The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off a likely season-killing sweep from the Atlanta Braves. What's worse, Phillies fans like myself will likely have more reason to throw in the towel this week, and not just because a few old favorites may be traded on July 31. After losing three straight games to the NL's second wild card team, Philadelphia now has to face the best team in baseball - although this is the first time the Washington Nationals can be called that.
Yet as of July 31, the Nationals have the best record in all of baseball - even better than that of the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds. And that sums up this crazy year in a nutshell, as the Phillies were the best regular season team in the league for the last two years - yet have given that up to the Nationals, of all franchises.
But even though this goes against every historical trend, the Nationals stand at 61-40 and still haven't come back to Earth - while the Phillies are at 45-57 and still haven't risen up yet. Given their history, Philadelphia should have recovered from its slow start to contend, like it always does, and Washington should have returned to its customary second division spot by now.
However, there are two months to go in this season, and these two teams aren't budging up or down yet. The Nationals may still be a first place team right now because they really are a first place team, despite having never been in this position before. And the Phillies remain in last place because they are a last place team, despite not having been that low in about a decade.
Therefore, it almost makes sense that Washington may officially shut the door on Philadelphia this week. But Atlanta likely shut it first by sweeping the five-time defending NL East champs this past weekend. Yet if there is still the tiniest bit of hope left for the Phillies this season, losing two of three or three of three to the Nationals should finish it. And given how Philadelphia and Washington have played lately, there's a good chance one of those results will happen.
With the Phillies' age and the Nationals' budding superstars, the changing of the guard in the NL East may have been inevitable. But no one expected it to come this fast or this decisively. Yet this is the week where the Phillies seem ready to finally concede their throne, at least for this year. Whether the Nationals can hold on and take it for themselves this year - and maybe the next few after that - is still in question.
However, the fact is that Washington is the home of baseball's best team, with two months left to go before October. Between that and Philadelphia being the home of the NL East's worst team, things are pretty mind boggling right now. As such, it doesn't seem so unlikely that they can get more mind-boggling in August or September - or maybe even October.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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