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Ryan Zimmerman congratulates Michael Morse following his eighth-inning homer.
A four-game sweep of the five-time NL East champs, on the road, with their four starting pitchers combining to allow three runs? Nobody saw that coming.
Nor did anyone see the Nationals' season-long handling of the Phillies coming. Folks, the Nats just won the season series from the best team in baseball, winning nine of their last 11 to finish 10-8. Yes, they won 10 games against Philadelphia, four more than anyone else in the sport. The only other opponents to post winning records against the Phillies this year? The Cardinals (6-3) and Mariners (2-1).
So a round of applause is in order for Davey Johnson's squad, which suddenly sits at 76-79 and still has visions of finishing above .500 for the first time since the franchise arrived in Washington.
Of course, there is a caveat to all this: The Phillies weren't exactly a motivated bunch this week. Having already clinched the division title, they rested plenty of regulars. And those who did play probably were more concerned with staying healthy than padding their stats (though Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz each managed to get banged up during the series).
Ian Desmond had it right when he told reporters following last night's 6-1 victory: "Obviously, it's nice to beat Philly, and I don't want to be disrespectful to the guys they had out there, that's not what I'm trying to do. But I'm just saying: They're going to the playoffs and we're going home."
Indeed, this time next week the Phillies will be opening their division series against the Brewers or the Diamondbacks or the Cardinals. The Nationals will be watching on TV.
So until the Nats prove they can do this when neither club is mathematically eliminated from contention, it doesn't truly count.
Which isn't to say the events of the last week haven't been significant for this franchise as it takes the next step toward contention. This is significant. Not because the Nationals won four straight against the Phillies. But because of the key participants who made it possible.
You may remember the 2007 Nats squad that single-handedly destroyed the Mets' hopes of winning the NL East by sweeping them at Shea Stadium in the season's final week. At the time, everyone felt great about the positive step the franchise had taken, reaching a surprising 73 wins for the season and setting itself up to surpass the .500 mark the following year in a brand-new ballpark.
But who were the key contributors back then? The winning pitchers in that series were Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann and Joel Hanrahan. Key homers were clubbed by Ryan Langerhans, Tony Batista and Ryan Church. Not exactly key pieces to the long-term puzzle.
Now, think about who was most responsible for this sweep of the Phillies. Tommy Milone. Ross Detwiler. Brad Peacock. Drew Storen. Ryan Zimmerman. Danny Espinosa. Wilson Ramos. Michael Morse.
Those guys aren't stop-gaps or roster-fillers. They're the future of this organization, and they suddenly have every reason to be confident they can compete with a Phillies franchise that for the previous four seasons absolutely owned them.
But their work isn't done yet. In some ways, what awaits this weekend is an even bigger test for the Nationals. The Braves come to town with their season on the line, having lost eight of 12 while seeing their lead in the NL wild-card race shrink to two games.
Atlanta knows it must win at least two of three this weekend, and manager Fredi Gonzalez won't be sitting any of his regulars. Ace Tim Hudson (13-3, 1.95 ERA in 22 career starts against the Nationals franchise) is on the mound tonight.
Ah, but the Nats counter with a guy named Stephen Strasburg, who suddenly is pitching not only to continue his rehab from Tommy John surgery but to attempt to deliver a knockout blow to a division rival. This is meaningful stuff.
Chien-Ming Wang and Detwiler will be challenged, as well, in the series' final two games, and their performances against the Braves may go a long way toward determining their place within the organization in 2012.
Then it's on to Florida, where the one division foe that continues to own the Nationals awaits for the season's final three games.
In the big picture, does the outcome of this final, six-game stretch really matter? No, the Nationals' obituary for 2011 won't read much differently if they finish with 76 wins or 79 wins. (Now, should they somehow pull off the unthinkable and get to 81 wins, it could be a different story.)
That's not to say this final week's games are without meaning. Everyone's final impressions of the Nationals entering the winter will be shaped around these games. If they continue the hot streak and help take down the Braves, people will remember what these guys accomplished. All of a sudden, the Nats will be popular sleeper picks in 2012.
More importantly, the Nationals themselves will enter the offseason with confidence soaring. They'll see a core group of Zimmerman, Morse, Espinosa, Desmond and Ramos about to be bolstered by the return of Adam LaRoche from injury, the (hopeful) return of Jayson Werth to a higher level of production and the arrival of Bryce Harper in the not-to-distant future.
They'll see a rotation that will have Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann together at last, not to mention a bevy of exciting young arms ready to join that group.
They'll see a bullpen anchored by one of the best 1-2 punches in the sport: Storen and Tyler Clippard.
And, most importantly, they'll exude the kind of confidence that comes only after beating the two big boys of the division. The Nationals won't be intimidated by anyone in 2012. Not the Phillies, not the Braves, not the Marlins (well, maybe still the Marlins).
"For us, there's certainly significance," GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after last night's win. "That's probably the best team in the National League. We're showing them that we belong with them and we're going to be a team to be reckoned with in the future."
For the first time in Nationals history, that doesn't sound like bluster. That actually sounds plausible.