Phillies Series Preview: Washington Nationals
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies host the Washington Nationals in a three-game series beginning on Memorial Day at Citizens Bank Park.
While the Fightin’ Phils could find a way to turn things around here on a 10-game homestand beginning on Monday night against the division-rival Washington Nationals, the fact is that the NL East standings are beginning to shape up as many anticipated when the 2016 season began.
After beginning the year with a surprising 22-15 start that left the Phils tied atop the division standings with the Nats back on May 14th, the club has begun to seriously falter.
The Phillies have now lost three straight for the first time since the season’s opening week. They have also lost three consecutive series, and are just 4-9 since reaching the top of the standings two weeks ago.
However, the Nationals do not come to Citizens Bank Park as a hot ball club. They are just 3-5 over their last eight games, which has kept the Phillies just 3.5 games back in the division race.
The Nats problems of late are very similar to those experienced by the Phillies all year long – an inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Washington has scored two or fewer runs in five of their last eight outings.
Washington may only be 18th in MLB in runs scored, but they are 8th in home runs. That kind of power-first attack should play well in the South Philly launching pad of a home ballpark.
The Washington offensive attack continues to be led by right fielder Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP. Still just age 23, Harper leads the club with 13 home runs, 34 RBI, and seven stolen bases.
However, Harper is mired in a lengthy slump. He is hitting just .187 with 10 RBI since April 28th, a span of 31 games that began when teams started taking the bat out of his hands.
He has walked 35 times in that same span, nine of those intentional. Clearly, Harper is trying to do too much when he does get an opportunity.
However, as Harper has cooled off, 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon has heated up. Rendon was hitting just .211 on May 9th. But over his last 18 games the talented 25-year old has hit for a .381/.480/.603 slash line with 10 RBI and 11 runs scored.
Continuing as the most consistent offensive producer this season is 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy, who is hitting for a .387/.420/.597 slash line on the season with seven homers, 30 RBI, and 27 runs scored.
Veterans Ryan Zimmerman (8 homers) and Jayson Werth (7) remain legitimate power sources, even though their overall offensive games have each become less consistent with age.
Former Phils’ center fielder Ben Revere has returned to the Nationals’ lineup after spending most of the first month of the season on the Disabled List.
Revere struggled much of the first few weeks after returning. But over his last 10 games, the speedy Revere is hitting .306 and has stolen a pair of bases.
When veteran manager Dusty Baker needs to close out a game he still turns to Jonathan Papelbon, perhaps the player that Phillies fans currently most love to hate in the game.
Paps has a 2.75 ERA thus far, allowing 19 hits in 19.2 innings with a 14/5 K:BB ratio. He clearly is not the dominating closer who set franchise Saves records with both the Boston Red Sox and the Phillies over the last decade.
Right-handers Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, and Yusmeiro Petit and left-handers Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez make for a nice bullpen group. All are having solid seasons, and should make things tough on a feeble Phillies lineup in the late innings.
This may be a chance for the Phillies to right the ship after being swept out of Chicago, getting right back into the NL East race. It would also mark a further slide back, possibly to a losing record. It’s gut-check time for this bunch of over-achievers: which direction do they want to take this season?
MONDAY: Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97 vs Tanner Roark 3-4, 2.71 ERA): Roark is a 29-year old righty getting his first regular rotation shot. He is making the most of the opportunity, with six of his last seven outings of the Quality Start variety. He has allowed just 53 hits over 63 innings with a 58/24 K:BB ratio, and allowed just a single earned run in his last two outings against two division rivals, the Mets and Marlins. Hellickson has been good of late, with three consecutive Quality Starts. He’ll need to continue that streak for the Phils to have a shot here.
TUESDAY: Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86 ERA) vs Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52 ERA): Ross is a talented 23-year old righty in his first full big league season after coming to DC in a big December 2014 three-team trade with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays. Ross pitched through a rough three-game stretch recently, emerging in his last start to shut down the tough Saint Louis Cardinals. He beat the Phils back on April 15th, allowing just three hits over 7.2 innings. Nola is the Phils current best starter. He has tossed seven straight Quality Starts, and as with Hellickson, must continue that excellence for the team to win.
WEDNESDAY: Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67 ERA) vs Max Scherzer (5-4, 4.05 ERA): Scherzer is a 31- year old right-hander who won the 2-13 AL Cy Young Award with the Detroit Tigers. He signed with the Nats as a free agent in January of 2015, and finished 5th in last year’s NL Cy race. Earlier this season, Scherzer struck out 20 against those Tigers. On April 16th he struck out seven Phillies and allowed just one run and five hits over seven innings to beat them. With the struggling Morgan on the hill, this matchup overwhelmingly favors the visitors. Morgan is now pitching for his spot in the rotation, having been bombed in two of his last three outings. He has ridden a roller coaster of good outings followed by bad, and this would be his good turn. We shall see.
KEYS TO PHILLIES VICTORY
1 – ANYBODY HITS: WHOO HOO!!!: remember when a fan used to regular yell out “Everybody hits – whoo hoooo!” so loud at Phillies games in the last decade that you could clearly hear him on the team’s TV broadcasts? It became sort of rallying cry for that great offensive era. This is clearly NOT a great offensive era, and in fact this is one of the worst Phillies attacks in decades. Something has to change. The move to get more playing time at 1B for Tommy Joseph over Ryan Howard is one step in the right direction. The club needs he and lineup stalwarts Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco to begin producing on a more consistent basis, especially in this pivotal series.
2 – PITCHING ADVANTAGE: hard to say that the Phillies actually have an advantage in this series. However, a reasonable assessment of the matchups shows that the opener is a toss-up, the 2nd game favors the Fightins, and the 3rd favors the Nats. However, Hellickson has pitched really well of late. If that continues, the team has a reasonable chance in that opening game. In the finale, what appears to be a mismatch could be closer than realized – but only if Morgan actually does continue his pattern of following a poor outing with a strong one. This would be that good game, should the pattern hold. At the end of games, would you rather have Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez right now, or Papelbon? Give me the Phillies’ arms.
|Monday, May 30th||vs. Washington Nationals||7:05 PM EST||CSN TV||94 WIP FM radio|
|Tuesday, May 31st||vs. Washington Nationals||7:05 PM EST||CSN TV||94 WIP FM radio|
|End month of May|
|Wednesday, June 1st||vs. Washington Nationals||7:05 PM EST||CSN TV||94 WIP FM radio|
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE forecast for Citizens Bank Park
A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Patchy fog after 2am. Otherwise, mostly cloudy, with a low around 67. Southwest wind 3 to 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Patchy fog before 8am. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 86. Light north wind.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 65. Light and variable wind.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 83. East wind around 7 mph.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 62.
Related Story: WASHINGTON TIMES: Nationals Hoping Offense is Catching Fire
INJURIES / DISABLED LISTS
|4/27||Matt Belisle, P||Strained right calf (on 15-day DL)|
|4/1||Aaron Barrett, P||Recovery from right elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)|
|4/29||Dalier Hinojosa, P||Right hand contusion (on 15-day DL)|
|4/24||Charlie Morton, P||Torn left hamstring – out for season (on 15-day DL)|
|4/2||Aaron Altherr, LF||Torn tendon in left wrist (on 60-day DL)|
|4/2||Matt Harrison, P||Lower back inflammation (on 60-day DL)|
|4/2||Mario Hollands, P||Recovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)|
|3/25||Cody Asche, LF||Strained right oblique (on 15-day DL)|