Phillies Series Preview: vs Washington Nationals

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Apr 11, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) and right fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrate on the field after defeating Atlanta Braves 6-4 at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) and right fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrate on the field after defeating Atlanta Braves 6-4 at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies will host the NL East Division rival Washington Nationals in a series this weekend.

The Nationals are considered a co-favorites by most prognosticators this season in the NL East race, along with the defending champion New York Mets. They are off hot in the 2016 season, having won seven of their first eight games to this point.

Leading the Nats attack as always is Bryce Harper, the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player. Still just 23-years old, Harper crushed the 100th home run of his career in a Thursday afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves, becoming the eighth-youngest player in MLB history to reach that mark.

Harper is the lead piece, but he is just one piece of a veteran-laden, potent, and diverse Washington offensive attack. Ryan Zimmerman has moved from his longtime home at 3rd base across the diamond to 1st base. The now 31-year old is hitting .316 with a .391 on-base percentage in the early going. As long as he is healthy, Zimmerman is a threat.

A familiar face to Phillies fans remains former 2008 World Series hero Jayson Werth. Nearly 37 years of age, Werth is slowing down like many of those former champions, but as with Zimmerman he remains a threat when healthy.

The biggest producer for the Nationals to this point in the season has been newcomer 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy, one of the heroes of the Mets run to the NL Pennant a year ago. Murphy signed with Washington as a free agent back in January, and won the 2nd base job in spring training. He is hitting for a .500/.607/.909 slash line with a team-high 11 hits and seven RBI.

One of the key players to any Washington hopes of a big season is 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon. One of the best natural hitters in the game, Rendon suffered an injury plagued season a year ago that was a major cause of the team failing to reach the postseason. The 26-year old has produced nothing of note so far in the 2016 season.

If the Nats take any close, late leads in the series, on to try to shut things down will be former Phillies fan favorite (sic) Jonathan Papelbon. There is certainly no recent Phillies player more vilified by the fan base, especially amazing since the 35-year old righty set a franchise career Saves record during his four seasons in red pinstripes.

More from That Balls Outta Here

28-year old righty setup man Blake Treinen has a live arm, and may be Papelbon’s heir apparent as the Nats’ closer. Washington has a mostly veteran bunch coming out of their bullpen, with Treinen and 24-year old lefty Felipe Rivero the only members who are not already into their 30’s.

The Phillies have bounced back from losing their first four games to win five of the last six, getting back to the .500 mark at 5-5, which leaves them in 2nd place in the NL East. After a series win over the Mets last weekend, following up with one this weekend could be a real boost for the young Fightins’ belief that they can indeed compete this year.


PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY: Joe Ross (1-0, 1.29 ERA) vs Jeremy Hellickson (1-0, 1.54 ERA): Ross is a righty who will turn 23 years old a month from now. He came to the Nats in a December 2014 three-team trade between Washington, the Tampa Bay Rays, and his former San Diego Padres organization. This was the deal that sent Wil Myer to the Padres, Steven Souza to the Rays, and shortstop prospect Trea Turner as a PTBNL to the Nationals. Ross made a successful big league debut a year ago with 16 appearances, 13 of those starts. He went 5-5 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, and a 69/21 K:BB ratio. He went seven innings at home against the Miami Marlins in his first start of the season, allowing just one earned run on five hits with five strikeouts.

SATURDAY: Max Scherzer (1-0, 4.15 ERA) vs Aaron Nola (0-1, 3.21 ERA): the 31-year old former Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers star, and the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner with Detroit, signed with the Nats as a free agent prior to last season. His first year in DC resulted in a 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 0.918 WHIP campaign with a phenomenal 276/34 K:BB ratio. He allowed just 176 hits over 228.2 innings. Not only one of the most talented pitchers in the game, Scherzer has also proven one of the most durable. He has seven consecutive seasons with 30 or more starts, and has gone over the 170 innings mark in each of those, with three straight now of at least 214 innings.

