The division-leading Nationals are ready to take franchise saviors Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper out for a spin against their long-time suppressors.
Beerleaguer: And so it begins, the next step in this budding baseball rivalry. And if the Nationals had it their way, a changing of the guard atop the division. Tonight, the aging, vulnerable rulers of the National League East face their young, cocky challengers in their first meeting of 2012, beginning with April Pitcher of the Month Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.13). There's rarely been a meeting between these two franchises that has inspired less confidence than this one. Kyle Kendrick, who has been shaky, opposes Strasburg, who will be followed in this series by Gio Gonzalez, of a 1.82 ERA, and Jordan Zimmerman, of a 1.89.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Bryce Harper has already graduated to the middle of the Nationals' lineup and has delivered four extra-base hits, all doubles, since last week's promotion. Conversely, the middle of the Phillies' lineup, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, are rehabbing without a timetable as the Phils continue to patch up the pieces.
And while the Nationals carry much excitement and momentum into this series, the Phils are on better footing than they were out West, having taken two-of-three in Atlanta and distancing themselves from the great unwashed in terms of offensive production. Among their NL peers, they're eighth in runs and 11th in OPS (.662) - and those are significantly higher numbers than tonight's adversaries.