The Philadelphia Phillies ended April by blowing a 4-0 lead to the last place Chicago Cubs on April 30. Fortunately, Phillies fans like myself were kept at bay when Placido Polanco had a game-winning two-run double in the eighth inning anyway. However, the 6-4 victory doesn't hide how Philadelphia nearly lost three of four games to a poor team at home, after splitting four games to the equally poor San Diego Padres the previous weekend.
If the Phillies can barely win against the worst teams in the National League, how can they survive against the best? They will start the month of May answering that exact question, as they go from facing the Cubs to visiting the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals all this week.
Everyone expected that the Braves might start out strong, in spite of their historic collapse last September. However, the Nationals are threatening to become a contender ahead of schedule, despite recently getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nevertheless, both Atlanta and Washington are setting the pace in the NL East while Philadelphia is limping along.
A big way for the Phillies to start making up ground and look like themselves again is to win these two series. They start off on May 1 by going to Atlanta for the first time since eliminating the Braves last September - and having to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs as a result. There are always big implications whenever the Phillies and Braves face off - yet the following series with the Nationals from May 4-6 may be the biggest ever between those two clubs.
Washington has always been a pain for Philadelphia to deal with, but that was before the Nationals started winning regularly. A hot April has made the Nationals believe that they can really overthrow the Phillies - especially since they have hotter starting pitchers so far. Scoring may be at a minimum as the Phillies aces potentially duel with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez - while facing new hitting weapons like Bryce Harper as well.
Atlanta and Washington have been much better than Philadelphia for one month. However, they have to do it for five more - but starting this one by thumping the Phillies would be a big help. It certainly wouldn't help the five-time defending NL East champions recover any faster.
The Phillies have struggled enough with teams that already have no hope this season. Yet poor performances against the two teams most likely to overthrow them in the NL East would be a deeper blow. However, if Philadelphia can get a few statement wins - even now while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are gone - it will show Atlanta and Washington that they still have a long way to go after all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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