Phils Ready For Nationals' Visit

The Phillies open a seven-game homestand Monday night, with the first four games coming against division and wild-card rival Washington. The two teams have had their ups and downs this season and the series at Citizens Bank Park should come close to a playoff atmosphere.

The Phillies open a four-game series against Washington on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, their first series against a National League East rival since they hosted Florida July 14-17. Since then they have made up plenty of ground, moving up to second place in the division standings and inching within a half-game of Houston in the wild-card race.

The Nationals, meanwhile, are just a half-game behind the Phillies.

"It's a very big series," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We want to show people that we intend to stay in this thing all the way until the end. I think we're ready for it."

Still, a lot has changed since the Phillies and Nationals last met. Washington was in first place when they came to Citizens Bank Park July 8-10, but they lost two of three games. The Phillies used it as a springboard to their current success, as they are 18-11 in the second half.

Also, the Nationals' skid out of first place might have coincided with that fateful series. When they won the first game 8-7 on July 8, it was their 24th one-run victory, a major league best. However, they lost the next two games by one run, and it triggered a startling reversal of fortune -- they have lost 12 of their 13 one-run decisions since the All-Star break.

Manuel said he noted a difference in his team in the second half, and he believes taking two of three games from the Nationals might be a big reason why.

"It might have carried over into the second half," Manuel said. "Those games were real tight, and we found a way to win two of them."

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