Phillies visit Nationals for important series
Based on their record alone, the Phillies are justly regarded as one of baseball's better teams, and good teams are supposed to defeat those that aren't so good. Unfortunately, that's been an issue as of late for the Phillies.

Presented with an opportunity to make a run in the NL East standings, the Phillies won just three of eight over the last two weeks against the woeful Mets and Padres. There's little more to say other than that these defeats represent lost opportunities, particularly if the divisional or wild card race comes down to the waning days of the season.

From this point forward, every series is critical. Every game has extra meaning.

Tonight the club will open a three-game set in Washington with the Nationals, a club built for the present with their back against the wall sitting a game below .500 and 7 1/2 off the pace in the NL East.

Yeah, it's do-or-die time in D.C., and the Phils are on the hook to deliver a knockout blow to ensure the NL East race widdles down to a battle between Philly and Atlanta.

Vince Velasquez will start tonight's series opener, aiming to forget about his previous outing of just 2 1/3 innings against the Red Sox where he surrendered four hits, four walks, and three earned runs in a loss. Despite the rough outing, he still has strong numbers over his previous eight starts highlighted by a 2.56 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.

The Nationals counter with Tanner Roark who has been excellent in three starts this month, pitching to a 2.61 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP. In 18 career starts against the Phillies, he's 6-9 with a 4.18 ERA.

Entering today, the Phillies have 38-games left in the regular season. This series in Washington is pivotal because it can act as a springboard while slamming the door shut on the Nats' playoff chances. Reversed, it means the NL East suddenly becomes a three-team battle with the perennial powerhouse Nats back in the playoff picture.

Not Welcome Back?
Wilson Ramos, whom the Phillies acquired at the trade deadline from the Rays, spent seven years with the Nationals. He was an All-Star in 2016 and hit .268 with 83 homers while playing in D.C. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011.

Starting Lineup
Hernandez 4
Hoskins 7
Cabrera 6
Santana 3
Franco 5
Herrera 8
Alfaro 2
Velasquez 1
Quinn 9
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

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