Maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. should have gone all tough guy and threatened to make trades back in April. He did that a week ago when the Phillies opened a crucial, 10-game July homestand and since then, well, his team has played outstanding ball.

The Phillies won for the fifth time in seven games on the homestand, beating the Washington Nationals, 3-1, on Thursday night.

The Phils have won three straight series, two against first-place teams and one against the team immediately in front of them in the NL East standings.

For the remaining three games of the homestand they will have to avoid playing down to the competition as they host the Chicago White Sox, last place in the AL Central, beginning Friday night.

“We’ve stepped up to the competition,” said Kevin Frandsen, whose 11th pinch-hit of the season broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning and made a winner of Kyle Kendrick, who survived a poor defensive showing by his infield.

“Now we need to go out and get another one tomorrow against Chicago. They have a hell of pitching staff.”

The Phillies are back to a game under .500. They have shadow-boxed with that mark for weeks, spending just two days at .500 since early April and just one day over the mark all season -- June 6.

They need to prove to management that they can get over .500 and stay there to avoid having the team broken up by trades in the two-plus weeks that remain before the trade deadline.

“We’re just starting to click,” Frandsen said. “We’re getting some breaks. The first half, we got no breaks.