Phils and Nats face off in long-awaited series

Cole Hamels will start the series finale against the Nationals this weekend. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)

To this point in the season, this may be the series Phillies fans have been waiting for the most. There are no real implications from any of these three games. But with all of the Nationals offseason stunts, including this 'Take Back the Park' weekend, this series, for fans anyway, has the feel of a rivalry.

The Nationals come into the series as the NL East leaders with a 16-9 record. They are 3 1/2 games above the Phillies.

The Phillies dodge a bullet in their offense, as Ryan Zimmerman is out on the DL. However, the guy they called up in his place hasn't been too bad. The hotshot rookie Bryce Harper is definitely making an impact in his first few games. Add in young talent all the way around, like Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. The Nats also have several wily veterans like Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel and Adam LaRoche.

The Phillies draw a bit of a mismatch in terms of the pitching, at least from their starters. Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Kyle Kendrick (0-2, 6.59 ERA) takes on Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.13 ERA) – Kendrick lost his last start, allowing three runs over six innings to the Cubs. In his career against the Nationals (13 games, 12 starts), Kendrick is 2-3 with a 5.46 ERA.

Strasburg had a stellar month of April, taking home NL Pitcher of the Month and logging a league-leading 34 strikeouts. In his career against the Phillies (one start), Strasburg is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

In the middle game, Vance Worley (2-1, 1.97 ERA) faces Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.82 ERA) – Worley took a no-decision after allowed one run in seven innings against the Cubs in the Phillies' eventual 6-4 win on Monday. In his career against the Nationals (three games, two starts), Worley is 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA.

Gonzalez took his first loss of the season to the D'Backs in his last start allowing two runs on three hits while walking five. Gonzalez, a former Phillies' prospect, has never faced the Phillies in his career.

In the finale, Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.78 ERA) gets the start against Jordan Zimmerman (1-2, 1.89 ERA) – Hamels opened up the series with the Braves by taking a no-decision after allowing two runs in six innings. In his career against the Nationals (20 starts), Hamels is 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA.

Zimmerman lost his last start allowing four runs over 6 1/3 innings to the D'Backs. In his career against the Phillies (three starts), Zimmerman is 0-2 with a 6.60 ERA.

Prediction:
May 4 – Phillies 1, Nationals 4
May 5 – Phillies 4, Nationals 2
May 6 – Phillies 7, Nationals 2

The Phillies hold a bit of an advantage in the series overall. Their pitchers haven't been terrible, but there's no doubt that you'd rather have Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee on the mound instead of Kyle Kendrick when Strasburg pitches.

Either way, the Phillies don't appear to stand a chance against Strasburg unless he has a bad start altogether, which he is due for. Otherwise, the most important game in determining the result of this series is the middle game. The Phillies have never faced Gonzalez. So one of two things will happen. They will either hit him hard, or they won't hit him at all.

If the Phillies can scratch out some runs against Gonzalez early, they can take the middle game, and there's almost no doubt that Cole Hamels won't finish the series on a good note.

The Phillies will return home for a series against the New York Mets after this series with the Nationals.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.