When the Philadelphia Phillies left Citizens Bank Park for a critical 10-game road swing last Wednesday, they knew they’d be running into two of the NL’s best teams at the beginning and end of the trip.
What they didn’t know is they’d be visiting the league’s hottest team in between.
After a pair of wins over the weekend against the Central leaders, the Phillies play the first of three games Monday in Washington, where the surprising Nationals are looking for their seventh straight victory.
Philadelphia (75-62) was one-half game behind the first-place New York Mets in the NL East when it began its 10-game road trip on Thursday in Chicago, and gave up ground by blowing late leads in its first two games against the NL-best Cubs.
However, the Phillies’ bullpen got the job done Saturday, pitching two scoreless innings in a 5-2 win, then gave up one run in 3 2-3 innings on Sunday to take the finale 5-3 and stay within one game of New York.
“It speaks volumes for this club,” said Philadelphia center fielder Jayson Werth, who went 7-for-13 with three homers in the series. “To split the series here in Chicago, against the Cubs, at home, I think it says a lot.”
Philadelphia will close its longest road trip of the season this weekend against the Mets, but they first must visit the red-hot Nationals.
Washington (52-85) owns baseball’s worst record, but it hasn’t played anything like a last-place club in the past 10 days. The Nationals carried a 12-game losing streak into the finale of their three-game set with the Phillies on Aug. 21, but left Philadelphia with a 4-3 win.
They’ve played with renewed confidence since. After beating the Cubs once in a three-game set at Wrigley Field, they’ve returned to National Park for a nine-game homestand. Six games in, they haven’t lost.
Washington followed up a three-game sweep of Los Angeles by doing the same to Atlanta, culminating with an 8-4 win Sunday behind a three-run homer from Aaron Boone. The six-game streak is the longest for the Nationals since they won 10 in a row June 2-12, 2005.
“Things have been a lot better. It’s a lot more fun to be a part of,” Boone said. “You definitely see progress. As disappointing as this year’s been at times, I think it’s starting to turn.”
The Nationals entered Sunday as baseball’s lowest-scoring team, but they haven’t had problems scoring during their winning streak. Washington has put up 42 runs in its last six games, led by Christian Guzman. The All-Star shortstop is hitting .552 (16-for-29) with a homer and six RBIs since Aug. 26.
Philadelphia’s Kyle Kendrick (11-7, 4.83 ERA) will try to cool down the Nationals. He didn’t have much of a problem doing that on July 31 in the nation’s capital, giving up two runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings of an 8-4 win.
Kendrick has pitched fairly well in his last two starts, both at home. The right-hander yielded one run over 5 2-3 innings to defeat the Dodgers on Aug. 22, then allowed two runs over five innings to the Mets on Wednesday, but failed to factor in the decision in the Phillies’ 6-3 loss.
Kendrick hasn’t pitched well away from home, though, and giving up 13 runs over seven innings in two August road outings.
He’ll be opposed by Tim Redding (9-8, 4.54). The Nationals’ right-hander picked up a win on Wednesday, allowing three runs in six innings of a 5-4 win over the Dodgers, but he was better in his previous start despite not earning a decision.
He limited the Phillies to one run and three hits over six inning on Aug. 21, when Washington snapped its 12-game slide.
With that victory, Kendrick improved to 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts versus Philadelphia this season.
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