Ready for a shot at a sweep

You know what's pretty remarkable?

Even after the five-game losing streak the Nationals went through recently, they still are tied for the best record in the National League and are just a half-game back of the Rays, who have the best mark in baseball.

That's how solid this team has been this season.

The Nats now lead the Phillies by 5 1/2 games in the NL East, and have an opportunity to deliver an early-season blow in front of a nationally televised audience tonight when they go for the sweep of Philadelphia.

Is it a stretch to say today's game and this weekend's series overall could be a defining moment for the Nationals this season?

Possibly. But it's also possible that months from now, as we look back on things, this three-game stretch served as a statement, of sorts. The Nats might be ready to show the league they're a legitimate contender, and they can make that declaration to the nation tonight when they take part in ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball for the first time since their home opener at Nationals Park in 2008.

"I think everyone will recognize we're for real," first baseman Chad Tracy told reporters yesterday. "We know it. Now it's just a matter of everybody else figuring it out."

What's exciting for the Nats this season is that even after getting strong outings from Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, their rotation doesn't let up. It'll be Jordan Zimmermann and his 1.89 ERA taking the hill for the Nats tonight as they go for the sweep.

Zimmermann's career numbers against the Phillies aren't stellar - he's 0-2 with a 6.60 ERA against Philadelphia in three starts - but with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out with injuries, this is obviously a much different Phillies lineup.

Lefty Cole Hamels will get the ball for the visitors tonight. Hamels is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in five starts this year with 36 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.

Rick Ankiel is the only Nats hitter with higher than a .290 career batting average against Hamels. Ankiel has four hits, including a home run, in seven at-bats against the Phillies starter.

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