The offense and the bullpen, however, were neither superb nor sufficient.
Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save in 3 nights and Ian Desmond launched a grand slam in the 11th inning off Michael Stutes as Washington rallied, avoided a sweep and beat the Phillies, 6-2.
Instead of good tidings, the night ended with the closer offering pointed criticism of his team.
"Fundamentals," Papelbon said. "Fundamentals. This is a game of fundamentals, and we have to do fundamentals right, and keep grinding. It's a game of who grinds the most and plays the best fundamental baseball. That's pretty much it."
Papelbon, who entered with a 2-1 lead in the ninth, said he was surprised first baseman Ryan Howard was playing in when Denard Span began the inning by beating out an infield single. Papelbon had to cover first on the play, which ended with him on the ground and the throw from second baseman Freddy Galvis flopping out of his glove.
"It is what it is, but shoot, you have to move on and not let one game beat you," Papelbon said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't get it done. It's a team effort. It takes everybody involved to lose a ballgame and it takes everybody involved to win it. It's pretty much that simple."
The loss prevented the Phillies from passing the Nationals and moving into sole possession of second place in baseball's worst division, the National League East. It also prevented the Phils from capturing their third three-game sweep of the season; the previous two came against division foes, the Mets and Marlins.
The Phils (35-38) are 18-10 against NL East teams in 2013. But they've also played the first-place Atlanta Braves, who hold a seven-game lead over the second-place Nationals, just three times.
The Phillies can only hope to keep pace, and possibly catch up, behind their strength: starting pitching.
One night after Cliff Lee made his latest pitch to stay in town and give the Phils their best chance to win beyond 2013, Kendrick was brilliant against the Nats' futile bats. After giving up a single to Adam LaRoche to begin the second inning, Kendrick retired 16 straight batters.
Coming off his worst start of the season, a bloody battle last Friday at Coors Field, Kendrick held Washington to one earned run in 7 2/3 innings. He allowed two hits, struck out six and walked one.
"He pitched a tremendous game for us," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He had good stuff, worked both sides of the plate and used all of his pitches."
Kendrick has pitched at least seven innings while yielding two runs or fewer in seven of his 15 starts this season. He lowered his ERA to 3.56.
But Kendrick, who threw 92 pitches, didn't have the opportunity to finish what he started. He was pulled after recording the first two outs of the eighth inning when Washington sent Chad Tracy to pinch-hit.
"I respect Tracy's power here," said Manuel, who brought in lefthander Antonio Bastardo. "His power anywhere, really."
Manuel said he would have brought Papelbon into the ninth inning regardless.
"What difference does it make?" he said. "It didn't get there."
Kendrick, who took his team four outs away from a sweep, was clearly disappointed after the game. But not for selfish reasons.
"I'm not mad," Kendrick said. "It's his decision. I respect the manager's decision. I'm just mad about the loss."
Thanks to Kendrick, the Phils held a 2-1 lead entering the ninth. After Bastardo got the final out of the eighth, Papelbon entered and issued a two-out walk to LaRoche that put runners at first and second, and then a game-tying single to former Phillie Jayson Werth.
Two innings later, Stutes also struggled against the middle of the Nats' lineup. After recording the first out of the 11th, Stutes gave up a booming double to Ryan Zimmerman before walking back-to-back batters.
Stutes had a close pitch called a ball on a 1-2 count against Desmond with the based loaded and one out. On the very next pitch, Desmond belted a ballpark-emptying blast deep into the late spring night.
"He came back with a slider," Manuel said. "It looked like it was down and Desmond stayed on it pretty good and hit it out. That's what I saw. The pitch he threw [before that] I thought was in, it looked good. It looked like it might have been in, but it looked like it could have been a strike. But I don't know. I'll have to look at it."
The Phils went down quietly in the bottom half of the inning, which wasn't surprising. After Michael Young followed Ben Revere's leadoff single with his third home run in the first inning, the Phils failed to record another hit until the 10th inning.
Washington starter Gio Gonzalez and the Nats' bullpen retired 20 of the 22 batters they faced from the second inning through the eighth. The Phillies had two hits entering extra innings and finished with four in 11 innings.
Jimmy Rollins, Howard and Domonic Brown were a combined 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts, with Howard accounting for four of the Ks.
"After the first inning, we didn't create any offense at all," Manuel said. "I think [Gonzalez] had a lot to do with it. He was definitely working our lefthanded hitters over."
DN Members Only: On the DNL blog, David Murphy wonders if Ruben Amaro Jr. holds himself to the same standards as his players.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21