PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals wake up this morning in Philadelphia two-thirds of the way through their final three-city road trip of the season. Considering they’re 24-38 on the road this year and 32-23 at home (where they play 26 of their remaining 45 games), that’s the good news.
The bad news is that they also wake up 3-4 on the trip after what was supposed to be the two easier series of the swing. They wake up having dropped two in Colorado to a 55-64 Rockies team and two more — along with the series — to an easily beatable Cubs squad.
The worst news is that the Philadelphia Phillies — and Citizens Bank Park — are standing between them and a ticket home to D.C. for an off day and a 10-game series inside the confines of Nationals Park.
We’ve been over the Nationals terrible record against the Phillies before. But with Philadelphia coming off a franchise record-best 9-1 road trip and the Nationals having a 42-77 record against Philadelphia since 2005 (including a pathetic 18-40 at CBP), it’s difficult not to look at the start of the Nationals road trip as another lost opportunity to get themselves back to a .500 record.
At five games under before tonight’s series opener, the Nationals chances of improving their standing look incredibly slim. The fact of the matter is, the Nationals are 3-6 against Philadelphia and were swept out of this ballpark in early May. Even if they did take two of three from the Phillies at the end of that month — a series that spurred the Nationals on their best stretch of the season and a 17-10 month of June — the Phillies look even more dominant now than they did back then.
Because the Nationals weren’t able to capitalize in Colorado and earn more than a split, and especially because of dropping two of three to the Cubs, they could limp home from this trip with a 3-7 record, eight games under the .500 mark.
They’ll catch a break not having to face Cliff Lee, but it’s not like Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay are exactly stiffs. The Nationals will counter with Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang.
A lot can happen in a three-game series.
Maybe Hernandez regains the form he’s shown in smaller doses this season and mystifies the Phillies for seven or eight innings. Maybe John Lannan conquers a few more of his demons, stands on the same mound he made his major league debut on and beats the Phillies for the second time this season (and ever). Maybe Chien-Ming Wang improves even more upon his six-inning scoreless outing in Chicago Tuesday night and the Nationals bats take advantage of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park to conquer the Phillies intimidating pitching staff.
Way back at the beginning of the season, former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was asked a lot about the gap between the Nationals and the Phillies — about if he felt his team had been closing it. After getting swept out of Philly, he admitted the distance between the two organizations is still great. But this isn’t Riggleman’s team any longer and Davey Johnson certainly doesn’t take kindly to losing.
Maybe this weekend will be different.