The Nationals, who have lost seven of 10 games and are 62-63 despite several hot bats, made things easier on the Phillies this week.
Prior to Tuesday's series opener in D.C., the Nats agreed to trade Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and Matt Adams to the Cardinals.
Both players had been claimed on waivers over the weekend. Bryce Harper was reportedly claimed, too, but the Nationals were unable to work out a trade before waivers expired. This means that Harper will be a National for the rest of the season before becoming a free agent.
Murphy is a perennial Phillie-killer so the Phillies have to be loving this. Yes, they'll face the Cubs just next week, but one series is better than three. The Phillies have nine games left with the Nationals beginning tonight.
Murphy had microfracture surgery last winter but is back to the Daniel Murphy we know. Over his last 34 games, he's hit .364 with a .960 OPS. Good riddance.
Why didn't the Phillies claim Murphy?
As a refresher, in August, the waiver order is an inverse of the standings. When Murphy was placed on waivers, the Phillies had the NL's third-best record and were 13th in the order. The Cubs had the NL's best record and were 15th.
Thus, the Phillies had a chance to claim Murphy but did not. You'd have to think they would have if they didn't just acquire Justin Bour, another left-handed hitter with defensive limitations.
Murphy is a great hitter but he's always been a below-average defensive player. He can only play first and second base at this point. The Phillies are crowded at both spots. Murphy would be an offensive upgrade over Cesar Hernandez, but Gabe Kapler loves him some Cesar Hernandez atop the lineup.
What about Harper?
The Dodgers were reportedly the team to claim Harper. They were several spots ahead of the Phillies in the waiver order. The Phillies almost certainly would have claimed Harper if he made it to them because he's an upgrade over basically every outfielder in baseball.
It doesn't change anything heading into the offseason. The Phillies will make aggressive runs at both Harper and Manny Machado. The Dodgers, though, will be a top competitor for both star free agents.
L.A. seems much more likely to make a run at Harper because he fills more of a need, fits in more with their offensive philosophy, and the Dodgers have Corey Seager returning next season to play shortstop.
What changes this week?
Anytime you can face Wilmer Difo instead of Murphy, you're happy. The Phillies also won't have to deal with Adams' big left-handed bat off the bench, though Ryan Zimmerman is still a hot and dangerous first baseman.
Despite the Nationals' recent losing ways and Tuesday's trades, this will still be a challenging series.
Tanner Roark, who pitches the series opener, is 5-0 with a 1.77 ERA and .246 opponents' OBP in his last five starts. Then the Phils have to deal with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer.
The key in this series getting to Washington's terrible, injury-riddled bullpen.