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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/31/2012

Nationals, Phillies: two teams headed in different directions


Though idle, the Washington Nationals wake up Tuesday morning in sole possession of the best record in baseball — the first time that’s happened around these parts this late in the season since 1933. The Philadelphia Phillies, however, sit solidly in last place in the National League East, 16 ½ games behind the Nationals, and perhaps the most disappointing team in baseball this season.

Yes, the Phillies, the five-time defending division champion Phillies, are 16 ½ games behind. This is something likely few, if any, envisioned in April.

Baseball and Nationals fans have watched this downward spiral. And while not a new revelation, it’s worth revisiting because those division rivals begin a three-game series Tuesday night. It may cause fans to wonder: Is this still a rivalry, or at least a meaningful series, as the Phillies continue to slide?

Sure, it’s meaningful. It’s a division game, a chance for the Nationals to keep pace ahead of the Atlanta Braves, who sit 3 1/2 games behind the Nationals and are in the midst of a series against another disappointing team, the Miami Marlins.

Is it still a rivalry? Between two division opponents with a history, yes. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t lost some of its luster and hasn’t recently been lopsided. The Nationals have won 13 of the past 17 meetings dating back to late May of last season, including a 4-2 record against them this season. In those 17 games, the Nationals have outscored the Phillies, 74-58. The excitement instead may have come more this season when sparks flew between the two teams.

With Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline drawing near, the Phillies may be a different team when they take the field. Rumors continue to swirl, and the Phillies have been among the most linked teams, and players such as Cliff Lee, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Hunter Pence and Juan Pierre are often mentioned as potentially moving parts. If the Phillies are indeed selling their veterans for prospects and don’t help solve their porous bullpen in any way, that could be yet another break for the Nationals.

The Nationals already have excised some of their past demons with their recent dominance of the Phillies, but this could be yet another chance to show how these two franchises are headed in different directions.

FROM THE POST

For closers, it’s focus, not stuff, that makes the difference: A look at the Nationals closers this season and how a simple approach has aided Tyler Clippard.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Nats are alone with best record

Tracy set for Tuesday return

Nats are winning with defense

Stammen finds his form

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 3, Lehigh Valley 2: On rehab, Jayson Werth went 1 for 3 with an RBI double and played seven innings in right field. Also on rehab, Chad Tracy went 2 for 4, and is 9 for 19 in six games with Syracuse. Recently signed pitcher Mike MacDougal notched the win in relief after a scoreless seventh inning.

Harrisburg was off.

Potomac was off.

West Virginia 14, Hagerstown 2: First baseman Justin Miller finished 2 for 4, hitting a home run, notching his 52nd RBI of the season. Left fielder Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 5 and is hitting .291.

Auburn 9, Tri-City 5: Brett Mooneyham notched his first professional win, after a scoreless three-hit, six-inning performance. Second baseman Tony Renda went 3 for 4 and drove in two runs. Left fielder Mike McQuillan drove in three runs, two on a home run in the seventh.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/31/2012

 
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