Both of those trends could be changing, but not without some drama - and perhaps, the beginnings of a legitimate rivalry.
The teams kick off a three-game series on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, two weeks and a day after the tension-filled conclusion to their first meeting of 2012 at Nationals Park. And they do so with Washington sitting 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the National League East, and 3 1/2 ahead of last-place Philadelphia.
"When you're playing for first place in your division, it's more exciting," Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "You're not trying to pick up fourth place or anything like that. It's early in the season, but if we continue to play good ball, we're gonna be right there at the top."
Washington will send Gio Gonzalez to the mound, while the Phillies will counter with Kyle Kendrick. Philadelphia has Cole Hamels lined up to pitch on Wednesday, which adds some spice to the series, given the lefty's encounter with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the teams' last game.
When Harper came to bat in the first inning of that one, he took a fastball in the back from Hamels, who admitted afterward that the pitch was intentional. The result was a five-game suspension and a fine for Hamels, as well as some harsh words from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
"I've never seen a more classless, gutless [expletive] act in my 30 years in baseball," Rizzo told the Washington Post, comments that earned him a fine of his own.
But as the teams prepared for their next matchup, they claimed their focus is tilted more toward between-the-lines issues than anything else.
"I look forward to winning a series. That's my goal," Phillies infielder Ty Wigginton said. "You guys [the media] can make whatever you want out of the rivalry, or whatever you want of that. But as far as we're concerned, we just gotta worry about what we can control and go out and play the game hard, play it right and good things will happen in the end."
The Phillies are used to good things happening for them against the Nationals. From the start of the 2007 season until late in 2011, they went 59-26 against Washington for a .694 winning percentage.
The Nationals flipped the script by taking five straight in the series to close last season -- when the Phillies won their fifth straight division title -- then adding two wins to begin 2012. Philadelphia recovered to salvage the final game, 9-3.
"Yeah, I feel confident," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Their pitching is good. We have to play better and beat them. It helps that we played them, and I'm sure they'll be ready for us. Just like we're going to be ready for them."
With the teams squaring off at Citizens Bank Park for the first time this season, there is little doubt the Philadelphia fans will be ready.
Harper, Washington's 19-year-old phenom, is expecting it, and even relishing it -- with one caveat.
"Hopefully, I get a couple of boos," Harper said. "That would be awesome. I'm excited to get in there and play. Hopefully, they don't throw any batteries or whatnot at me."
Nationals: Offense starting to wake up
Following Sunday's 9-3 win over the Orioles, the Nationals are averaging 4.3 runs per game in May, compared with 3.4 in April. Washington has scored at least five runs in six of its last 10 games and has walloped 25 home runs in its last 16 contests.
"We just don't have everything cranking like you want," manager Davey Johnson said. "But I have seen signs of improvement. In the last two or three weeks, guys are starting to feel good up there. To win in this league, you can't have any weak spots in the lineup. Everybody has got to be protected. That's the name of the game."
Gonzalez will make his first start at Citizens Bank Park and second overall against the Phillies. He held Philly to one run on four hits in seven innings on May 5 in Washington.
The lefty is 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA and a .143 opponent batting average in his last seven starts since a rough opener. He needs five strikeouts to pass teammate Stephen Strasburg for the NL lead.
Phillies: Still waiting for Polanco
Third baseman Placido Polanco is hoping to start Monday after a mild left ankle sprain kept him out of the lineup for the fourth straight game on Sunday. He believes he suffered the injury fouling a ball off the joint.
"When I run, I feel it. It's sore," Polanco said. "But it's getting better. It's getting better, and it's a day-to-day thing."
Polanco went 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter on Saturday and is batting .279 with a .668 OPS this season.
Kendrick has split time between the bullpen and the rotation, going 0-2 with a 4.95 ERA as a starter. In his career, he is 38-29 with a 4.52 ERA in that role.
The veteran right-hander has put up one bad start and one bad relief appearance this season. His ERA is 2.08 in his other seven outings, including a start Wednesday against the Cubs, when he gave up one earned run in six innings.
The Phillies are finishing a stretch of 16 games that includes 14 at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals, who are 9-9 on the road, are embarking on a nine-game trip.
Ryan Zimmerman is 10-for-22 (.455) in his career against Kendrick, with seven doubles, a home run and a 1.448 OPS.