Nationals-Phillies Preview

Even though the Washington Nationals are a long shot to reach the postseason, Bryce Harper has long been considered the favorite to win his first NL MVP Award.

The slugging outfielder seems to be putting the finish touches on his campaign in Philadelphia.

After hitting three home runs in the first two games of the series, Harper will try to lead the Nationals to their fourth straight win in Wednesday night's finale against the major league-worst Phillies.

Harper has reached career highs in virtually every offensive category in his breakout fourth season with Washington. He tops the NL in batting (.338) and took over the lead in home runs (39) by going 3 for 3 with two longballs in Tuesday's 4-0 win at Citizens Bank Park.

The three-time All-Star also went 2 for 5 with a homer in Monday's series-opening 8-7 win. He's hitting .410 with eight home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.613 OPS over his last 11 games.

''The progressions he's made are really nice to see,'' manager Matt Williams said. ''He's taking the ball the other way and he has power to all fields.''

Harper now hopes to lead the Nationals (74-70) to their 11th win in 14 meetings with Philadelphia and first road sweep in the series since August 2011. The 22-year-old's seven home runs against the Phillies are his most versus any club he's faced this season.

He's been a bright spot in a disappointing season for Washington, which is 8 1/2 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East and nine back of the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card.

Harper will get his first look at Alec Asher (0-3, 10.67 ERA), who has had trouble keeping the ball in the park. He's given up five home runs while losing each of his first three career starts.

The rookie right-hander, who the Phillies (56-90) announced Tuesday would replace left-hander Adam Morgan, might have trouble getting his first big league victory against a Washington lineup that has hit seven homers and totaled 17 runs over its last three games.

"We knew he was going to take his lumps," interim manager Mackanin told MLB's official website.

The Phillies hope to avoid their third straight defeat and seventh in 10 games on the homestand. After totaling 21 runs in their previous three, they managed only a Cody Asche single and struck out 14 times Tuesday against Stephen Strasburg and Blake Treinen on Tuesday.

Since posting a 10.22 ERA while losing three consecutive starts last month, Washington's Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.88) has gotten back on track by going 1-0 with a 2.08 mark in his last three. He gave up one run over 5 1-3 innings Friday when he did not factor in a 2-1 loss at Miami.

The left-hander is 4-3 with a 2.67 ERA in nine career starts at Citizens Bank Park. He's facing the Phillies for the third time this season, going 1-1 with a 2.84 mark in the first two matchups.

Jeff Francoeur (8 for 20) and Freddy Galvis (7 for 20) both have a home run off Gonzalez, while Darin Ruf (7 for 20) has a pair.

Ryan Howard is expected to miss several games because of a knee bruise, while Washington's Ryan Zimmerman could be sidelined for his eighth straight due to a strained oblique.

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