The Nationals look like the hungry team the Phillies were in 2007.
"It feels like they have a chip on their shoulder," Hunter Pence said.
They look like a team that wants to cut down the champ.
"Every team wants to take us down," Vance Worley said. "That team, I think so. There's been that rivalry. It's a different team over there now."
It is just May 5, but the Phillies are 13-15 and 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals. Lose Sunday and they are 6 1/2 games back.
"If you get too far back, you get too far back," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't want to be six back. But we can definitely catch up. I've been in this game a long time. I've seen us in the last six, seven years come way back. A lot more than six games. You keep it even keel, and get it going, you can win some games. We can get healthy. ... The last two years, we've won a lot of ballgames. We get hot. We have to get hot. We have to play right. We have to play better. We've been playing OK, but we haven't been playing good enough to win."
The Phillies know better than anybody that pitching will keep a team in a lot of games, and right now, the Nationals have excellent pitching. Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg might have allowed a couple home runs Friday, but the Phillies could not score any more the rest of the way in a 4-3 loss in 11 innings. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez proved a bit better Saturday. He allowed just four hits, one run, one walk and struck out seven in seven innings.
Strasburg has a 1.66 ERA. Gonzalez has a 1.72 ERA. Jordan Zimmermann, who the Phillies will face on Sunday, has a 1.89 ERA.
The Phillies have good pitching, too, but it has failed them the past two games. The bullpen blew a two-run lead Friday. And Worley, who carried a 1.97 ERA into Saturday's game, allowed 11 hits, five runs, two walks, two home runs and struck out four in six innings.
Things got bad for Worley in the fifth. It started the worst way possible, when Gonzalez battled him in a nine-pitch at-bat, ending with a leadoff double to right-center field. Worley walked Steve Lombardozzi with one out, but got Bryce Harper to fly out to left field for the second out.
Worley needed to get past Jayson Werth, but Werth hit a 1-0 cutter into the visitors' bullpen in left field for a three-run home run to make it 3-1.
"The Werth pitch was a good pitch, and he just beat me," Worley said. "I tried to go in, and that was probably the best inside pitch I gave him, and he beat me."
Phillies fans in right field had been jeering Werth for much of the game. He tipped his cap to them when he returned to his position in the top of the sixth inning.
Werth swore it meant nothing extra to come up with a big hit against his former team.
"We are playing good baseball, and we just want to keep that going," he said. "The Phillies are banged up, we're banged up as well, so it's a pretty even playing field. They are the reigning NL East champs the last few years. Any time you can get a game from them, it's good, from that standpoint."
Worley allowed one more run in the fifth and another in the sixth to make it 5-1.
At that point, it was over.
The Nationals have won seven consecutive games with the Phillies, dating to last season. The Phillies might be without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee this weekend, but the Nationals are without Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche.
"I felt like the ballclub we were bringing to the ballpark last year when we went into Philly, that we could play with them," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I think all we're doing right now is reaffirming that we can play with them. They're shorthanded, we're shorthanded, probably moreso than them. But we can still compete with them, and I think that's a good message to send."
"This is just the first series," Gonzalez said. "We're excited that it's going good for us right now. The Phillies are not an easy organization to think that you can just go in there and walk all over them. They're champions for a reason."
But the Nationals are playing like they plan on taking the title.