Nats ready for weekend with Phillies

Nats ready for weekend with Phillies
May 4, 2012, 3:30 pm
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As much as the Nationals have tried to promote this weekend's "Take Back Our Park" initiative and get local fans to overtake the hordes of Phillies faithful who traditionally make the trek down I-95, there's really only one way to accomplish their mission.

Win.

If the Nationals consistently beat their hated rivals to the north, more of their own fans will watch in person and fewer Philadelphia loyalists will invade South Capitol Street.

And if ever the stars were aligned to do such a thing, this would be the weekend.

When the two teams take the field tonight, the Nationals will reside alone in first place in the NL East, a full 3 12 games ahead of the fourth-place Phillies.

They'll also have their top three pitchers lined up for the weekend: Stephen Strasburg tonight, Gio Gonzalez tomorrow afternoon, Jordan Zimmermann in Sunday night's nationally televised finale.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, won't send ace Roy Halladay (who just pitched Wednesday night) or veteran Cliff Lee (on the disabled list) to the mound. Manager Charlie Manuel also won't have first baseman Ryan Howard or second baseman Chase Utley (each on the DL) in his lineup.

True, the Nationals are dealing with their own spate of injuries and are likely to be without Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder), Michael Morse (lat) or Adam LaRoche (oblique) all weekend. But they enter this series feeling good about themselves and feeling like they're ready for their toughest test of the young season.

"I would say so," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "I think everyone knows what type of team they are. They are definitely banged up, and so are we. I think, all things considered, it's still going to be a good test because it's still pretty equal ground. We've got our horses going for us, and we'll see what happens."

Inside the Nationals clubhouse, players and coaches are trying to downplay the significance of this series.

"You know what, as a manager and as a ballplayer, every game's a big game," manager Davey Johnson said. "You're only as good as your last at-bat, the last pitch you threw, the last game you managed. I don't put any more significance on if it's April or September. They're all important. I try not to get too high or too low."

That said, the Nationals do feel like they stack up better against the five-time NL East champs than they ever have. They also enter the weekend a confident bunch after winning last season's series against Philadelphia, 10-8.

"Did it make a whole lotta difference in our season? Probably not," Werth said. "Did it make a difference in their season? I don't know. We played good ball in September and we showed the type of team that we are coming down the stretch. I think that kind of set the tone for this season. So in that regard, it's good."