Despite an up-and-down season, the Phillies have tread water to this point, and they may have their own division foes to thank.
Philadelphia is 35-37 overall but owns an 18-9 record against the National League East. The Phillies can improve on that number with a win and three-game series sweep over the Nationals on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
In order to do that, the Phillies will need a better performance from Kyle Kendrick than what he gave his last time out. Kendrick had his worst outing of the year on Friday, allowing 10 hits and seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Rockies.
The 28-year-old right-hander is 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA this season.
Some offense would help, too, and manager Charlie Manuel knows his lineup has not produced nearly enough to spread his team's success outside of its own division. The Phillies rank 22nd in the Majors in runs scored (267) and 17th in OPS (.707) entering Wednesday.
The lineup received a boost Tuesday with the return of Carlos Ruiz from the 15-day disabled list. Chase Utley was supposed to begin a rehab assignment in Double-A Reading, but did not because of bad weather.
"There are still things about the offense we need to get going," Manuel said. "You guys know what they are. We need to get guys hitting and get guys back, then we'll know how good we are."
The Nationals (34-36) will try to avoid the sweep and a season-high-tying four-game losing streak with Gio Gonzalez on the mound. The left-hander is 3-3 this season with a 3.40 ERA. Gonzalez did not earn the win but threw seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball on Friday against the Indians.
Phillies: Manuel predicts healthy Howard to hit 35 homers
Ryan Howard's towering second-inning home run Monday was a sight Phillies fans have not seen often the last two years. But Manuel expects it to become a common occurrence for the rest of the season.
The homer was Howard's second since May 7 and his eighth of the season in 67 games played, but even with the low power numbers and Howard's knee troubles, Manuel said he thinks his first baseman could still end the season with 35 home runs.
"I think he can get that," Manuel said. "I'm usually right on or close. I don't miss by much. There are a lot of ifs in there. If he can play and get enough at-bats. If he gets 500 at-bats, or 550, I'll say he's very capable of hitting 35 home runs, especially if he hits .280 or .290. If he can hit above .280, he'll hit some long fly balls that come down behind the fence."
Howard is hitting .276 with eight homers and 37 RBIs in 239 at-bats entering Wednesday.
• Phillies third baseman Michael Young enters Wednesday one RBI shy of 1,000 for his career. Since the RBI became an official stat in 1920, only 241 Major League players have reached the 1,000 RBI plateau in their careers, including 18 current players.
Nationals: Span returns to action
• Nationals outfielder Denard Span was in Tuesday's starting lineup and batted leadoff against the Phillies. Span missed Monday's game because of a deep bruise in his right foot, which is still sore.
"It's still a little swollen, but I can definitely move around a lot better than yesterday," said Span, who went 0-for-4 Tuesday.
• Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon has reached base safely in 16 consecutive games entering Wednesday. Rendon extended his streak Tuesday with a sixth-inning single off Phillies starter Cliff Lee.
• Ian Desmond had his 19-game on-base streak snapped Tuesday after going 0-for-4. Desmond did extend a career-high errorless streak to 51 games, the longest current streak among Major League shortstops.
• The Phillies have won six straight home games and 10 of 15 and enter Tuesday 55-30 all-time against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
• Desmond has hit Kendrick well in his career, batting .435 (10-for-23) against him with two home runs and five RBIs.
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.