Philadelphia outfielder Jayson Werth figures if the Phillies can keep winning series, quietly building momentum in the NL East, they'll eventually surpass the New York Mets.
They already overtook Atlanta for second in the division - again.
Cole Hamels pitched 6 2-3 shutout innings for his 14th win, tying for the NL lead, and the Phillies beat the last-place Washington Nationals 6-2 on Thursday night to close within three games of the division-leading Mets.
New York blew a five-run lead in a 10-7 loss to Pittsburgh, while Atlanta lost 9-3 to the San Francisco Giants to remain 3 1/2 games back.
The Phillies, who have won three straight series, have swapped places with the Braves seven times in the last 10 days.
``Our objective the rest of the way is to win every series,'' Werth said. ``We didn't play our best the last three games as far as offense goes. The pitching was there for all three games.''
Hamels (14-5) allowed four hits, struck out six, walked two and pitched into the seventh inning for his sixth straight start. He has won five of his last six decisions.
``He couldn't throw his fastball for a strike,'' said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went 0-for-4. ``But he's a good pitcher, and good pitchers make good pitches when they need them.''
Brett Myers pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save.
Nationals rookie Joel Hanrahan (2-1), making his fourth career start, struck out a career-high eight batters and allowed only four hits in five innings in taking the loss.
In other NL games, it was St. Louis 8, Milwaukee 0; the Chicago Cubs 12, Cincinnati 4; Arizona 5, Florida 4; the Los Angeles Dodgers 6, Houston 2; and San Diego 11, Colorado 9.
Carlos Ruiz hit a two-run homer in the second, and Howard and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs had RBIs for the Phillies, who took two of three from the Nationals despite scoring nine runs and striking out 36 times in the series.
``That is pretty good, isn't it?'' manager Charlie Manuel said with sarcasm.
The Phillies nearly blew a 4-0 lead in the eighth. Tom Gordon gave up home runs to Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young and walked Austin Kearns before being replaced by J.C. Romero, who allowed a single by Ryan Church.
The inning ended on a double play when right fielder Chris Roberson caught a liner and threw to second to double off Kearns, whose right hamstring had cramped just as he tried to reverse direction to get back to the base.
``I went to go back,'' Kearns said, ``and when I planted, my foot kind of gave out.''
Pirates 10, Mets 7
At Pittsburgh, Jason Bay had three run-scoring singles and Adam LaRoche hit a two-run homer to make a winner of Damaso Marte (1-0), who worked a scoreless eighth.
Aaron Heilman (7-5), the Mets' fourth pitcher, lost it by allowing three runs - none earned - and five hits over two innings. Matt Capps got the save, his 11th in 13 opportunities.
Giants 9, Braves 3
At Atlanta, the Giants homered in each of the first four innings off Chuck James (9-9) and scored in every inning until the eighth to salvage the finale of a three-game series.
Bengie Molina hit a three-run homer in the first, Daniel Ortmeier homered in the second, Randy Winn went deep in the third and light-hitting Kevin Frandsen homered in the fourth.
Tim Lincecum (7-3) went five innings to earn the win.
Cardinals 8, Brewers 0
At Milwaukee, Adam Wainwright (11-9) gave up two hits in seven scoreless innings and Yadier Molina put on a rare power display with two homers as St. Louis completed a three-game sweep.
The third-place Cardinals closed to within 2 1/2 games of the NL Central division lead for the first time since April 20, beating the Brewers' Dave Bush (9-9).
Cubs 12, Reds 4
At Chicago, Mark DeRosa went 5-for-5 with four RBIs and Chicago scored seven times in the seventh to win for just the fifth time in the last 15 games.
Jason Marquis (10-7) allowed seven hits and four runs over six innings to beat Bobby Livingston (3-3) and allow Chicago to slavage one win in the three-game series.
Diamondbacks 5, Marlins 4
At Miami, Livan Hernandez (9-7) shook off a rough start to pitch seven innings, and the Diamondbacks won for the 19th time in 24 games.
Marlins rookie Daniel Barone (0-1) made his second major league start and needed 89 pitches to get through four innings. He allowed five runs, four earned.
Dodgers 6, Astros 2
At Los Angeles, Derek Lowe (9-11) pitched seven shutout innings to earn his first victory in almost two months for the Dodgers.
Wandy Rodriguez (7-11) gave up five hits and four runs in five innings. He is 6-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 12 starts at home and 1-9 with a 7.80 ERA in 12 starts on the road.
Takashi Saito got two outs in the ninth for his 31st save in 34 chances.
Padres 11, Rockies 9
At San Diego, Mike Cameron's three-run homer and Pete Laforest's two-run shot highlighted a nine-run rally with two outs in the fifth inning that carried the Padres.
Clay Hensley (2-3) left trailing by four runs after five innings but got the win thanks to the big rally. Trevor Hoffman pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 33 chances.
Jeremy Affeldt (4-3) was responsible for five runs and four hits without recording an out.
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