At any point now the Nats could vitrually clinch the pennant, but until they get that 8+ game lead fans are going to take each series pretty seriously. While the Braves are in San Fran trying to hold ground vs the red hot Giants the Nats get the Phillies. How they been? Eh, ok.
The thought was that when Utley and Howard came back the team might make a run toward the playoffs. It didn't happen. Right after the All-Star break they won 4 in a row! Then lost 3 in a row. Then won 4 in a row! Then lost 3 in a low. That's not a bad pace for a season (about 92 wins), but with only 60 games left that wasn't going to cut it. With the hole they already dug they couldn't merely be good, they needed to be great and sustain it till the end of the season. With that not in the cards the Phillies cut bait, traded Victorino and Pence and continued on their merry way. They've been 13-10 since. Despite wanting to believe Philly stinks, with that pitching staff and with a healthy Utley and Howard, it's still a decent team with playoff potential.
The match-ups look pretty good for the Nats. First off they miss Hamels. That's always good. In the first game you get Jackson vs Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick was pulled from the rotation earlier in the year and has only been put back in the past month. He's been pretty good the second go-round. After getting killed by Atlanta, he shutdown the Marlins and Brewers in back to back games. Edwin hasn't had a good August but his last loss was a real hard-luck job. This game could go either way.
Game 2 is Gio vs Halladay. Halladay hasn't been the same pitcher this year While some of that is bad luck with RISP hits, the Ks are down a tick, the walks up. He's still is almost certain to give up a few runs in each game. Meanwhile Gio is slowly rounding back into early season form. The Ks aren't really back and he's more hittable than early in the season, but he's been avoiding the wildness issues that were key to his bad games in July. Another thing in the Nats favor in this game is that the Phillies are a lefty heavy team. Utley, Howard, the surprisingly ok Juan Pierre, the rookie Dominic Brown, they are all lefties. Other than Ruiz there may not be a righty bat you care about. You'd like a few less hits in this game given up by Gio, but you still take him.
The last game is ZNN
In the end the Nats should be favored in all three, but that doesn't mean sweep. (I can show you mathematically!) Personally, I think 2 out of 3 will happen. Given how bad the Phils fair against lefties I'd give that one to the Nats so either game 1 or game 3 they lose. If you twisted my arm, I'd say game 1. (though the Nats have won 6 straight series openers... though again the last series opener they did lose - it was to the Phillies). Two out of three might be enough to seal the deal if the Giants don't cool down.
*Stupid mlb.com. I thought it seemed early for Strasburg but didn't check. I blame myself for looking at these guys when I just called them out earlier in the week for having Gio the probable in the game after he pitched.