Denard Span. Image Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Totally biased Philadelphia Phillies vs. Washington Nationals series preview

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If you’re counting at home, the Phillies have now won two straight series against opponents with winning records.

But after taking care of the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, they’ll have an even tougher task ahead of them: The blisteringly hot Washington Nationals will come to town for a three-game series.

The last time they met

Jul 31, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) leaves the game after suffering an apparent arm injury during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The four-game series started off well enough, as the Phillies took the first two games. Unfortunately, even in victory, there was defeat: Cliff Lee had to leave the opening game with an elbow injury that ended his season.

The final two games went poorly for the Phillies. They scored a grand total of zero runs, and there was a memorable meltdown by A.J. Burnett who managed to get himself ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes.

What’s new with the Nationals?

All the Nationals have done is win 12 of their last 13 games, many of them in dramatic, walk-off fashion. As a result, they have opened up a sizable eight-run lead in the National League East.

Nationals player who isn’t entirely horrible

The last time I saw the Nationals play, I remarked that Denard Span was “nothing special.” Since then, he’s gone out of his way to prove me wrong. (I really hate it when players do well just to spite me.)

Over the last month, Span has batted .362. Perhaps more impressively, even though he’s not a power hitter, he has the second best slugging percentage on the team during that span.

Nationals player who is horrible

Remember when Nate Schierholtz was a Phillie? They acquired him as part of the Hunter Pence trade, but he didn’t make much of an impression during the two months he was on the team.

Nate Schierholtz. Image Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his unspectacular play, it was strange that the team chose to simply non-tender him. It looked stranger when he signed with the Cubs and produced a decent 2013 campaign. He certainly wasn’t a star, and he cooled off considerably in the second half, but that still made him a lot more valuable than say, Delmon Young.

Schierholtz’s 2014 season is making it a bit more clear why they didn’t want him. He batted .192, prompting the Cubs to release him. The Nationals decided that since similarly awful outfielder Nate McLouth was hurt, that Schierholtz would be a good replacement.

Starting pitcher report

Tanner Roark

In his first full season as a starter, Tanner Roark has been a revelation. At 12-7 with a 2.80 ERA, he’s helped make the Nationals’ rotation one of the best in the league.

He’s been a mixed bag against the Phillies. In his first start, he surrendered seven runs. But he rebounded and only allowed one run over seven innings his next time out.

Gio Gonzalez

Gio Gonzalez. Image Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalez hasn’t been awful this season, but he hasn’t quite been at the level he was at two years ago when he finished third in Cy Young Award voting.

The last time he faced the Phillies, he had a poor showing, allowing five runs in 3.2 innings. However, he did pitch seven shutout innings in his most recent start.

Doug Fister

Acquired from the Tigers in an offseason trade, Fister has proven to be a worthwhile acquisition. His 2.38 ERA is the best of all the Nats’ starters.

He took the loss in his last start against the Phillies, despite giving up just two runs in seven innings. (Believe it or not, he was out-dueled by the now-departed Roberto Hernandez)

Reason for optimism

Does A.J. Burnett even care anymore? Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It stands to reason that A.J. Burnett (Monday’s starter) is due to turn in a good start one of these days, right?

Reason for pessimism

It might be just as likely that Burnett has already mentally retired and is just waiting for the season to end.

Prediction

The Phillies will actually have the superior starting pitcher in one of these games. (Cole Hamels will face Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday) I’ll be optimistic and say that is enough for the Phillies to win one. Besides, the Nationals have to cool down at some point, right?

 

 

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