The Phillies began their five-game series against the Mets with an opener in which they put position players on the mound, and they ended it with Carlos Santana playing third base. Safe to say things did not go the Phillies' way, as they lost three of five to the Mets. But as bad as things went, the Phillies are still just a half-game out of first place. It seems as if every time the Phillies stumble, the Braves and Nationals follow suit. Does anyone want to win the division?

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The Phillies’ Scott Kingery signs his autograph as teammate Odubel Herrera waves after the Phillies lost to the Mets in the Little League Classic.
YONG KIM/Staff Photographer
The Phillies’ Scott Kingery signs his autograph as teammate Odubel Herrera waves after the Phillies lost to the Mets in the Little League Classic.

Phillies to face returning Stephen Strasburg in D.C.

A big series against the Nationals became a bit more challenging Sunday when the Nationals announced that Stephen Strasburg will return from the disabled list to start Wednesday night. The Phillies enter the series in Washington with a 6 1/2-game advantage over the Nats and could all but put them out to pasture with a series win.

The Nationals will be playing for their season, and they'll throw Tanner Roark on Tuesday, Strasburg on Wednesday, and Max Scherzer on Thursday against Aaron Nola. The Nationals have a losing record, 62-63, but this series will be far from easy.

The Nationals have lost nine of their last 12 games yet have lost just one game in the standings. The Nationals have nine lives.

Strasburg last started July 20 when he returned from the disabled list to pitch five innings before being placed back on the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck. He has a 3.90 ERA this season in 14 starts. Since returning to the DL, Strasburg has thrown bullpen sessions and pitched a simulated game but did not make a rehab start. Wednesday night will be his first game action.

It's almost September, and the Nationals are desperate. There's no time for rehab starts.

The rundown

Sunday began as a memorable day for the Phillies at the Little League Classic, but it ended with a rough loss against the Mets. Nick Pivetta struggled and the Phillies were dominated by Jason Vargas, who entered with an 8.10 ERA. "There's still quite a bit of baseball left," Pivetta said. "Not a ton, but still a good enough amount where nights like these, you brush them off your shoulder."

Odubel Herrera was bumped down to the eighth spot in the order as Gabe Kapler tried to see if Herrera could have the same success batting eighth that Maikel Franco did. The eighth spot, Kapler said, forces hitters to be a bit more patient as they have the pitcher batting behind them. Herrera went 1 for 4 as he continues to struggle.

Did you see Rhys Hoskins talk dingers with Big Al? Or Jake Arrieta exchanging pitching grips with a Little Leaguer? Here's a roundup of all the cool moments from the Phillies' time in Williamsport.

Important dates

Today: The Phils are off.
Tomorrow: Phillies open three-game series in D.C., 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open three-game series in Toronto, 7:07 p.m.

The Phillies’ Maikel Franco strikes out swinging.
YONG KIM/Staff Photographer
The Phillies’ Maikel Franco strikes out swinging.

Stat of the day

The series against the Mets was the third one since the all-star break that the Phillies have lost against a team with a losing record. The Phillies are 38-28 against teams that have losing records and 30-28 against teams that have winning records. It's hard to pick up ground when you're not cleaning up against losing teams.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: I am sick and tired of this Odubel's antics. Quinn needs to take over every day centerfield job. Agree or not? – email question from Rob D.

Answer: I agree that Quinn needs to start more. But it's not Herrera's antics that should push him out of the lineup — it's that he's not producing. He's batting just .233 with a .682 OPS in 274 plate appearances since June 1. He batted eighth Sunday night. He is not playing like someone who must be in your lineup. Bat Quinn eighth and see what happens. It can't be much worse.