Phillies (58-67) vs. Washington Nationals (77-47)

The people who back Davey Johnson's Mike Rizzo's someone's decision to plunk Stephen Strasburg from the rotation cite the Nationals youth and depth and promise to be really good for a really long time.

They're the NL East gold standard, you could say.

But then couldn't you also say, at least in terms of head-to-head play, the Phillies aren't too far off?

The past two seasons, Philly is 12-15 against Washington, 5-7 at home. This season, what you might call something of a step back from their 102-win 2011, they're 4-5.

Granted, it's not the 51-21 mark they rattled off between 2007 and 2010, and deft ownership of Nationals Park (24-12 in Washington).

But when they meet, the Phillies are very much keeping up with the Joneses -- or the Strasburgs and Harpers and Zimmermans and Gonzalezes and La Roches and...

They can further that case tonight.

So You're Saying There's A Chance?!?

No. Not yet.

Just noting that they're hovering at 10.5 games back of the second NL Wild Card, and hold sole possession of third place in the NL East for the first time since April 12, just six games into 2012.

And that, after pushing with the owners of the sport's second-best record, they get (1) a three-game set against the winningest team in baseball this season, nine more games this season, (2) three more games with Atlanta, owners of an NL Wild Card spot (none against St. Louis, though, or any of the three teams between Philly and October), and (4) a 13-game stretch against four teams (Rockies, Mets, Astros and Marlins) with a combined win percentage of .399, and get it in the thick of September.

Not saying. Just saying.

Killa Kyle

Philly has absolutely loved to romanticize Kyle Kendrick's current streak of 15 scoreless innings, which, no, isn't bad at all for a 6-9, 4.20 ERA fifth starter.

But they've totally forgotten, it's not even his first this season.

Kendrick also went 15 scoreless throughout the entire month of July.

Best of all? He did it mostly in seven games (eight innings) as a reliever.

He also went seven strong against the Braves July 6, in an eventual loss that was basically the beginning of the end for Antonio Bastardo (allowed all runs in eventual 5-0 loss).

Needless to say, Kendrick's audition for a starting job continues tonight, fresh off two really good (great?) showings.

But considering his two starts prior (8.24 ERA in 7.1 innings), he's got his work cut out for him, insofar as making believers goes.

Still, even if he struggles here and for the rest of the season as a starter, he's still established legitimate value as a set-up guy.

As a starter, KK's 0-1 with a 2.19 ERA twice out against Washington. He also had a four-pitch strikeout in Nationals Park on July 16, all he was asked to do.

The Other Guy

The Nationals might have three -- Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez -- legitimate Cy Young candidates.

Edwin Jackson (7-8, 3.69 ERA) is not among them.

He's easily the most hittable of the starters Philly will face this series. He's working but a 1-2 record and 4.56 ERA on the month -- even after absolutely housing the Mets (7.0 IP, 2 ER, 11 K) in an eventual 2-0 loss last Saturday.

Before that, he hadn't gone longer than six innings in any of his last three starts, only twice in his last seven.

This season against the Phillies, he's but 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA. Lifetime, he's 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA.

Hoping For No Hangover

After last night's 4-3, 11-inning grind for their just their sixth extra-inning win in 15 tries, drawing someone as manageable as Jackson is nothing if not dumb luck.

After the game, Charlie Manuel said (click the link for audio) "I feel like I got in a fight, and lost. I feel drained. Really. I kept waiting for somebody to come home."

Granted, the team seemed energized, and they enter 7-7 in games following extra-innings, 3-2 after those played at night.

But the bullpen's been pretty sour (4.58 team ERA, No. 25 in MLB) with just one day of rest.

Washington, meanwhile, has had a day to nurse their wounds after winning a slugfest with Atlanta. (Took series, 2-1.)