......vs......Pedro Astacio; 3-4 6.10 ERA
.......Randy Wolf; 3-0, 5.58 ERA
MORTON GROVE, Ill. (AP) -A series against the struggling Washington Nationals has boosted the Philadelphia Phillies ' push for a playoff spot. The Phillies look to finish a three-game sweep of the Nationals, and will try to move into first place in the NL wild-card race, when the teams meet Thursday at RFK Stadium. The Phillies (67-65) have won eight of their last 11 games, including Wednesday's 5-1 win over the Nats. Philadelphia is a half-game behind wild-card leader San Diego, which beat Arizona 4-1. Weather AdvisoryTonight
''We're loose and we play hard,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. ''Of course, we've played hard all year long, at times we just didn't play consistently. Right now, we're doing pretty good.''
Ryan Howard hit a two-run double and rookie Cole Hamels threw eight strong innings for Philadelphia, which is wrapping up a 10-game road trip. The Phillies took three of four against the Cubs in Chicago, but dropped two of three in New York against the Mets.
''When you can go out there and get the pitcher something to work with, it gives him confidence to go out there and shut the other team down,'' Howard said.
Alfonso Soriano hit his 43rd homer Wednesday for the Nationals (55-77), who have been heading in the opposite direction. They have lost four straight and nine of 10, and manager Frank Robinson lashed out at his club after a number of miscues helped doom Washington on Wednesday.
''That's a losing team,'' Robinson said. ''The way we played tonight, and the way we've been playing recently, that's a losing team.''
Pedro Astacio (3-4, 6.10 ERA) will take the mound for Washington in the series finale. He lost his second straight start Saturday, allowing six runs and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings of a 10-1 defeat in Atlanta. Astacio lasted just two innings against the Phils on Aug. 20, giving up seven runs in a 12-10 loss. The start came five days after he threw a two-hitter against the Braves.
''I got ahead in the count, (but) I put a couple pitches in the middle of the plate,'' Astacio said after Saturday's outing. ''I was pitching behind. When I made a mistake, they didn't miss it. I walked a lot of guys. It was not my game.''
Astacio is 10-11 with a 5.30 ERA in 28 appearances, including 26 starts, against the Phillies. He is 0-4 with an 8.22 ERA in his last five starts against them, and has not defeated Philadelphia since May 22, 2003.
Philadelphia will counter with Randy Wolf (3-0, 5.58], who won his third straight start Friday, allowing three runs in five innings of a 4-3 victory over the Mets. The start was his sixth this season following Tommy John surgery in July 2005. Wolf has allowed 11 runs in 17 innings during his winning streak, but has received an average of 9.98 runs of support in his six starts.
''I feel like I'm on the corner,'' Wolf said. ''I haven't exactly hit the straightaway yet. The blinker is on, though. As long as I'm progressing, that feels good. I'll take today and take what I did right, and improve on it next time in Washington.''
Wolf is 9-4 with a 4.71 ERA in 17 starts against the Nationals. He gave up six runs and nine hits - including two homers - while striking out a season-high eight in the 12-10 win over them Aug. 20.
: Rain likely and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rainfall. Cloudy, with a low around 65. Breezy, with a east wind between 17 and 24 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible. PHILADELPHIA
1. J. Rollins SS
2. S. Victorino CF
3. C. Utley 2B
4. R. Howard 1B
5. D. Dellucci RF
6. P. Burrell LF
7. M. Lieberthal C
8. A. Nunez 3B
9. R. Wolf P
1. A. Soriano LF
2. F. Lopez SS
3. R. Zimmerman 3B
4. N. Johnson 1B
5. A. Kearns RF
6. M. Anderson CF
7. B. Harper C
8. B. Castro 2B
9. P. Astacio P