When the Phillies pulled into Washington on Friday to begin their three-game-set, they did so as the fourth-place team, thanks to the polarity of the National League east being reversed from last season. The Nationals, usually the cellar-dwellers, have shot to the top of the standings, while the Phillies have taken a mighty tumble after winning the division for five straight seasons.
Despite the reversal of fortune, the Phillies were still in striking distance of the division lead, and as such, had a great opportunity to leave D.C. in a much better position than when they arrived.
They got off to a bad start on Friday night, when the bullpen (plus a blown call on what would have been an RBI single from Carlos Ruiz) could not hold a lead for Kyle Kendrick, who was in line to get the win, despite facing off against phenom Stephen Strasburg.
It ended in the 11th, when Michael Schwimmer, who was on for his third inning, allowed an RBI single from Wilson Ramos with two outs in the bottom of the frame.
It goes without saying, but when you put up three runs on someone like Strasburg -- especially with this offense -- you have to make the most of that opportunity. You can blame the blown call by the umps all you want, but the bullpen ultimately cost the team the most, as it could not keep the Nationals off the boards in the later frames.
On Saturday, the Phillies again took the early lead against Gio Gonzalez, but Vance Worley -- who had been exceptional so far this season -- got roughed up and allowed five runs in six frames. Worley was in and out of trouble the entire game, but it all came to a head in the fifth inning, when the Nats rallied to put up a four-spot on the right-hander. It was more than they needed, as the Phillies were only able to muster one run on five hits.
Heading into Sunday night's contest, which pitted Cole Hamels against RHP Jordan Zimmermann, the Phillies just needed to avoid the sweep. Thankfully, Hamels, who has been the best arm in the rotation this season, stepped up and shut the Nationals down, allowing one run over eight innings of stellar work, where he struck out eight while allowing five hits.
He was given more than enough support from the offense, who put nine runs on the board. They were led by Hunter Pence, who had two homers and four RBIs, as they went on to down the Nationals by a score of 9-3.
In the end, the Phillies certainly won't look a gift horse in the mouth, but the win on Sunday night rang a little hollow, especially when you look back on what might have been, had they won Friday night's game. Dropping this series isn't the end of the world, as it is still far too early to get concerned over the standings, but if the Phillies want to have a chance at returning to the postseason, they'll need to take greater advantage of these opportunities.
They'll continue to their ascent on Monday night, when they host the New York Mets for a three-game series. Roy Halladay (3-2, 3.40) is slated to open the series on Monday night, followed by Joe Blanton (3-3, 2.83) on Tuesday, and Cliff Lee (0-1, 1.96) on Wednesday.