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A Swarm of Nats: Phillies at Nationals, Aug. 14-16, 2007

August 14: Phillies 3, Nationals 2 WP: Alfoneseca (4-1) LP: Rauch (8-3) S: Myers (10)
August 15: Nationals 4, Phillies 2 WP: Redding (2-3) LP: Kendrick (5-3) S: Cordero (27)
August 16: Phillies 4, Nationals 2 WP: Hamels (14-5) LP: Hanrahan (2-1) S: Myers (11)

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

It's pretty clear that the fans and the media aren't overlooking this week's trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, two last-place teams whose principal business for the rest of 2007 is evaluating young players and trying to spoil things for the contenders. The players themselves are saying the right things. Then again, all this was true in April when the concern was yet another slow start to the season--and in a sense, the Phillies are still digging out from their 3-10 mark through the first 13 games.

The ever-pesky Washington Nationals are first on the docket, starting tonight at superannuated and pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium. The Nats' temporary DC digs has been something of a house of horrors for the Phillies, never more so than last September when a Chase Utley home run was incorrectly called foul, a crucial game was pushed back into the early AM hours, and the team's playoff hopes were fatally injured as they lost two of three. This year's Washington model is probably even less talented than last season's 71-91 squad, which had Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson--but they're playing harder, a tribute to first-year manager Manny Acta. The Nats have played .600 ball (18-12) since the all-star break, and now trail the Marlins by just a game for fourth place in the NL East; don't underestimate the value of that accomplishment for a young team trying to find an identity.

Washington sends talented young pitcher Shawn Hill, making his first start after three months on the injured list, to the mound against the Phillies tonight. Hill is 2-1 with a 5.09 ERA in three career starts facing the Phils, but he threw a gem in April: 8 innings, four hits, two runs in a 4-2 Washington win.  Well-traveled Tim Redding takes the hill Wednesday, and another youngster, Joel Hanrahan, pitches the finale on Thursday. All three pitchers have ERAs under 2.90 for the season. The Phils counter with Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick and Cole Hamels.