A rare slip-up at home prevented the Philadelphia Phillies from moving closer to first place in the National League East. The club likely has a larger room for error this evening, with Roy Halladay set to take the hill.
Halladay aims for a sixth straight winning start tonight, when NL Wild Card- leading Philadelphia kicks off a three-game set against the last-place Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies have been one of the hottest teams in baseball, trimming a seven- game deficit for first place in the division on July 22 to 2 1/2 games. Along the way Philadelphia took a two-game edge on San Francisco by for the Wild Card lead, but that advantage was cut in half due to Thursday's 5-2 setback to the Giants.
Cole Hamels put the Phillies in an early hole by allowing five runs on seven hits over five innings as his club failed to secure the three-game sweep while losing for the second time in its last eight games. Philadelphia also dropped just its third contest in its last 20 outings at home and hasn't lost consecutive games overall since July 30-31 versus Washington.
"I wasn't able to hit my spots, and that hurts you when you're not able to get ahead of hitters," Hamels said.
Philadelphia looks to get on track tonight behind Halladay, who is pitching to a 1.62 ERA over his win streak and hasn't lost since July 18. He has yielded one run or less in four of the five games over his run and is coming off Saturday's victory over the Mets.
The right-handed Halladay hurled eight shutout innings versus New York, scattering four hits without a walk while striking out seven. He improved to 15-8 and lowered baseball's third-best ERA to 2.24.
Halladay, who spent his first 12 MLB seasons with Toronto, kicked off his Phillies career with a win over Washington on April 5, his lone meeting this year with the fellow NL East residents. The 33-year-old gave up a run over seven innings with nine strikeouts, improving to 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA lifetime against them.
While Halladay was brilliant in his debut with a new team, Jason Marquis' first start with the Nationals did not go as well, and the right-hander continues to endure a rough 2010.
Signed to a two-year deal by Washington to head its rotation, Marquis is 0-5 with a 14.33 ERA this year, missing a chunk of time due to a right elbow injury that required surgery.
Marquis' first two starts with the Nats came versus the Phillies and he allowed a total of 12 earned runs over 8 1/3 innings, falling to 5-5 with a save and 5.21 ERA in 21 career games, including 14 starts, against the club.
Set to turn 32 tomorrow, Marquis has made two starts since coming off the disabled list. After giving up five runs -- two earned -- over four innings in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, Marquis was tagged for another five runs and three homers over four frames of a 9-2 setback to Arizona on Saturday.
"Too many balls up in the zone and I wasn't able to adjust," said Marquis. "I wanted to get the ball down more, but I couldn't and I paid for the mistakes."
Washington will hope that Marquis can pitch his club to a second straight win for the first time since a three-game burst from July 29-31. The Nationals won for just the third time in 11 games on Thursday, posting a 6-2 victory over the Braves to avoid a three-game sweep.
Mike Morse and Willie Harris both homered in the triumph, while John Lannan held Atlanta to just a pair of runs over 5 1/3 innings.
"It's always good to win the last game," Harris said. "Obviously, you want to win the series."
After going 39-15 over the Nats in the previous three seasons, including 20-7 at home, the Phillies have won just five of the nine 2010 matchups, taking two of three at Citizens Bank Park from April 12-15.