All About the Matchups

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Whenever two good teams tangle for a series, the difference in the game often rides on the starting pitching matchups. Make no mistake – despite being eliminated from National League East contention last week and sitting on the brink of missing the postseason entirely, the Phillies are certainly a good team. Since bottoming out on July 13 at 37-51 following a 6-2 loss at Colorado, Philadelphia has gone 41-25. To put that in perspective, the Nationals are 43-27 over the same span, with the Braves coming in at 42-26 during that time. Arguably the biggest difference between the Phillies slightly above .500 campaign and the Nationals division leading season was Washington’s ability to weather early season injuries with its depth compared to Philadelphia’s inability to do the same.

The Nationals have 20-game winner and Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez looming in the series finale.

Behind Cole Hamels, the Phillies defeated the Nats 6-3 in the series opener on Tuesady night. While Ross Detwiler – who has pitched extremely well all season long, carrying a top 10 ERA in the National League into last night’s contest – shouldered the blame for the loss, Tuesday night’s game was arguably one the Phillies should have won. They had Hamels throwing, their best pitcher all season long, and perhaps their best overall at this point as he enters his prime and considering their other aces’ age. It was a matchup that, at least on paper, favored the home team.

Looking ahead at the series finale, the Nationals have Gio Gonzalez, their 20-game winner, ace and Cy Young candidate slated to pitch. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has yet to announce their starter, after pulling back Roy Halladay, who has struggled through an up-and-down season. Whomever they fill Halladay’s slot with will understandably be an underdog in a head-to-head matchup with Gonzalez. Which brings us to the swing game, tonight.

The Nationals will again turn to John Lannan in a big spot.

Now the series turns to John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick, two back-of-the-rotation starters in a nationally televised game (ESPN 2) that seems like a toss-up on paper. Kendrick has gone 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) against the Nationals this year. Meanwhile, Lannan faces off against the Phillies for the first time in 2012 after going just 2-4 against them overall in 2011, but winning two of the final three matchups, including his final victory of the year on September 21 at Citizens Bank Park.

Manager Davey Johnson prefers to throw left-handed starters, like Lannan, against the lefty heavy lineup that Philadelphia features. He reconstructed the rotation to start three consecutive southpaws for this series, knowing it might give him an edge. Hamels safely in the rear-view mirror, the focus is on what’s in front of the Nationals.

“We’ve just got to win tomorrow,” said Johnson Tuesday night. “It’s going to be a battle until the end.”

Up four games in the National League East with eight to play, a win would leave their Magic Number to clinch the division at no higher than four at night’s end. That’s how the Nationals have gotten where they are, winning the swing games of series, leading to overall series wins. It’s what has helped them go 30-11-8 in series play this season, including a 15-6-3 mark on the road.

Recently, the Nationals have traded wins and losses over their last eight games. They are hoping that trend continues for one more night to give them a chance at another series win on Thursday.

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