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Preview: Phillies Host Nationals For Three Game Set

Sports Network) - Being in the thick of the playoff race has seemed to energize the Phillies. That especially holds true for midseason pickup Roy Oswalt.

Oswalt will look to win a fourth straight start this evening when Philadelphia kicks off a nine-game homestand with the first of three straight contests with the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

Since getting swept by the Houston Astros over four games in late August to fall three games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the National League East, the Phillies have won 16 of 20 and are now three contests up on the Braves for the division's top spot.

Oswalt has certainly done his part, winning six straight decisions since losing his Phillies debut on July 30 to the Nationals. He was tagged for four earned runs in that outing, but has yielded more than three runs in just one of his eight outings since and has a 1.98 earned run average in nine starts since getting traded from the Astros.

The 33-year-old righty hurled his first shutout in a Phillies uniform and second of the season on Sunday, tossing a four-hitter versus the Mets.

"I feel like I've got a new life," Oswalt said after throwing his eighth career shutout. "I've been out of playoff contention for about five years. Now we're on the verge of trying to get back in. These guys have been there two years and they've got a ring. I don't. Hopefully, I can push them to get another one."

Oswalt, who is 12-13 with a 2.94 ERA in 29 total starts this year, got his revenge over the Nationals on Aug. 22 at home with seven scoreless innings of five-hit ball in a 6-0 victory and is 4-3 with a 3.40 ERA lifetime versus the franchise.

The Phillies are bumping Oswalt up a day to align their rotation for next week's series with the Braves, but first go for their fifth straight victory in their opener with Washington.

Philadelphia extended its win streak on Wednesday with a 10-5 triumph in Florida to complete the three-game sweep. Raul Ibanez and Wilson Valdez both collected three hits and two RBI, while Chase Utley homered and scored twice as the Phillies also collected their eighth win in nine games.

Roy Halladay posted his NL-leading 19th win of the season despite allowing three runs and 10 hits over six innings with nine strikeouts.

Washington comes to town having won two straight, including Wednesday's rubber match of a three-game series with the Braves that helped the Phils extended their division lead. Justin Maxwell hit a grand slam in the second inning of a 4-2 victory.

"Hopefully next year we're in [the Braves] shoes," said Maxwell. "We want to be fighting for a playoff spot. To say that ... that's what it is right now. But we're not really thinking about it that way. We want to finish the season strong and build for next year."

John Lannan was charged with two runs over six innings to get the win for Washington, which had lost six straight before posting consecutive victories.

Especially looking to finish strong this year is Nats starter Jason Marquis, who has been limited to just 10 starts due to an elbow injury. He has pitched to a 2.40 ERA over his last five starts, but is just 2-3 in that span.

After winning his first two decisions of the season, the right-hander fell back into the loss column on Saturday despite six innings of two-run ball versus Florida. Marquis also struck out a season-high eight batters, but fell to 2-8 with a 6.60 ERA this year.

Marquis, 32, was drilled for seven runs -- six earned -- over 4 1/3 innings of work at Philadelphia back on April 12 prior to his injury, but did hold the club to just a run over five innings on Aug. 20. Marquis, though, dropped a 1-0 road loss and is 5-6 with a save and 5.03 ERA in his career against the Phillies.

Nyjer Morgan will begin serving his suspension for the Nationals after appealing two separate bans. The speedy outfielder was hit with a seven-game suspension for throwing a ball into the crowd in Philadelphia on Aug. 21, but had that ban rescinded, while his eight-game suspension for his actions at Florida on Sept. 1, including charging the mound, was upheld.

Morgan was also fined and is eligible to return to action on Sept. 25.

The Phillies have won three of their last four over the Nationals and lead the season series, 7-5. They are 24-9 at home against Washington since the start of the 2007 season.