Kyle Kendrick starts the series opener against the Nationals. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
For a season with so much turmoil and disappointment, today may be the high point of the season so far. The Phillies are in sole possession of third place for the first time since April 12, six games into the season. They are working on a month with a winning record, something they haven't done since May.
But if they want to keep both of those going strong, they will have to beat a tough Nationals' team who has just found a way to win lately.
The Nationals have lost six games in August, one to the Phillies on August 1, and haven't lost a series all month - if you don't count the Phillies winning two of three from the Nats in a series that started on July 31. That includes an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the month, and a recent series win against the Atlanta Braves.
How are they doing it? A lot of it is luck, especially if you saw the way they won on Monday night in the 13th inning. But the Nationals have a healthy and powerful lineup led by Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. Then add in the supporting cast of Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. There is no easy out in the lineup.
The bullpen has been solid as well with Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard leading the way.
But the main reason is their starting pitching, and they have three good pitchers coming up in this series. Here are the matchups.
In the opener, Kyle Kendrick (6-9, 4.20 ERA) goes against Edwin Jackson (7-8, 3.69 ERA) - Kendrick comes in off of two great outings, combining seven and eight scoreless innings to get two wins. Both starts came after Charlie Manuel contemplated removing Kendrick from the rotation after allowing six runs to the Braves in 3 1/3 innings. In his career against the Nationals (16 games, 14 starts), Kendrick is 2-4 with a 4.93 ERA.
Jackson comes in off a solid start, allowing two runs in seven innings to the Mets, but suffered the loss. He lost to the Phillies on August 1, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings. In his career against the Phillies (three starts), Jackson is 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA.
In the middle game, Roy Halladay (7-7, 3.95 ERA) faces Gio Gonzalez (16-6, 3.23 ERA) - Halladay allowed five runs over seven innings in his last start, still good enough to beat the Reds with plenty of run support. Halladay has won three of his four starts in August. In his career against the Nationals (17 games, 16 starts), Halladay is 11-2 with a 2.55 ERA.
Gonzalez matched his career high in wins by allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings to the Mets in his last start. He has won three straight starts. In his career against the Phillies (two starts), Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA.
In the finale, Cliff Lee (2-7, 3.78 ERA) gets the start against Stephen Strasburg (15-5, 2.85 ERA) - Lee couldn't win his first home game of the season, but managed to get off the hook for the loss after allowing three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings. Lee's last win was against the Nationals on July 31. In his career against the Nationals (six starts), Lee is 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA.
Strasburg worked around a rain delay to pitch six innings and allow one run to the Braves in his last start. He has won four straight starts dating back to his loss against the Phillies on July 31. In his career against the Phillies (three starts), Strasburg is 0-1 with a 6.28 ERA.
August 24 - Phillies 6, Nationals 3
August 25 - Phillies 2, Nationals 4
August 26 - Phillies 2, Nationals 5
The Phillies have a tough task in this pitching staff. The reason I put these predictions up is because I want readers to see what I think will happen, and do hope to be proven wrong.
I can't see the Phillies proving me wrong against Gonzalez and Strasburg, even with Halladay and Lee on the mound.
The first game is interesting. You never know which version of Kyle Kendrick will take the mound. But, if Kendrick is good and the Phillies can scratch a few runs across on Jackson, they can be in position to win.
The same goes for the other two games, but for two pitchers who have combined records that look like they should belong to Halladay and Lee, it reminds you that this is a different season for both teams.
I've seen Gonzalez in person. He's not as special as the 16-6 record indicates. He allowed a lot of hits. He's effectively wild. Patience will win the game for the Phillies.
Additionally, the Phillies know they can beat Strasburg, because they have already this season, and in the not-so-distant past. However, Strasburg also seems like a different pitcher as his innings limit approaches. It will be an interesting game, but Strasburg still has the edge to me. But, the Phillies did find a way to win a game started by a pitcher with a 16-6 record yesterday. They can most definitely do it again.Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.