The Philadelphia Phillies look to reach the .500 mark for the first time since mid-April on Sunday afternoon, when they send ace Cole Hamels to the mound against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.
The Phillies drew even in this three-game series with Saturday's 5-3 victory, getting the go-ahead RBI from Delmon Young in the eighth inning. Domonic Brown added an insurance RBI in the frame after hitting his team-leading ninth home run of the season earlier in the game.
Brown went back-to-back with Erik Kratz in the second inning and has driven in a run in five straight and in 10 of his last 13 games. His offense helped the Phillies win for the eighth time in their last 12 contests and improve to 24-25 on the season. The Phils are a game back of Washington for second place in the NL East and are looking to reach the .500 mark for the first time since they were 6-6 on April 14.
"This is a big series for us. Every one is big, but this one especially since we're playing the Nationals," said Brown. "We're going out, working hard and fighting. We're just having fun out there."
Adam LaRoche homered and drove in two runs, while Denard Span added three hits, an RBI and run scored as the Nationals suffered their fifth loss in seven outings.
"We left some guys on base, no doubt. We had some opportunities to score. They had some big two-out runs, and big two-out hits. We didn't," said LaRoche.
Now each club will send out their respective ace for this rubber match, though Hamels and Strasburg have combined for just three victories this season thanks to some tough luck.
Hamels has lost four straight starts since picking up his first and only win of the season on April 28. He is 1-7 in 10 starts this year with a 4.45 earned run average, but has allowed three runs or fewer in seven of those games. However, the Phillies have plated more than three runs in just four of his outings.
Frustration boiled over for the left-hander last Monday in Miami, where he dropped a 5-1 decision despite giving up just a pair of runs on seven hits without a walk over six innings. Hamels struck out a season-high 10 and came out of the game for a pinch-hitter in the seventh with a runner on first and third and only one out. Philadelphia did not score, however, and Hamels did not talk to the media afterwards.
"He needs some runs," Phils manager Charlie Manuel told his team's website of Hamels. "He needs to pitch with a lead sometime and have room to breathe and room if he makes a mistake."
The 29-year-old could turn things around today as he is 13-5 in his career versus the Nationals with a 2.57 ERA in 24 starts.
Strasburg, meanwhile, is 2-5 in his 10 starts even though he is pitching to a 2.66 ERA. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in eight of those outings and has also been charged with nine unearned runs this season.
The 24-year-old righty snapped a seven-start winless streak by beating San Diego on May 16, then did not get a decision at San Francisco on Tuesday. Strasburg only allowed one run and fanned seven over seven innings.
Unlike Hamels, Strasburg has struggled against today's opponent. He is 0-1 in three career starts versus the Phillies with a 6.28 ERA, having yielded 10 runs over 14 1/3 frames with 13 strikeouts.
The Phillies and Nationals split 18 meetings a season ago, but Washington has won five of the last seven in this series.