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Nationals begin long homestand with four vs. Phillies

WASHINGTON -- The first-place Washington Nationals begin their longest homestand of the season Thursday when the Philadelphia Phillies come to town for a four-game series.

The Nationals (85-54), who are a season-high 31 games above .500, will also host the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers while playing 10 games in the next 11 days.

There is a good chance Washington will clinch its fourth division title since 2012 during the homestand. The Nationals are 18 games ahead of the second-place Marlins after an 8-1 victory Wednesday in Miami. The magic number for the Nationals is six to clinch the National League East after first baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit his 31st homer in the victory.

"Just being on the field all year has been fun," Zimmerman, who played in only 210 games in the previous two seasons, told MASN television after the win.

A pair of right-handers are slated to start in the series opener Thursday. Washington's Tanner Roark (11-9, 4.48 ERA) opposes Aaron Nola (10-10, 3.72).

Roark is 5-5 with a 3.47 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) in his career against the Phillies (53-86), who lost 6-3 in a rain-shortened game Wednesday night against the Mets in New York.

Nola is 1/3 with a 4.85 ERA in eight career starts against the Nationals. He is 1-2 with a 6.87 ERA in his past three starts, though he struck out 20 in those games.

In his most recent outing, Nola allowed six runs and 10 hits in five innings in a loss at Miami on Saturday. He has given up five runs or more in three of his past four starts.

"I was consistent at one point during the season, and I want to get back to that," Nola said. "I definitely don't want to have starts like this."

Several Washington hitters have extensive experience against Nola.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy is hitting .389 in 18 at-bats against Nola with one homer. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is hitting .235 in 17 at-bats with a homer against the righty.

Roark pitched well but was the loser in a 1-0 decision on Friday at Milwaukee. He gave up one run in seven innings and struck out 10.

"Very rarely does it happen," Roark said of losing a 1-0 game. "It was a pitchers' duel tonight, and they came out on top. I have the utmost confidence in these guys in here to score runs. It's just one of those games. It happens."

The Washington right-hander does not have a decision in three starts this year against the Phillies even though he has a 3.06 ERA in those outings while allowing only 12 hits in 17 2/3 innings.

Roark was 3-0 with an 0.79 ERA in five starts against the Phillies in 2016, but last year he didn't have to face rookie phenom Rhys Hoskins, who has 12 homers in his first 27 major league games.

Hoskins' pace is slowing though. The 24-year-old California has just one homer in nine game after hitting 11 in his first 18 games. In the just concluded series against the Mets, he went 2-for-9 with no RBI.

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