Teams swap positions in division
A postseason berth is far from assured. The Nationals still have to fend off the red-hot Atlanta Braves in the National League East over the final two months of the regular season, and a handful of wild-card contenders remain close behind in the standings.
But shockingly the Philadelphia Phillies are not one of them. Instead, the Phillies arrive in Washington for a three-game series Tuesday still in last place in the division. Entering play on Monday night they were 12? games out of that wild-card chase.
Five years in a row the Nats have watched Philadelphia win the NL East -- and three times were forced to witness the celebration in person. Now, however, the roles are reversed. Washington is 21 games above .500. It has the best record for a D.C.-based baseball team this late in a season since the Senators were 85-64 on Sept. 18, 1945. The last time the city saw a postseason berth in the sport was 1933. It almost makes up for the six miserable seasons from 2006 to 2011 in which the Nats always finished with a losing record, bottoming out with 59 wins in both 2008 and 2009.
|Phillies at Nationals|
|Cliff Lee (1-6, 3.95 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (11-4, 2.76 ERA)|
|When » Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Where » Nationals Park|
|TV » MASN2|
Washington already has topped that mark despite fighting injuries of its own. Shortstop Ian Desmond is out for a second consecutive week with a small oblique tear and may miss a month. Catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL on May 12. Jayson Werth (broken left wrist) is close to returning but still hasn't played since a May 6 game against the Phillies. Ryan Zimmerman was hampered by a sore shoulder for most of the first 10 weeks of the season. Michael Morse (lat strain) didn't play a game until June 2. Top reliever Drew Storen (elbow surgery) was out until July 19. Even first baseman Adam LaRoche is dealing with back spasms now. Yet the Nats haven't missed a beat.
"You got to tip your hat to the organization," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "I've been looking at [replacements] in the minor leagues -- and there's more coming. That's where you have to have depth, where you're not held hostage at the trading deadline. And that's what I've said all along that I've felt we had the depth that we didn't need to go out and make a big trade."
The Phillies, meanwhile, could see a far different trade deadline than they're used to. The core of their team helped it win a World Series in 2008, win another NL pennant in 2009 and post the best record in baseball (102-60) last season before a first-round playoff upset by St. Louis. But injuries to first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley crippled the lineup before the season even began. Both are back now, though still trying to find their form. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 33, isn't the offensive threat he once was. Even the bullpen (4.53 ERA) is a shell of its former self. It's a role reversal few saw coming.