The Phillies look to remain in first place when they host the surging Nationals in the opener of a season-ending series.
Philadelphia (87-72) beat Atlanta 6-4 on Wednesday to move into a first-place tie in the NL East with the reeling New York Mets, which lost 3-0 to St. Louis also on Thursday for their fourth straight loss.
The Mets open a season-ending series at home against Florida on Friday.
“It’s a good feeling,” Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard said. “But, really, we haven’t done anything. We have three games left. This is what it’s all about.”
The Phillies, who had not spent a day in first place until Thursday, are 11-3 since being seven games back on Sept. 12. That run, along with the Mets’ hefty collapse has Philadelphia in position to win its first division title since it reached the World Series in 1993.
“It’s exciting, but we still have work to do,” Thursday’s winning pitcher Kyle Kendrick said.
Philadelphia, New York and Colorado also all trail NL wild-card leader San Diego by one game.
Washington (72-87), meanwhile, had a hand in helping the Phillies reach the top of the division after it swept a three-game series at New York earlier in the week. The Nationals, who lost three of four at home to the Phillies last weekend and are 5-10 against them in 2007, will try for their fifth straight victory Friday.
“When you play these teams,” Washington outfielder Austin Kearns said, “you realize what it takes to be a playoff-caliber team.”
While Washington was idle Thursday, Howard hit his 44th homer, but also struck out twice, giving him 197 to break Adam Dunn’s single-season record for strikeouts set in 2004.
Howard has two homers and five RBIs in his last three games and went 6-for-13 with two home runs and five RBIs in the four-game set at Washington last week.
Cole Hamels (14-5, 3.54 ERA) will look for his fourth straight victory when he takes the mound for the Phillies on Friday.
Hamels, the team leader in wins, allowed one run and two hits in five innings, but didn’t factor in the Phillies’ 5-3 loss at Washington on Sunday in his second start since coming off the disabled list with a strained elbow.
The left-hander is 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA in eight starts against Washington and 1-1 in four starts versus them this season.
Washington will counter with Tim Redding (3-5, 3.53) as he looks for his first win in more than a month. He allowed one run and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings, but did not earn a decision in a 4-1, 10-inning loss to the Phillies on Saturday.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.14 ERA in five starts since his last win on Aug. 20 at Houston. He is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in five career starts against Philadelphia, and 1-0 in two outings this season.
The Nationals scored 32 runs in the three-game sweep of the Mets and assured themselves of finishing no worse than a tie for fourth place in the division.
“We accomplished some things that we wanted to do,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “First of all, we wanted to win more than 71 games—that’s been accomplished. And we’re still in a very good position not (to finish) last.”
Ryan Church went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs in Wednesday’s 9-6 win over New York. Church is 5-for-9 with six RBIs in his last two games.