Philadelphia Phillies vs. Washington Nationals Series Preview
By Pete Dymeck
Apr 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Washington Nationals designated hitter Jayson Werth (28) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Phillies look to reaffirm their newfangled rivalry with the Washington Nationals this weekend. From invading the nation’s capital and renaming Nationals Park ‘Citizen’s Bank South’ to the bitterness between Philly fans and Jayson Werth, fireworks are sure to be set off this weekend.
At 13-13, the Phillies are set to embrace the most crucial series of the season to date. Tied for last place in the National League East, the Phillies take on a pitching-dominant 16-12 D.C. club capable of battering the Phillies bullpen. Many elements of both teams will come into play. With a lot at stake this early in the season, we may finally get to see just exactly how good the Phillies are.
What’s the deal with the Nationals?
Despite losing catcher Wilson Ramos, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and prodigy left fielder Bryce Harper to the disabled list, the Nats continue to lace up their Dapper Dan’s and prove there ain’t no half-steppin’. Right fielder Jayson Werth is hitting to the tune of .288. The former Phillies favorite turned villain is complimented by Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and the rejuvenated Danny Espinosa.
Opening Day second baseman Anthony Rendon moved to the hot corner following Zimmerman’s injury. With high expectations for the 23-year-old, he has not failed to disappoint. In 122 plate appearances, Rendon is hitting .316 to go along with 4 HR, 19 R and 20 RBI. His OPS is resting at an impressive .896.
However, their success is dependent upon their pitching. The starting rotation’s cumulative 3.16 ERA is good for sixth best in Major League Baseball. Their Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) ranks second at 3.11. Stephen Strasburg has the highest K/9 rate in the majors. Additionally, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are boasting 9.50 and 9.55 K/9 rates, respectively. Tanner Roark has been a pleasant surprise in the rotation as well.
Coupled with a solid bullpen that boasts the third best ERA in MLB, the members of the pitching staff, from the starters to the ‘pen, have been the primary agents of the Nationals success early on.
Phillies vs. Nationals: The Rivalry
It was only a couple of years ago when fans who lived in Pennsylvania (i.e. Phillies fans) were barred from purchasing tickets to any Phillies game in D.C. through the Nationals official team site. Needless to say, Phillies fans found a way to get tickets, shuttled down to the nation’s capital by the herd. By the time they left, Nationals Park was renamed Citizen’s Bank South.
Shortly before the 2011 MLB season, former Phillies favorite Jayson Werth left for riches in D.C. The Nationals signed Werth for $126 million. Dismayed at Werth’s decision, the former Phillies right fielder would be condemned by the Phillies faithful. Still revered today as a traitor, expect boo birds to fly whenever he steps into the batter’s box this weekend.
Finally, who could ever forget Cole Hamels beaning Bryce Harper in Harper’s first official at-bat in the majors? Simply put, no love is lost between these two organizations.
Nationals player who isn’t completely horrible
Second baseman Danny Espinosa was left to his own devices last season. Demoted to Triple-A after hitting .158 with 3 HR and 12 RBI in 167 plate appearances. While he was replaced by the emerging Anthony Rendon, a Ryan Zimmerman injury this year opened the door for Espinosa to return to the majors. Since then, all he has done is hit.
With a .288 AVG, 3 HR and 6 RBI in 88 plate appearances, it’s clear Espinosa is finding his groove again. He is on pace for career-high’s in every category except HR. He has a sneaky bat and could wreak havoc on the Phillies defense this weekend.
Nationals player who is horrible
Denard Span has been an utter disappointment since coming to D.C. A solid center fielder in the Twin Cities prior to a devastating concussion, Span has failed to the point where he could be considered a bust with the Nationals. Despite a .295 OBP, the Nats continue to let Span leadoff. He is hitting just .233 and walking a meager 8.3 percent of the time. The 30-year-old does have three stolen bases though.
If anything, it looks like the Phillies received the better center fielder from the Minnesota Twins. Despite being homerless, Ben Revere is completely outperforming Span in nearly every aspect of the game.
The Phillies will be sending out their three best arms to face the Nats this weekend: Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels. In return, the Nationals will counter with Stephen Strasburg,Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez. Considering such, whomever wins this series will do so with their arms. The pitching staff’s are too good to not be consequential in this match-up.
Hitting-wise, the Nationals apparently have the edge. As a team, the Phillies are hitting .256 compared to the Nationals sum average of .259. The Nats have ten more long ball’s than the Phillies but Ryne Sandberg’s club is taking walks at a slightly better rate. If anything, this is a series where Jimmy Rollins, Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Howard have to show up. If they don’t, the Phillies could lose two of three, if not get swept.
Hope floats but not for long. Dating back to last season, the Phillies have lost five of their last seven versus the Nationals. Hoping for the opposite is a good place to start. But then again, the Nationals bullpen is much better than the Phillies. I expect the starting pitching to hold their own on both sides of the diamond but the bullpens to be the difference.
Nationals take two of three.