What awaits Nats in Philly?

What awaits Nats in Philly?
May 21, 2012, 1:30 pm
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Fresh off an eventful weekend series against their biggest interleague rivals, the Nationals tonight open another important series against their biggest division rivals.

And if you thought the scene at Nationals Park two weeks ago when the Phillies came to town was wild, imagine what the folks at Citizens Bank Park might have in store for the Nats over the next three nights.

"Hopefully I get a couple boos," Bryce Harper said yesterday. "That'd be awesome. I'm excited to get up there and play, and hopefully they don't throw any batteries or whatnot at me."

Whether the Philly faithful give Harper the old J.D. Drew batteries treatment, or whether they elect to go the "whatnot" route instead, the 19-year-old outfielder surely will be the center of attention of a series that opens with plenty of backstory.

After Cole Hamels openly acknowledged plunking Harper in the kidneys on purpose (receiving a five-game suspension in the process), and after Jordan Zimmermann perhaps retaliated by throwing a pitch at Hamels' knees, and after Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels "fake tough" (receiving a fine in the process), there's no telling what carryover there might be as the two teams meet again.

Some in the Nationals clubhouse predicted there would be no more extracurricular activity, guessing the umpires will issue warnings to both dugouts before the game even starts (thus requiring any pitcher and his manager to be ejected the first time a batter is hit by a pitch).

The two principal pitchers involved in that Sunday Night Baseball dust-up won't meet each other in this series. Zimmermann is scheduled to pitch tomorrow night against Phillies ace Roy Halladay. Hamels is slated to start Wednesday's finale against Edwin Jackson. (Gio Gonzalez and Kyle Kendrick are on the mound for tonight's opener.)

Of more importance than any lingering bad blood between the clubs is the fact these games are significant to both in their quest to re-assume the top spot in the NL East. After leading the division for most of the season's first six weeks, the Nationals now trail the Braves by 1 12 games. The Phillies, meanwhile, have rebounded from their shaky start, having won six of eight to get back to the .500 mark.

"I think everybody knew early on that wasn't going last for long," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "That's a great team, even with a couple of their big guys hurt. Great pitching. They have a knack for getting big hits and scoring runs, so it's going to be tough. They're starting to come around, and it'll be another battle for us."

Not that the Nationals are fazed in the least at the prospect of playing the reigning five-time division champs in their home. They have, after all, won seven of their last eight head-to-head meetings.

"We took two-of-three from Philly last time, so it's not like we were going to go in panicking against Philly," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "Like I said, they're a great ballclub, and I'm not taking anything away from them saying they're not a good ballclub. But we're not going to panic. This team's too good. We have too many veterans, guys that have been around four or five years, that there's no need to panic. We know that we can play, and we know that we can win."