For years, the pressure and expectations in the National League East rested on the shoulders of the Phillies. But that is not the case in 2013.
While few expected much before the season from the aging Phillies, the Nationals were a popular pick not only to make a run at their second consecutive division crown, but a World Series title, as well. But it has not gone to plan just yet for the Nationals, who enter the weekend a game above .500 at 24-23 after snapping a four-game losing streak Wednesday in San Francisco.
"The good news is that everyone is now learning how to be considered a very good ballclub and knowing that we know how to win ballgames," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "We hate to lose. Losing eats at us, and this is part of it. It's not like we're reinventing the wheel here, this is what you go through. This is how you mature."
The Nationals ended the Phillies' reign of five consecutive division titles a year ago, and Friday's game will be the first meeting between the two sides this season. Philadelphia enters the series just a game behind Washington, while both clubs are chasing Atlanta in the NL East.
Jordan Zimmermann will be on the mound for the Nationals, who have scored just nine runs in their past five games. Zimmermann has been one of the best pitchers in the NL this season and is 7-2 with 45 strikeouts, nine walks and a 1.62 ERA in nine outings.
The Phillies, meanwhile, will give the ball to right-hander Kyle Kendrick in the series opener as they look to return to the .500 mark for the first time since April 14.
Kendrick surrendered more than two earned runs in a start for just the second time this season his last time out, allowing four earned runs in six innings against the Reds. It was Kendrick's second loss of the season, but his ERA remained under three (2.82), and he has recorded 41 strikeouts to 14 walks in 60 2/3 innings.
The 28-year-old has a 4-5 record and 4.68 ERA in his career against the Nationals.
Nationals: Harper delivers day after blaming himself for loss
• Bryce Harper felt the Nationals' loss on Tuesday night was his fault after he misplayed a ninth-inning fly ball that allowed the Giants to tie the game and eventually win.
He channeled that frustration into helping the Nationals snap their four-game losing streak Wednesday.
Harper put the Nationals on the board against the Giants with a solo homer in the sixth inning, then scored the game-winning run in the 10th after reaching on a one-out double. He also made a sliding catch on Hunter Pence in the eighth, preventing the Giants from scoring a go-ahead run.
Phillies: Utley headed to DL with oblique strain
• The Phillies will be without Chase Utley at least until June 5, as the second baseman was diagnosed with what the club is calling a "very mild" Grade 1 right oblique strain on Thursday.
Utley felt discomfort in his right side on Tuesday while taking swings during batting practice and was a late scratch from the Phillies' lineup that night. He also sat out Wednesday when the team finished a three-game set in Miami and received an MRI exam on Thursday.
The five-time All-Star, who missed nearly half of the 2012 campaign with knee issues, is hitting .272 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs this season. Utility man Freddy Galvis -- batting .275 with a .333 on-base percentage in 27 games this season -- filled in at second base in the final two games at Miami and is expected to be the Phillies' regular second baseman with Utley on the DL.
• Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth will not make any appearances against his former club this weekend. The former Phillie is nursing a strained hamstring and has not played since May 2. Werth has a .260 batting average with four homers and 10 RBIs this season.
"He needs to be on the rest period," Johnson said. "You would think he knows better than that. He's been pushing it to get back and he needs to rest it."
• Delmon Young homered for the second straight game Wednesday. Young has three homers in 19 games in a Phillies uniform.
• Brad Lidge will retire as a Phillie on Aug. 1, and Curt Schilling will join the team's Wall of Fame on Aug. 2, the Phillies announced Wednesday.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.