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Resurgent Nationalism?: Phillies at Nationals, June 8-11

June 8: Nationals 5, Phillies 2 W: O'Connor (3-3) L: Brito (0-2)
June 9: Nationals 9, Phillies 8 (12) W: Cordero (2-1) L: Condrey (1-1)
June 10: Phillies 6, Nationals 2 W: Geary (4-0) L: Hernandez (5-6)
June 11: Nationals 6, Phillies 0 W: Hill (1-1) L: Hamels (1-1)

For more on the Nationals, please visit our SBN sister site Federal Baseball

Don't look now, but after taking two of three from Atlanta at Turner Field, the Washington Nationals are suddenly closer to the third-place Braves than the Braves are to the second-place Phillies. Frank Robinson's club is suddenly looking, if not like the Cinderella darlings of early 2005, at least somewhat like a competitive baseball team: the Nats have won 6 of their last 7 games (starting with the finale of that three-game set at CBP last Wednesday) and 13 of 18, after a miserable 14-27 start.

Is it sustainable? Too soon to tell. Washington's push toward contention has been fueled by the performance of starting pitchers Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., and Ramon Ortiz, who are a combined 8-1 over the club's last 18 games. (Armas took the one loss, in a 4-2 decision against the Phils and Brett Myers on May 30.) The Phils miss Ortiz in this four-game set, but will see Armas in a rematch with Myers Friday night, and Hernandez on Saturday against Cory Lidle in another rematch.

Armas, the one-time Boston phenom who in 1997 was traded, along with Carl Pavano, for Pedro Martinez, finally looks healthy after three injury-plagued seasons. Strangely, he's been considerably less effective this season in Washington's spacious RFK Stadium (1-1, 4.68 ERA, 1.72 WHIP) than on the road (5-2, 2.55, 0.97). In 13 career starts against the Phillies, he's 6-5 with a 4.74 ERA. Hernandez, the rubber-armed Cuban refugee who has posted double-digit wins in each of his last six seasons, will be making his third 2006 start against the Phils: thus far he's earned a no-decision in a 7-6 loss, and picked up the victory last Wednesday as the Nats took a 3-2 win. He's won four straight decisions after starting the year 1-5, and has shaved 1.38 points off his ERA since May 10. In 23 career starts against the Phils, he's gone 10-7 with a 3.34 ERA.

For their part, the Phils will look to continue the recent strong work from the pitching staff: the club has held opponents to four runs or fewer in 8 of its last 11 games, going 8-3 overall during that stretch. Phils relievers have a major league-best 3.19 ERA for the season; starters are still 15th in the NL and 24th overall at 5.13, but the current rotation members--Myers, Cole Hamels, Cory Lidle, Ryan Madson, and Eude Brito--have combined to post a more respectable 4.40 mark as starters.