SUNDAY: Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Charlie Morton (1-1, 5.23 ERA): Gonzalez was actually once Phillies property, albeit briefly. He made 27 starts at AA Reading in the 2006 season at age 20 before being dealt away along with Gavin Floyd to the Chicago White Sox in an ill-fated trade for Freddy Garcia. It was a return to the Windy City for Gonzalez, as the Phils had obtained him from Chicago a year earlier in the Jim ThomeAaron Rowand deal. He broke into the big leagues with the Oakland A’s in 2006 after yet another trade, then came to Washington in still another swap. Following his first season in DC, Gonzalez finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting after winning 21 games with a 2.89 ERA and career-high 207 strikeouts. The lefty Gonzalez has become extremely consistent, and occasionally excellent. He has a streak of six seasons having made at least 27 starts.


KEYS TO PHILLIES VICTORY

Apr 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Nola (27) throws a pitch during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Apr 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Nola (27) throws a pitch during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

MATCH THE NATS ROTATION, PITCH-FOR-PITCH: Washington will throw three outstanding starting pitchers at the Phils this weekend. The Phillies rotation has surprisingly been the best in baseball over the season’s first week and a half. Those starters have to keep it up, matching whatever the Nats hurlers throw at them. I’m not sure that we’re at the point yet where we should continue such excellence from the Phillies arms, but success in a weekend like this one against a tough, versatile, veteran offense would go a long way to showing that this year will indeed be a far different story than a year ago.

HIT THE NATS ROTATION, GAME-BY-GAME: the Phillies offense has scored just 29 runs over the first 10 games of the 2016 season, an average of just under three runs per game. If they could average another run or so per game, they would be at least a .500 team over the course of a full season. But without consistent power, that may be difficult to attain. Ross and Scherzer are righties, and so Ryan Howard must continue to provide some thunder. He and Maikel Franco have combined for five of the club’s eight longballs thus far. Someone else needs to start producing, but that someone is not obvious when glancing around at the current options.

PITCH AROUND HARPER: there is no doubt that even with a number of solid veteran options in the lineup and a potential alternate stud in Rendon, the straw that stirs the DC drink is the defending NL MVP. Harper has already drawn seven walks this season. He needs to draw a few more this weekend in appropriate situations. The Braves’ excellent Julio Teheran found out what can happen today. He had a nice start going, until he made one ill-advised pitch that Harper blasted for a grand slam, the 100th home run of the lefty hitter’s brilliant career. Phillies pitchers cannot put themselves in a position where they allow Harper the chance to beat them.


BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Friday, April 15thvs. Washington Nationals7:05 PMLOCAL TV – CSNFM RADIO 94 WIP
Saturday, April 16thvs. Washington Nationals7:05 PMLOCAL TV – TCNFM RADIO 94 WIP
Sunday, April 17thvs. Washington Nationals1:35 PMLOCAL TV – CSNFM RADIO 94 WIP

Phillies
Apr 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; the weather forecast looks absolutely perfect for this weekend series at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE for Citizens Bank Park in South Philly

Friday

Sunny, with a high near 63. Northeast wind around 7 mph.

Friday Night

Clear, with a low around 43. Light and variable wind.

Saturday

Sunny, with a high near 65. Northeast wind 9 to 11 mph.

Saturday Night

Mostly clear, with a low around 42. Northeast wind around 7 mph.

Sunday

Sunny, with a high near 69.


INJURIES / DISABLED LIST

Washington Nationals

DatePlayerStatus
4/5Ben Revere, LFStrained right oblique (on 15-day DL)
4/1Aaron Barrett, PRecovery from right elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)

Philadelphia Phillies

DatePlayerStatus
4/2Aaron Altherr, LFTorn tendon in left wrist (on 60-day DL)
4/2Matt Harrison, PLower back inflammation (on 60-day DL)
4/2Mario Hollands, PRecovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)
3/25Cody Asche, LFStrained right oblique (on 15-day DL)
3/25Michael Mariot, PRight ankle sprain (on 15-day DL)

Next: Phillies Back at .500 Thanks to Another Pitching Gem

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