We've been issuing disclaimers all week when talking about the Nationals' three-for-three start in their four-game series against Philadelphia: the Phillies have nothing to play for, they're resting some of their regulars, and so on.
But consider how bad the Nationals have been against Philadelphia the previous four years: They were 21-51 against them from 2007-10, and during that stretch, they won just nine times in 36 games at Citizens Bank Park. You won't find many people in the Nationals organization interested in discrediting victories against the Phillies, especially the three wins they've snatched already this week in Philadelphia.
If the Nationals win tonight, they'll have a season series victory against the Phillies for the first time since 2006. They've won three games this week, but they've also played the Phillies tougher the rest of this season than they have at any point since Philadelphia laid its claim to the NL East, partially by dominating the Nationals. This year, though, the Nationals have won two of three series at home against the Phillies - including one in August with thousands of Phillies fans packing Nationals Park - and they'll win at least four of nine at Citizens Bank Park.
That's a sign of progress that shouldn't be overlooked, especially as the Phillies enter the playoffs knowing they'll have some big decisions to make on players like Jimmy Rollins and Roy Oswalt this winter. Chances are, the division will go through Philadelphia for another year or two, at least. But the Nationals are designed to peak right as the Phillies start to age. That's been part of the plan the whole time.
And consider this: In 18 games against the Phillies this year, the Nationals had Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann on the mound for just one of them. In light of what they'll be adding next year, what they've done this week should have them feeling fully ready to tangle with the Phillies.