Phillies vs Nationals: Series Preview

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Sep 12, 2015; Miami, FL, USA;

Nats right fielder Harper (34) sits in the dugout during a game against the Miami Marlins.

(Photo Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

While most of Philly is focused on the Philadelphia Eagles NFL opener on Monday Night Football, the slumping Washington Nationals move into Citizens Bank Park for a 3-game series with the Phillies.

The Nationals went into the final day of July in 1st place in the National League East. They were just 8 games over the .500 mark, but they were 3 games ahead of the 2nd place New York Mets as the two teams prepared for a 3-game weekend series at Citi Field.

Entering that series in the Big Apple, the Nats were coming off back-to-back wins in Miami. They were hoping that those two wins down South would jump-start the team out of a slump that had seen them lose 7 of their previous 10 games.

Instead of righting the ship, the Nationals began to sink. The Mets won that first game on July 31st via walkoff fashion in 12 innings, and went on to sweep the series in front of their increasingly excited fan base. That was the series that turned control of the division over from Washington to New York.

Since that sweep, the Nats have continued to drop, going 18-21 to fall to just 2 games above that .500 mark entering this series with the Phillies. The Mets, on the other hand, have gone 27-11 in that same span, pulling away to a 9.5 game lead. Their ‘Magic Number’ in the NL East is now down to just 11 as a combination of Mets wins and Nats losses to clinch.

Washington doesn’t even appear to have the fall-back opportunity of a Wildcard spot with which to possibly salvage their season with a hot October run. The Nationals trail the Cubs by 10 games in that race, and have the defending World Series champion Giants at 2.5 games ahead in the same race.

The Nationals have been led all season by the breakout year that everyone has been waiting for from  right fielder Bryce Harper. The fiery 22-year old has mostly stayed healthy for the first time since his rookie year. That has been the key in his bombing 36 homers, driving in 85 runs, scoring 104 times, and compiling an outstanding .333/.463/.648 slash line.

Harper is a leading contender for the NL MVP Award, and only the Nats collapse might keep him from those honors. Also, he left yesterday’s game early after colliding with a Marlins’ player while running the bases. Early concussion reports were favorable, and he is expected to play in this series.

Yunel Escobar has been surprisingly consistent all year, wrestling the 3rd base job early on, and holding it by hitting .321 with a .377 on-base percentage. Veteran 1st baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been perhaps the Nats 2nd-most consistent run producer, with 16 homers and 73 RBI in just 390 plate appearances.

Injuries have been a big part of Washington’s struggles. Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg have all missed significant chunks at one point or another during the season. All are expected to be available in this series.

Washington is still dangerous and talented, and could come into Philly looking to use the Fightins as whipping boys to begin one final attempt at resuscitating their season. However, they could also come in deflated, and if the Phils can take the opener, that “Notitude” might just snowball on the visitors.