Originally written on The Nats Blog  |  Last updated 10/1/12


October has arrived, but the Washington Nationals (96-63) still have some business to take care of before they can fully relish the glory of classic October baseball. In their final home stand and final series of the regular season, the Nationals will face the Philadelphia Phillies (80-79) for the second time in a week’s time with just one thing on their minds: the clincher.

Their magic number still sits at one, so with just one win or one Atlanta Braves loss, the Washington Nationals will clinch the National League East division title for the first time in team history. If the Nats pull through as they are expected to, their champagne-showered celebration is guaranteed to happen during this series, or not at all.

Although their delay in clinching the division (they’ve lost three of their last six) will allow the starters less time to rest before the ever important playoff games are upon them than manager Davey Johnson would like, it allows the Nats the special opportunity to celebrate in their own park alongside their own fans.

“We played all season to get in position to win one game and now we get to do it in front of our own fans,” said Jayson Werth, according to the Washington Post. “Can’t wait.”

Nationals fans can’t wait either, and it’s safe to say that this week the majority of the fan base will either be making the trek to Nats Park or tuning in to the game broadcast in hopes of somehow being a part of a moment in team history that won’t soon be forgotten. 

Last week

Not much has changed since these teams last faced each other one series ago. In the interim, the Nats took a tough series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Phillies won two of three against the Miami Marlins. The Phillies were officially eliminated from postseason contention, and the Nationals have been inching closer to their goal of winning the division.

John Lannan, who has famously struggled at Citizen’s Bank Park, pitched well in Philadelphia, allowing two earned runs on five hits and one walk to earn the win. Lannan will now have the opportunity to pitch against the Phillies with home-field advantage in the series opener. In three starts at Nationals Park this year, Lannan has a 5.94 ERA, but has earned the win two out of three times. Pitching for this specific win would certainly mean a lot to Lannan after muddling through the long years of losing with the Nationals since day-one.

The rivalry

As noted by James Wagner of the Washington Post, the Phillies have clinched the NL East three times in the past five years after a win over the Nationals.  Ian Desmond called it “kind of embarrassing when everyone in the stadium is clapping against you when you’re at home.” This year, though, the Nationals have the opportunity to free themselves from embarrassment by playing the victor in an oh-so-sweet role reversal.

The Nats also have the chance this series to secure a winning season record against all NL East teams. Right now their season record against the Phils stands at 7-8, making them the only NL East team the Nats have a losing record against. Last year the Nats finished 10-8 against Philadelphia, and if they want to create a tradition of winning they will have to win the series.

Worth noting

- If Bryce Harper homers at least once per game in this series (unlikely, but Nats fans can dream), he will pass Tony Conigliaro's 24 home runs for the record of most hit by a teenager in one season.

- With their winning percentage just barely above .500, the Phillies have to win at least one game to finish with an even or winning record for the tenth consecutive year.

- If the Phillies were to sweep the Nationals and the Braves were to win all three of their games in Pittsburg, the Nats would host the one game wild card tiebreaker on Thursday.

- With a Nats win and Cincinnati Reds loss today, the Nats would regain the title of best record in baseball.

Who's hot?

Carlos Ruiz (C ) .368 AVG, .429 SLG, .632 SLG, 1 HR, 6 RBI (last five games)

Darin Ruf (1B) .348 AVG, .348 OBP, .565 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI (last six games)

Jonathan Papelbon (CL) 0.00 ERA, .400 BAA, 0 BB, 6 SO, 2 SV (last three games)

Who's not?

John Mayberry (OF) .111 AVG, .200 OBP, .167 SLG, 5 SO (last six games)

Domonic Brown (OF) .176 AVG, .238 OBP, .529 SLG, 4 SO (last six games)

Justin De Fratus (RP) 13.50 ERA, .250 BAA, 3 ER, 2 IP, 1 BB (last three games)

Probable starters

John Lannan (4-0, 4.23 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (10-12, 4.08 ERA)

Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA) vs. TBD

Edwin Jackson (9-11, 4.13 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (6-8, 3.12 ERA)

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