Phillies shut out by Nationals as Werth returns for Washington

Posted: August 03, 2012

WASHINGTON - It was Tuesday, and Jayson Werth was still two days away from returning to his first-place Washington Nationals, but the bearded outfielder grinned.

He hugged Ryan Howard. He nodded at Carlos Ruiz. He joked with Kyle Kendrick.

Lambasted in Philadelphia for taking $126 million from a hapless organization, Werth's team is now the one to beat. The results, a 3-0 Nationals win Thursday being the latest, mean less to the Phillies. The nation's capitol is primed for a pennant race for the first time since 1945.

The Phillies punted on 2012 with sights set on 2013 and beyond. When they were last in Washington, the season was a month old and the Nationals were a novelty. They renamed the ballpark for a weekend as part of a gimmicky marketing campaign. Then the Nationals took two of three from the Phillies, Bryce Harper stole home, and a cocky bunch believed a statement had been made.

This week, the Nationals started promoting postseason ticket sales.

"They're built for longevity," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Undoubtedly, Washington will pose the most difficult future challenge as the Phillies attempt to reign again. They are baseball's third-youngest team. The Phillies, before making two trades, had the second-oldest roster.

Werth, citing injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, believes the Phillies will be formidable starting next season.

"I'm not convinced it's over for them," Werth said. "They're still going to be a pretty good team as the years go on here. Unfortunately, I guess more fortunately for us, it's been our year this year."

The Nationals long used the Phillies as their measure for success - five straight division titles will do that. Four months of role reversal has instilled confidence in Washington.

Manager Davey Johnson, never afraid to speak his mind, issued the ultimate insult during the team's pregame radio show Tuesday.

"So they've fallen on some hard times over there," Johnson said, "and they had a little fire sale today, which was fun for me to watch."

Johnson's bravado extended back to the spring, when he declared he would take his starting pitching staff over any in the majors, including the Phils'.

"Their top three vs. our top three, stuff-wise, we match up as good," Johnson said.

With two months of baseball remaining, he has been prophetic. The Nationals' top three of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez had made 63 starts and posted a 2.87 ERA with a 3.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The three Phillies aces - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels - have combined for 53 starts with a 3.72 ERA and 4.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Thursday was another example of Washington's pitching riches. Ross Detwiler, who was demoted to the bullpen in May, tossed seven shutout innings and retired the final 14 Phillies he faced. He is 26 and has a 3.02 ERA in 2012.

"Their pitching is definitely legit," Manuel said.

Competition could extend beyond the diamond this winter. For the first time, the two could enter a bidding war for a free agent. The Nationals have long coveted a bona-fide centerfielder. Atlanta's Michael Bourn is that player, and he could command a megadeal. The Phillies, ostensibly, will also be interested in their former farmhand.

Bourn's agent is Scott Boras, who has directed quite a few clients to D.C. It makes for a fascinating dynamic.

For now, Werth can trot to the outfield without being heckled. He made his first appearance since May 6, when he fractured his wrist diving for a ball against the Phillies. That night, he heard Phillies fans in right field cheering his injury, and vowed to do everything possible to prevent another championship parade down Broad Street.

Interestingly, Wednesday's crowd of 23,777 was the smallest in Washington since mid-May. (It was 28,825 for the Thursday finale.) These three games lacked the typical passion Phillies-Nationals games bring. The out-of-town fans were fewer and the locals apparently lukewarm.

One October of baseball could change that.

Contact Matt Gelb


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