For the most part, during the Washington Nationals' previous seven seasons in the District, they have been realistically -- if not mathematically -- out of the National League pennant race by now. During that same span, the Philadelphia Phillies have run roughshod over the NL and NL East, winning five consecutive division titles to go along with one World Series championship in two appearances.
This season, however, things are unfolding a little bit differently. Entering Tuesday's three-game series at Nationals Park, Washington is in first place in the NL East (not to mention the best team in baseball with a 61-40 record), while Philadelphia is 45-57 overall, 16.5 games behind Washington and 13 games back in the Wild Card standings.
Historically, both teams are going through the kinds of seasons typically unheard of in their respective regions. The Phillies have not been in last place in their division this late in a season in nearly a decade (Aug. 12, 2002, according to STATS LLC). Conversely, this is the latest that a Washington-based baseball franchise has been on top of the league since 1933.
Meanwhile, in the stands, where members of the Nationals' front office once invited Phillies fans to travel to D.C. to see their favorite team play, red apparel adorned with Curly W's has exponentially exploded. Attendance is up by about 6,000 per game as compared to the final average from last season as the buzz surrounding the team is growing. Earlier this season, the Nationals vowed to "Take Back The Park." It looks as if that is happening.
How times have changed.
With all of this talk about numbers, it is only fitting that the Nats have had the Phillies' dating back to last season; Washington has won 13 of 17, including four of six this season. Yet, recent regular season dominance pales in comparison to what Washington could accomplish by winning this upcoming series. For example, a sweep (which may not be as difficult if the Phillies decide to sell before Tuesday's 4 p.m. trade deadline) would put the Nationals 19.5 games ahead of the Phillies in the NL East with less than 60 games remaining for both teams, the death knell (and perhaps mercy killing) of arguably the most disappointing team in baseball this season.
While gaining such ground is not technically impossible, it is highly unlikely, and a pennant for Washington combined with a season in the cellar for Philadelphia would cause a seismic shift in the pecking order of the National League, the epicenter of which could be at Nationals Park this week.
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