PHILADELPHIA -- Since just after the All-Star break, the Phillies, who struggled mightily in the first half, have played .500 baseball. Their latest victory was a 7-5 win over the Nationals on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, as they took two out of three games in the series.
The Phillies, who are 34-34 since July 18, have played better behind a kick-started offense, heavily contributed to by callups. Jorge Alfaro had a two-run double in a three-run second inning, while Aaron Altherr had a game-tying, two-run triple in a three-run fifth.
"I'm proud of the guys, the fact that they play hard the entire season, in my opinion," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We just didn't have the offense clicking the first half, and that was part of our problems. But in the second half, things started clicking. We started playing better baseball."
The Nationals learned they will play the Cubs in the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, after Chicago secured the NL Central with a 5-1 victory in St. Louis. Washington has been focused on trying to make sure its team is sharp heading into the NLDS, including star outfielder Bryce Harper, who went 1-for-4 with a single, stolen base and a run scored in his second game back from the disabled list.
"Harp made a couple good plays out there," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "The more pitches he sees, the sharper he'll get."
In his final start of the regular season, right-hander Tanner Roark -- the Nationals' projected No. 4 starter in the postseason -- gave up six runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struggled with his command, issuing five walks and hitting a batter.
"I just feel like I didn't have anything really, more battling myself and trying to throw strikes," Roark said. "I was behind a lot, and they take advantage when you've got to throw fastballs. It's one of those games."
The Nationals carved into their early three-run deficit against Phillies starter Mark Leiter, getting an RBI double from Daniel Murphy in the third and Michael A. Taylor's 18th home run in the fourth. Anthony Rendon tied it with a single to chase Leiter in the fifth, and Jayson Werth's two-run double gave them a 5-3 lead before Philadelphia responded in the bottom of the frame.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Herrera puts Phils ahead: The Phillies took the lead with a three-run rally in the fifth, answering a three-run top of the inning from the Nationals. Altherr ripped a two-run triple into the right-field corner to tie the game at 5, before Odubel Herrera doubled to center to give the Phillies the lead.
Garcia escapes jam: The Nationals threatened in the eighth after a one-out single by Trea Turner, who reached base in all five of his plate appearances. Turner stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. After a walk by Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate with the go-ahead run on first. But Phillies right-hander Luis Garcia struck out Zimmerman to escape the jam, preserving a 6-5 lead.
After Garcia blew a lead and allowed three earned runs to the Braves in the eighth inning on Saturday, he was back in the same role, which Mackanin said was intentional.
"Without question," Mackanin said. "You can't just go by what he did the night before. You have to trust guys, and you have to keep their confidence level up. He's pitched so well most of the year that it's pretty obvious that I have to go to him."
"I had a lot of good times in this town, this stadium, regardless of what it sounds like. I feel like my career kind of was made as a Phillie. I was just paying my respects. Just in case." -- Werth, on tipping his cap before his final at-bat in the ninth
"It'll be fun. It'll be loud." Roark, on the Nats' upcoming NLDS matchup against the Cubs
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the top of the seventh, Nationals center fielder Michael A. Taylor was initially called out at first on a grounder, which would have ended the inning. However, the call was overturned and Taylor had an infield single. Pedro Severino then flied out to end the frame.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: The Nats head back to D.C. for their final home series of the regular season, as they welcome the Pirates to Nationals Park for the opener of a four-game series Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Edwin Jackson will take the mound looking to make his case for a spot on the postseason roster as a reliever.
Phillies: After an off-day Thursday, Ben Lively (3-7, 4.35 ERA) will open the Phillies' final series at home against the Mets. Lively has had a pair of great starts against the Mets this season, posting a 2.03 ERA over 13 1/3 innings, including one of the best starts of his rookie campaign -- seven innings of one-run ball on Sept. 5.