It’s too early to say the Phillies are passing the torch of NL East dominance to the Washington “Nattitudes.” But they sure aren’t doing anything to make anyone think they aren’t.
The Phils lost a 7-1 squeaker at Nats Park on Saturday, getting mowed down by yet another left-handed pitcher, this time off-season acquisition Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez toyed with a weak Phillies lineup all day, as Vance Worley struggled in a disastrous fifth inning. As a result, Washington has now won 11 of its last 13 games against the Phils, and seven in a row, dating back to last year. It’s the first time since 1989 the Washington franchise has won seven straight against the Phillies. Back then, the Nats were Les Expos, and Ken Howell was the Phils’ staff “ace” toiling at the Vet.
It was obvious last year that the days of Philadelphia dominance over the Nationals was over. Their pitching had improved too much, and their offense could score some runs.
But seven in a row? Eleven of 13? That is a complete and total role reversal.
So, is the torch officially being passed?
The Nats certainly seem to be playing with more urgency and excitement than the Phils. And that’s probably to be expected. After all, they have young guys like Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinoza and Wilson Ramos all getting their first taste of real Major League success. Retreads like Rick Ankiel and Andy Tracy are making major contributions. Jayson Werth came up with a huge home run on Saturday. And the pitching staff is pretty darn good.
Steven Strasburg was outstanding on Friday night. Gio Gonzalez ran through the Phillies like a hot knife through soft butter on Saturday. Jordan Zimmerman, one of the best young right-handers in the National League, pitches on Sunday. Edwin Jackson is a power right-hander. Ross Detwiler isn’t anything to get excited about, but he’s a decent #5. And the bullpen is full of live arms (especially now that Brad Lidge is on the shelf).
The Nats can win with that pitching staff.
The Nationals are also doing all this without their two best offensive players. Ryan Zimmerman, who routinely destroys the Phillies, and Michael Morse, their power-hitting OF/1B, are both on the DL.
Of course, the Phillies also came into this series with injury issues, trying to survive without $56.5 million in stars on the DL; Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee. Those are three mega-stars who certainly would have helped in the first two games of this series.
Still, you get a sense that the Nats realize they are on the ascendancy, while the window for the aging Phillies is rapidly closing (although the window for success will probably never fully close again, given that the Phils are the fifth most valuable franchise in baseball according to Forbes Magazine, and will soon begin negotiations on a new cable deal that will make them worth over $1 billion).
Through the first two games of this series, the Nationals have had more life, better pitching, taken better at bats, and displayed more young talent on the field. And even though the whole “Nattitude” nonsense is dumb and the “Take Back the Park” effort screams of a monstrous inferiority complex, the results are what they are.
Washington is 18-9, and the Phillies are 13-15. The Nationals are 5 1/2 games up on Philadelphia in early May.
Of course, this could all change once Utley, Howard and Lee come back. The Phils have the pedigree and have won five straight NL East crowns. That didn’t happen by accident.
But you get the sense that the Nationals believe they are ready to take the baton from the Phillies. You also get the sense that perhaps the Phils are ready to hand it off.
It’s too early to make any kind of judgment yet. But if the current trend continues, the Phils could find themselves dead and buried by a team that looks a lot like they did five or six years ago.