Opposite dugout: Last-place Phillies starting to play spoiler for postseason contenders

PhilliesLogo.jpgManager: Ryne Sandberg, second year
Record: 58-72
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: RF Marlon Byrd (.269/.317/.466, 24 doubles, 23 HR, 75 RBIs); 2B Chase Utley (.280/.349/.428, 29 doubles, 11 HR, 69 RBIs); CF Ben Revere (.314/.333/.368, 58 R, 38 SB); LHP Cole Hamels (7-6, 2.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 5-8, 41 runs scored, 63 runs allowed

Pitching probables
Aug. 25: A.J. Burnett vs. Tanner Roark, 7 p.m., MASN HD
Aug. 26: Cole Hamels vs. Gio Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN HD
Aug. 27: Kyle Kendrick vs. Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN HD

Series breakdown
The Phillies welcome the Nationals to Citizens Bank Park in the middle of a modest stretch.

Since sinking a season-worst 16 games under .500 at 54-70, last-place Philadelphia has won four of six games for its first back-to-back series wins since April. And the Phillies did it against the Cardinals and Mariners, teams that would be wild cards in their respective leagues if the postseason started today.

Philadelphia has done a solid job at the plate of late, scoring at least four runs in seven of its last nine games with at least five in five of those contests. With that, the Phillies rank ninth in the National League with 505 runs, 11th with 102 homers and a .242 average, and 13th with a .667 OPS.

Center fielder Ben Revere is tied for the NL lead with a .314 average. To get there, he has hit .368 over last 51 games. While the Phillies’ leadoff man has contributed 38 steals to rank third in the NL, he has just 15 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits in 119 games.

Right fielder Marlon Byrd leads the Phillies with a .783 OPS while ranking second with 75 RBIs. First baseman Ryan Howard is tops on the team with 80 RBIs and has 19 homers, but he’s batting .222/.308/.377.

Second baseman Chase Utley leads the club with 29 doubles, is second with a .777 OPS and third with 69 RBIs.

It has been an ugly year on the mound for the Phillies. Despite having left-hander Cole Hamels atop the rotation, Philadelphia sits 13th in the NL with a 3.94 team ERA, 12th with a 4.01 rotation ERA and 12th with a 3.82 bullpen ERA.

Hamels, who starts the second game of the series against Gio Gonzalez, ranks fourth in the NL with a 2.53 ERA and 10th with a 1.16 WHIP. But he’s just 7-6 as a victim of poor run support.

Hamels ended a streak of eight straight quality starts when he allowed three runs in five innings his last outing. However, he hasn’t allowed more than four runs since May 6, permitting more than three just once in his last 20 starts. During that time, he’s 7-4 with a 2.00 ERA.

Right-hander A.J. Burnett starts against Tanner Roark in tonight’s series opener. Burnett has had a far from ideal first season with the Phillies, as he’s tied for the major league lead with 14 losses. The 37-year-old has lost his last six decisions and has a 6.41 ERA over his last seven starts to inflate his season ERA to 4.42.

Right-hander Kyle Kendrick faces Doug Fister in Wednesday’s series finale. He’s 6-11 with a 4.93 ERA on the season and has pitched to a 6.10 ERA over his last 12 starts.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been a bright spot for the Phils, converting 31 of 34 save opportunities while posting a 1.49 ERA.

The Phillies have struggled on the mound lately, allowing at least five runs four times in their last eight games. But they are coming off a 7-1 win over the Cardinals.

With Philadelphia hitting better and finding a way to get in the way of a couple of postseason contenders lately, the Nats won’t be able to add to their eight-game lead in the NL East with ease. They’ll have to be wary of a last-place division rival playing better ball in its home park.

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