It took some more heroics from Ryan Zimmerman and a six-run bottom of the ninth for the Washington Nationals to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4 on Friday night, and on Saturday in front of a crowd so full of Philly fans Nats Park was being referred to as Citizens Bank South once again, the Nationals were shut down and shut out by Roy Oswalt in a mistake-filled 5-0 loss. Last night's loss dropped the Nationals to 5-7 against the Phillies this season, but the 3rd-place Nats have played Philadelphia and the rest of their NL East rivals a lot tougher this year than in previous seasons according to Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson.
"I've talked to a lot of baseball people around," Johnson said, "and they look at [the Nationals] as an up-and-coming young ballclub just like I do, and I think we're still very young, we still make a lot of young mistakes, but by and large we're not initimidated by the Phillies or the Braves or anybody. It's always nice to express your talent against the best team in the league and definitely the Phillies are the cream of the crop."
The Nationals made some "young mistakes" in last night's loss, with a dropped ball by Ian Desmond on a pickoff play that would have ended the fourth instead leading to two runs scored by Philadelphia, a hanging slider from starter John Lannan allowing Hunter Pence to increase the Phillies' lead and a bad decision by Michael Morse on a bunt with two runners on leading to the final two runs Philadelphia scored in the 5-0 win.
Even in the win on Friday night, the Nationals' manager said, "We didn't do much for seven innings, but that's been our kind of mojo all year, since I've been here. We can look real bad and then all of a sudden we can come alive and get a bunch of hits. But I really look at that as more inexperience than anything else. The players are learning more about themselves, what they can do. I think it's only a matter of time before we start competing like we're capable of competing."
The Nationals send Chien-Ming Wang to the mound today, a recovering, sinker-balling right-hander in only his fifth start of the season against the Phillies' ace Roy Halladay, who's already won 15 games, seven more than Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan or Jason Marquis' team-leading eight wins. Wang, Johnson said on Saturday afternoon, much like the Nats as a whole, is a work in progress. "In talking to [Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty, his in-between routines are getting better, they're getting crisper," Johnson said, "I knew it was going to be kind of a work in progress, but with his pedigree and his background, the more time he gets to pitch and work on the side, as far as I'm concerned, he's just going to progress better."
Can Wang take another step today and help the Nationals do the same with a series win over the NL (and arguably MLB's) best?