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Let's Clinch This Thing Already: Phillies Travel To Washington For Three Game Set With Nationals

(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies became instant favorites to defend their National League East title when they acquired Roy Halladay this past offseason.

It's fitting, then, that the former Cy Young Award winner gets a chance to pitch his team to a fourth straight division title and become baseball's first 21-game winner this evening in the opener of a three-game series against the hosting Washington Nationals.

Halladay spent his first 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, racking up 148 wins and a Cy Young Award in 2003. However, he never pitched in the postseason, something that will change this year after the two-time defending NL champion Phillies clinched a playoff berth on Sunday.

The Phillies could have won the NL East yesterday with a victory due to the second-place Atlanta Braves' loss to the Nationals that lowered their magic number to one, but Philadelphia lost its second straight contest to the New York Mets following an 11-game winning streak. Despite the 7-3 defeat, Philadelphia claimed at least a wild-card berth when San Diego lost to Cincinnati yesterday, and could still claim the division tonight with a loss if the Braves lose to Florida.

Winners of the 2008 World Series, the Phils seemed in good shape to win Sunday's finale given that Cole Hamels was set to make the start riding a five-game winning streak. However, the lefty, who had pitched to a 0.49 earned run average over his win streak, gave up five runs over four-plus innings to suffer the loss.

So now the club turns to Halladay in the opener of this season-ending six-game road trip. He picked up his fourth straight winning start with Tuesday's verdict over the Braves, becoming the first Phils pitcher to win 20 games since Steve Carlton in 1982 and the first righty to reach the mark since Robin Roberts in 1955.

"It's definitely special [to win 20 games], but it's secondary to me with us trying to get into the playoffs," said Halladay after holding the Braves to three runs over seven innings. "Finishing these last few weeks strong has been then priority. To be able to pitch in meaningful games at this point in the season makes all the difference."

The Phillies would love to clinch the division tonight and give the 33-year- old Halladay some rest down the stretch. He is 20-10 with a 2.53 ERA over 32 starts, but his ERA over his last six starts is 4.32 and his 241 2/3 innings pitched is tied with Seattle's Felix Hernandez for the most in baseball.

Halladay is 7-1 with a 2.20 ERA lifetime versus the Nationals. He beat them on Aug. 20 with seven scoreless innings for his second win in as many starts versus the club this year, and has allowed only one run with 14 strikeouts over 14 innings during that span.

Washington counters with one of its hotter pitchers in John Lannan, who is 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA over his last 10 starts and 8-7 with a 4.58 ERA in 24 starts overall. The left-hander got a no-decision versus the Astros on Tuesday, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings of work.

Set to pitch on his 26th birthday, Lannan will be looking for his first-ever win over the Phillies. In 10 lifetime starts against the club, he is 0-7 with a 6.06 ERA, though he did hold Philadelphia to a pair of runs over five innings of a no-decision on Aug. 1.

Washington begins the final leg of its 10-game homestand this evening and has won five of its last six games following Sunday's 4-2 win over the Braves. Ian Desmond had a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift his club.

Former All-Star Ryan Zimmerman missed his fourth straight game due to a right rib strain, however, and the Washington third baseman's return date is unknown.

"As long as there isn't any change, he won't play. It has to get a lot better for him to play," manager Jim Riggleman told the Nationals' website.

While Zimmerman could miss the rest of the season, the Phillies will be looking to get a former All-Star of their own into game shape. Jimmy Rollins pinch-hit in the eighth inning of last night's game, his first appearance since Sept. 8 due to a right hamstring strain.

Rollins stayed in the game at shortstop and says he will play tonight. The 2007 NL MVP is hitting .244 in 83 games with seven homers and 37 RBI this year.

The Phillies have won four straight over Washington and 10 of the 15 meetings overall this year. However, the two clubs have split six games so far at Nationals Park.