tom Gordon. No thanks.
The Phillies face three right-handers this series, starting with the toughest draw, Shawn Hill, tonight. The heart of the Phillies’ lineup should be able to stay in steady rhythm; they only have one left-hander, Ray King, in their bullpen. They recently demoted lefty Billy Traber, a guy who probably would have been useful against the Phils.
The offense will be the key this series. Do they have the bats, particularly the fill-ins at the bottom, to overcome the overachieving rotation and the challenges of the park? Expect Russell Branyan to see some action for the added pop.