Here come the Phillies

Months from now, when we find ourselves in September and playoff races are coming down to the wire, we likely won't remember this weekend's three-game series between the Nationals and Phillies as anything too significant.

There are just too many games between now and then, too many opportunities for momentum to swing and the fate of these teams' seasons to be shaped.

But today, as the Nats prepare to welcome their division rivals into town for the squads' first meeting of the season, this feels like a bit of a test for both sides. Washington is trying to prove it can hang with the big boys of the National League East, while the Phillies want to show they're still king of the hill.

"It's (the) division and it's the perennial best team in the league and it's how you stack up," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "So it'll have a little more significance than just a regular game with another division team. But here's a club that had the best record in baseball last year. We played them real tough, I think, the last couple series we played them (in 2011), so it doesn't go unnoticed.

"We know if we want to win this division, we've got to beat Philadelphia No. 1, Atlanta No. 2 and all the rest of them."

The Nationals currently sit atop the NL East with a 16-9 record, while the Phillies are three-and-a-half games back with a 13-13 mark. In a bit of a role reversal, Washington has gotten off to a hot start and has led the division for most of the early part of the season, while Philadelphia hasn't been above .500 since its win on opening day.

Both of these teams have had terrible luck with injuries to begin the season. The Phillies are currently without first baseman Ryan Howard (left Achilles surgery), second baseman Chase Utley (knee issues) and starter Cliff Lee (left oblique strain), and we're well aware of the Nats' stable of injured regulars (Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Brad Lidge, and possibly Adam LaRoche).

The pitching matchups for this series appear to be set up in the Nats' favor, as Washington will send its top three hurlers - Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann - to the mound while Philadelphia will counter with Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley and Cole Hamels.

The Nats won the season series with the Phillies last year, taking 10 of the 18 games the teams played. Now they'll aim to continue that strong play against their rivals in front of what should be a boisterous crowd.

"I think everyone knows what type of team they are," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "They're definitely banged up, and so are we. I think, all things considered, it's still going to be a good test because it's still pretty equal ground. We've got our horses going for us, and we'll see what happens."

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