Phils win sixth straight, inch closer to clinch

Phils win sixth straight, inch closer to clinch

PHILADELPHIA -- It seems pointless to try to predict the next 13 games for the Phillies.

There is a good chance they make the playoffs. They are 40-15 since July 21 and have a three-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East following Saturday's 5-2 victory over the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

There is a good chance the pitching staff continues to do its job. Phillies pitchers have a 3.12 ERA in the last 55 games, including a 2.92 ERA from the starters.

But what about the offense? It has been inconsistent throughout the season, but lately has looked as if it is priming itself for the postseason. The Phillies have hit .325 and averaged 6.9 runs per game in their last 11 and have hit .269 and averaged 5.5 runs per game in an 18-4 stretch since the Houston Astros swept them in a four-game series in late August at the Bank.

They look like they're peaking at just the right time.

"I think so. I hope so," said Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez, who went 3-for-4 with a home run and one RBI on Saturday and has hit .452 (19 for 42) with four doubles, one triple, three homers and 10 RBIs in his last 11 games. "We're playing well when we need to play well. Our pitching has been great, but I think that our lineup is getting more consistent. It's making it harder on the opposing team."

Jayson Werth hit a solo homer to left field in the second to make it 1-1. He has hit .300 (6 for 20) with three homers and seven RBIs in his last seven games, and .333 (5 for 15) with runners in scoring position since Sept. 5. Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz followed Werth with singles and Wilson Valdez followed them with a double to score Ibanez to make it 2-1.

Valdez tripped while rounding second base. He said he felt a twinge in his left hamstring but is OK.

That must be a relief for the Phillies. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has been on the bench with a strained right hamstring since Sept. 8, but Valdez has more than made up for his absence. Valdez has hit .369 (14 for 36) with four doubles and five RBIs in nine games since taking over for Rollins.

"I'm trying to enjoy the game and help the team as much as I can," Valdez said.

Chase Utley walked and Ryan Howard homered to left field in the third inning to make it 4-1. It was Howard's 30th homer of the season to set a franchise record with five consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons. He had been tied with Chuck Klein, who had four consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in 1929-32.

It also was Howard's 252nd career homer, which put him in sole possession of third place in Phillies history. Howard had been tied with Pat Burrell.

Howard needs seven more home runs to tie Del Ennis for second place on the club's all-time list.

Ibanez followed two batters later with a solo homer to left to make it 5-1.

Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick made it last, although it didn't look as if he would early on.

Kendrick allowed a single up the middle to Danny Espinosa on his second pitch and a triple to Ian Desmond on his fourth pitch to hand the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Kendrick then hit Ryan Zimmerman with his sixth pitch to put runners at the corners with nobody out.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee met Kendrick on the mound following the plunking of Zimmerman.

Kendrick looked like a different man afterward. He struck out Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina. He walked Michael Morse to load the bases, but got Wilson Ramos to ground out to end the inning. Kendrick retired 14 of the next 17 batters he faced after he hit Zimmerman with a pitch.

"We helped him out by swinging at some bad pitches, but he pitched well," Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn said. "It's the best that I've seen him when it comes to pitching against us. In the first inning, we had opportunities to really open it up and we didn't do it."

In six innings, Kendrick allowed six hits, two runs and one walk while striking out three.

"Stay aggressive," Kendrick said of what allowed his quick turnaround. "Just try to stay aggressive. I really wanted to be aggressive tonight. I just beared down after that."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.