ON A TRAIN — Ignore the hype, the concocted PR scams for attention, and the indignant fans who think they are taking it to The Man by spending money at an opponent's ballpark. Enjoy this weekend for what it is.
When was the last time the Phillies had a true in-season division rivalry? Hasn't happened in the last two seasons I've covered the team. Does it date all the way back to 2008 when the Mets collapsed for the final time? Possibly.
Sure, the Braves are always a presence. But other than a mid-September series in 2010 and the elimination final weekend in 2011, there has been little at stake. Truth is, the Phillies have barely been threatened during the past three regular seasons.
So why is this fun? Well, in Washington, you have an upstart team with younger talent and some gruff. Remind you of anything?
In reality, the Nationals are quite similar to these Phillies. They pitch the ball well. They do not hit the ball well.
Like the Phillies, their offensive anemia can be partially blamed on injuries. Michael Morse hit .303 with 31 home runs in 2011 and may not play in 2012 until mid-June at the earliest. Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise's cornerstone, is on the disabled list. Adam LaRoche has been their best hitter in 2012 only to succumb to a side muscle injury Thursday. He'll likely miss this weekend's games.
The Phillies have actually outscored Washington in 2012, 3.73 runs per game to 3.28. Both are below the league average of 4.03.
Washington's pitching? It's good, albeit in a small sample size. They lead the league with a mind-numbing 2.41 ERA. Four of their five starting pitchers have an ERA below 1.89; the lone exception is Edwin Jackson.
Stephen Strasburg, who blew out his elbow the last time he faced the Phillies, has the majors' lowest mark at 1.13. He has struck out 34 in 32 innings with only 22 hits and six walks. He starts the opener Friday.
And then there is 19-year-old wunderkind Bryce Harper. He is 6 for his first 16 with four doubles. He's already batting third in Davey Johnson's lineup. He is a player Phillies fans will love to hate for years and years to come.
Before leaving Las Vegas for spring training, Shane Victorino worked out with Harper, who also lives in the area. They trained at Bishop Gorman High School.
"He was in the outfield and he was asking questions and wanting to learn," Victorino said. "We were talking baseball. He was very humble. Whatever is portrayed... I can see where people are going to feel that way about him. Like I say the same thing too. 'Like, really? Come on, Bryce.' But at 14 years old, this guy was known as the best player in the country. And in all of his life that's all he's ever known. So he has to go out there with some kind of confidence."
Oh yeah, this could be fun.