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Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are 2-1 after three games against the Philadelphia Phillies early this season going into this week's three-game set in the nation's capital. Max Scherzer vs Vince Velasquez tonight at 7:05 PM EDT.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images

After a long and not-so tumultuous run of playing bottom dwellers, the Washington Nationals will soon be done with their easy schedule.

Teams that are a real challenge are rapidly approaching, as the Nationals will embark on a road trip that takes them to face the Cardinals, Royals and Cubs.

As a "Bon Voyage party", the Nats will play one last series against a rebuilding team, as the Philadelphia Phillies come into town to face the Nationals starting on Tuesday night.

The Nationals are 14-4 heading into their series against the Phillies, and so far, things look good in the nation's capital, mainly thanks to consistently spectacular pitching.

Max Scherzer will get the ball on Tuesday, which is a departure from the set rotation order, as the Nationals decided to skip Joe Ross' start due to a blister.

"He was throwing," said Dusty Baker. "It looks ugly. I don't know if he could throw a full game like that."

The Nationals confirmed Baker's suspicion when they formally announced that Max Scherzer would start on Tuesday night. Even so, Dusty Baker was just happy to have Ross on the team, period.

"I don't understand how San Diego gave him to us, really, but I appreciate it."

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper continued his dominance against the Twins last weekend, and hopes to keep it going through this series with the Phillies.

Against Philadelphia thus far, Harper is hitting .636 with three home runs and six RBI. The right fielder carried a pretty low-stress attitude following the Nationals' last series versus Philadelphia.

"I just want to win," Harper noted. "So trying to take my at bats one at a time... that's huge."

No particular player on the Nationals had a rough series against the Philadelphia, although Michael A. Taylor's woes have continued on - the centerfielder is now hitting at a meager .185 clip. Even so, Dusty Baker is still not worried.

"The main thing is that Michael has to remain confident, and work and relax," Baker said. "[He has to] take as much tension out of himself as possible, which is very difficult to do when you're not doing as well as you'd like."

Baker was still confident that Taylor could return to his Spring Training success.

"We feel that Michael has the ability to return to that form," Baker remarked.

Michael A. Taylor was removed from the game in the ninth inning on Sunday so Bryce Harper could have the opportunity to pinch hit.

After Harper, Chris Heisey entered the game in right field for the remaining seven innings, so Harper would not need to stand through nearly an entire game on his day off.

Heisey ultimately did not disappoint, and hit the game winner, a walk-off home run.

The Nationals would not have been in the position to walk off if it were not for the brilliant relief pitching of Yusmeiro Petit, who went 4.2 innings while only allowing one run on two hits.

It was a performance reminiscent of his innings in the second game of the 2014 NLDS  against the Nationals, which the Nats lost painfully in eighteen innings, mainly due to Petit.

"He can spot start, he can go long relief, short relief, and he's done just that," said Dusty Baker. "He's been great."

If the Nationals can do what they've been doing thus far, the Phillies probably will not pose a threat. Although Charlie Morton stifled the Nats last Sunday, he will not be pitching this series.

On the other hand, the Nationals will get their first look at Vince Velasquez, who has posted a sub-1.00 ERA to this point in the season, and also managed to strike out thirteen batters in one game.

Even so, consistent pitching from the bullpen will likely ultimately separate the two, and hand the advantage to the Nationals. Plus, if Bryce Harper can keep doing Bryce Harper things, who knows what will come next - and Dusty Baker is already very impressed.

"What he's doing is MVP, star stuff. He's certainly making his mark."

What to watch for at Nationals Park

Harper Homer Watch
Harper had three home runs in his last series against the Phillies, and another one on Sunday, bringing his season total to nine.

Expect... something from Max Scherzer
Although Scherzer enjoyed a dominating performance against the Phillies last week, he struggled while pitching against the Marlins, allowing five runs and eight hits over five innings.

Gio Gonzalez looks to keep it going
Gonzalez only allowed one earned run in seven innings against Philadelphia, and only two in six innings against Minnesota. Whatever Mike Maddux did, its worked so far.

Anything else?