Opposite dugout: Phillies hope to stay hot in Washington

PhilliesLogo.jpgManager: Ryne Sandberg, second year Record: 64-75 Last 10 games: 7-3 Who to watch: RF Marlon Byrd (.266/.314/.463, 24 doubles, 25 HR, 78 RBIs); 1B Ryan Howard (.224/.308/.379, 20 HR, 87 RBIs); LHP Cole Hamels (8-6, 2.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP); RHP Jerome Williams (3-0, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) Season series vs. Nats: 8-8, 56 runs scored, 72 runs allowed Pitching probables Sept. 5: Jerome Williams vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7 p.m., MASN HD Sept. 6: A.J. Burnett vs. Tanner Roark, 4 p.m., MASN HD Sept. 7: Cole Hamels vs. Gio Gonzalez, 1:30 p.m., MASN HD Series breakdown The Phillies have held on to last place in the National League East every day since July 4. They haven't hit the ball especially well this year nor have they pitched well. But it seems Philadelphia is intent on mucking things up in the playoff races, and has done so of late in winning seven of 10 and 10 of 15, mostly against teams in the postseason hunt. The Phillies started the stretch with series wins over the Mariners and Cardinals. The Phils then swept three from the Nationals, who they face this weekend for the second time in four series. After dropping two of three to the Mets, the one losing team Philadelphia has faced in the last five sets, the club took two of three in Atlanta to push the Braves seven games back in the division. Will the Phillies maintain their spoiler role in Washington by pulling the Nationals back to the pack a little? They did a good job of that from Aug. 25-27 when starting a three-game sweep with a pair of one-run wins and capping it with an 8-4 rout. With that sweep, Philadelphia has played even ball with the Nats this year. The Phillies are 8-8 against Washington despite a wide 72-56 run differential in the Nats' favor. Looking closer at the Phillies' 10-5 stretch, they have played quite well, outscoring opponents 70-48. That has marked quite an improvement when compared to Philadelphia's season totals. The Phillies rank eighth in the NL with 548 runs, seventh with 114 homers, 10th with a .245 average and 12th with a .676 OPS. For the season, the Phils are averaging 3.9 runs per contest. Over their last 15 games, they're averaging 4.7. Pitching-wise, Philadelphia ranks 12th in the NL with a 3.85 team ERA and 11th with a 3.93 starters' ERA and a 3.72 bullpen ERA. But over the last 15 contests, the Phils have permitted 3.2 runs per game. Before losing 7-4 in Wednesday's series finale in Atlanta, the Phillies had blanked the Braves in two straight contests. So suffice it to say, the arms are on the same page with the bats right now. At Nationals Park, the Phillies will send out two of their hottest starters as well as right-hander A.J. Burnett, the NL leader with 15 losses. Jerome Williams pitches tonight's opener against Stephen Strasburg. The former Nationals right-hander has been exceptional since being claimed off waivers from the Rangers. The 32-year-old is 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in four starts with the Phillies. He was 2-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 28 games (two starts) with Texas and Houston this year before joining Philadelphia. Williams' last three outings have been especially strong, as he has won each start, allowing four runs in 21 1/3 innings for a 1.69 ERA. Burnett (7-15, 4.40 ERA) pitches the second game of the series against Tanner Roark. Burnett has won just twice in his last 13 starts with both victories coming against the Nats. The veteran right-hander held Washington to one run in seven innings on Aug. 25 to snap a personal six-game losing streak. On July 11, he allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings to beat the Nats. He's 11-5 with a 3.29 ERA in 22 career appearances (21 starts) against Washington. Things have been rough for Burnett since July, as he's 1-7 with a 5.85 ERA over his last nine starts. Ace left-hander Cole Hamels faces fellow lefty Gio Gonzalez in Sunday's series finale. Hamels hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game since May 11, going 7-3 with a 1.80 ERA in his last 18 starts. He's pitched fewer than five innings only once all year, lasting at least seven frames 18 times in 25 starts. Against Washington, Hamels is 15-7 with a 2.58 ERA in 31 career starts. Right fielder Marlon Byrd, second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard have continued to be the Phillies' most productive bats this year. Byrd leads the club with a .777 OPS and a career-high 25 homers while adding 24 doubles and 78 RBIs. Utley leads the team with 29 doubles and is third among NL second basemen with a .762 OPS. He also has 11 homers and 71 RBIs. Howard is fourth in the NL with 87 RBIs after driving in 24 in 24 games from Aug. 5 to Sept. 1. He also has 20 homers, but is on his way to finishing with a career-worst .687 OPS. Outfielder Grady Sizemore has also performed well since signing with the Phillies in late June. He has a .304/.360/.480 slash line with 14 extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in 44 games. The Phillies are playing better ball of late, just in time to make the Nationals' road to the NL East crown a little more difficult. They already made the Nats' job a drop harder with the sweep in late August and will be out for a repeat performance this weekend in D.C.

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