Will Nationals-Phillies rivalry intensify next season? Jimmy Rollins fuels fire

October 4, 2012

(Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

The rivalry between the Nationals and Phillies reached new heights this season. Bryce Harper was hit by a Cole Hamels pitch. Mike Rizzo was fined for his colorful reaction to Hamels’s admission of a purposeful plunking. Jayson Werth was booed by Phillies fans when he broke his wrist, and then told them how he felt about it. And, he drew the ire of fans, and former governor Ed Rendell, for not tossing fans a ball during a game.

On Wednesday, after the Nationals ended the Phillies’ roller coaster season with another loss and handed them their first non-winning season in 10 years, Jimmy Rollins essentially threw a heap of logs on the fire. The rivalry between the teams, and fans, is likely to only intensify.

“[The Nationals] had a good year,” he said after Wednesday’s 5-1 loss. “They’re a talented team. Just playing against them for a while, they’re talented. It was always, if they could put it together, they could find some pitching. And they’ve had an opportunity to get some big draft picks and those guys have made it to the big leagues and it’s all come together for them.

“That’s great for them. With us being healthy, they’re still in second place. But we weren’t.”

The Phillies built their five-year reign atop the National League East by continually toppling the lowly Nationals. Glimpses of the Nationals’ potential appeared late last season when they beat the Phillies in six of the final seven meetings. This season, the Nationals rose the top of the division, sat there for 180 days and snatched the crown off the Phillies’ collective head last week. The franchises’ identities were switched.

Rollins was indeed correct in one regard, that the Phillies season was mired with injuries to important contributors Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, among others.

But the Nationals also endured a potentially crushing number of injuries, losing Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Drew Storen and Werth for stretches of the season. Between those players, and excluding nearly ten more that didn’t play because of injures, they missed 380 games on the disabled list.

The Nationals held off the effect of the injuries with a deep farm system (Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi), a talented starting rotation, the standout performances of some regulars (Adam LaRoche, Tyler Clippard, Desmond and more) and the guiding hand of Manager Davey Johnson. Injuries are a part of baseball; it’s how they are overcome that defines a team. The Phillies brass put its faith in position players to fill-in and relievers to bolster a bullpen that simply didn’t perform.

Even though the Phillies will look different next season as they overhaul their coaching staff and seek free agents, they will return with proven veterans Utley, Howard and Ruiz. Any rotation with Lee, Hamels and Halladay — even worn down by age — is a formidable one. The Nationals will likely still have to contend with them next season, but now with the building rivalry fueled again.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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Adam Kilgore · October 4, 2012