With a magic number of five for the Washington Nationals (93-60) to clinch the division title, and a not-so-magic number of four for the Philadelphia Phillies (77-76) to be eliminated from wild card contention, the faceoff between these teams this week could bring each of them closer to an unfamiliar end of season fate.
For the past five years, the Phillies have won the National League East while the Nationals haven’t even come close. Their roles are very likely to be reversed this year though, as the possibility of the Phils winning the division has already been eliminated, and the Nationals continue to whittle away at their magic number.
Nats are 5-7 against the Phillies this season, and are 2-4 at Citizens Bank Park after the Phillies swept them the last time they visited. However, if the Nats returned the favor and swept the Phils this trip, they could potentially clinch the NL East in Philadelphia, in a storybook-worthy stroke of poetic justice. Although it’s not entirely likely (the Atlanta Braves would have to go, at most, 1-2 against the Miami Marlins to expedite the Nats’ clinching process), many people associated with the Nationals, players and fans alike, would surely like nothing more than to shut Philadelphia down after the way they have walked all over the Nationals in the last few years.
Holding on to postseason hopes
Five games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who are currently positioned to claim the second wild card spot, the Phillies would need to go 9-0 through the final nine games of the season if they hope to make it to the playoffs. Even so, the Cardinals would need to go 2-7 through those nine games for the Phillies to even tie them.
Despite it becoming an increasingly likely reality that the Phillies will be sitting out the postseason for the first time in five years, manager Charlie Manuel is clinging to optimism.
"The noose is getting tight, but we're still there," Manuel said, according to MLB.com. "We haven't stopped breathing yet.
"We still have a heartbeat. We still have a chance. At the same time, we're getting in a tough position. It's getting tighter. But we can do it. As long as you're playing for something, we'll just keep going."
A much improved second half
The reason the Phillies are able to hold onto any glimmer of postseason hopes is because of a much improved second half, which can be largely attributed to getting back Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay from extended stints on the disabled list. The Phils went 37-50 in the first half and have gone 40-26 in the second half. For some perspective, the Nats have gone 44-26 in that period, or only two full games better in the standings. The Phillies aren't the punching bag they were before the All-Star Break.
Current Nats are batting .242 off Cole Hamels, who is 2-1 against the Nats this year. The last time Hamels and Ross Detwiler went head-to-head, the Nationals came out on top in a 3-0 victory on August 2.
However, Hamels has made eight starts since that outing without earning a loss, going 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA. Detwiler has been equally as impressive over his last five starts, pitching for a 2.43 ERA with a 3-0 record. As Hamels goes after his career-high 16th win, Detwiler will be working on making it tough for the Phillies’ offense to provide run support for the leader of their rotation.
Roy Halladay will miss his start Thursday, which is good news for the Nats. Halladay is 12-2 in starts against the Nats franchise in his career, according to Dan Kolko.
Chase Utley (2B) .318 AVG, .419 OBP, .500 SLG, 1 HR, 9 RBI (last seven games)
Juan Pierre (OF) .375 AVG, .423 OBP, .500 SLG, 2 RBI (last seven games)
Jonathan Papelbon (CL) 0.00 ERA, .087 BAA, 12 SO, 5/5 SV/SVO (last seven games)
Domonic Brown (OF) .188 AVG, .235 OBP, .188 SLG, 4 SO (last five games)
John Mayberry (OF) .174 AVG, .174 OBP, .174 SLG, 7 SO (last six games)
Ross Detwiler (10-6, 3.10 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (15-6, 3.05 ERA)
John Lannan (3-0, 4.43 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (10-11, 3.89 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (20-8, 2.84 ERA) vs. TBD