Five years ago, it would be hard to imagine that the Philadelphia Phillies could call the Washington Nationals their top rival. Enter the 2013 season, where it has become clear that the rivalry is very real and very evident. And yes, it’s clear that the Nationals are now the Phillies’ top rival. Maybe it was when Jayson Werth left the Phillies and signed in Washington. Maybe it escalated when the Nationals tried to stop Phillies fans from buying tickets to games in D.C. Maybe it was when Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper with a pitch last April.
While those have all been pieces of the rivalry, the tipping point obviously came when the Nationals clinched the National League East against the Phillies last September. It was enough to end the Phillies’ run of five straight divisional titles and gave the Nationals some reason to believe that the division would not turn into what it was in the 90s and early 2000s, when the Atlanta Braves took 14 straight N.L. East crowns.
After another dust-up between the two teams in Grapefruit League action on Wednesday, the talks of the rivalry came up again. Chase Utley, hit by a pitch earlier in the game by Stephen Strasburg, saw his starting pitcher Roy Halladay throw behind National Tyler Moore. While no dugouts emptied or benches cleared, it was just another bit of the battle between these two teams that has developed.
The question is whether or not the rivalry can be sustained. If the Phillies struggle again this season, see their core players depart and find themselves floundering for the next few seasons, this could all be for naught. It’s always good to have an opponent you don’t like, at least from a fan’s point of view. Some players will probably say they don’t even care and that they approach the game the same way they would any other game, but a rivalry can ignite the fans, sell a few more tickets and pack a stadium.
The Phillies have had their battles with the Braves, the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins over the years. (The best of the best in the Marlin rivalry was back when they were the Florida Marlins, but I digress.) Now the Phillies have a new top rival in the Nats. These two teams don’t seem to like each other and even though they might not admit it, it will show on the field in 2013.