What to Watch for: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals

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by Mike Feigen

What to Watch for: Philadelphia Phillies (3-6) at Washington Nationals (3-6)

April 16–19, Nationals Park

The Scene

What a difference a day makes.

The Nationals found an offensive rhythm from the very beginning of their 10-5 victory at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon, tagging Boston starter Wade Miley with two runs in the first inning and six more in the third. Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore belted their first home runs of the year, Bryce Harper doubled in the Nationals’ first run and reached safely three times, while Wilson Ramos cleared the bases with a three-run double during the six-run frame. Starter Gio Gonzalez, rookie Rafael Martin, and closer Drew Storen made the lead stand up, giving the Nationals a happy flight back to D.C. for their seven-game homestand against the Phillies and Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the Phillies come in losers of four straight after winning a pair of games against the Nationals last Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia was swept at Citi Field in New York, mustering just six runs in the three-game series.

The Stakes

Both teams could use a series win to gain their footing in what has started out as a wide-open National League East race. The Braves and Mets are both 6-3 in the early going, while the Nationals, Phillies and Marlins are three games back at 3-6. That said, it may be most important to avoid dropping three of four or getting swept this weekend. Nobody can win a division in April, but they can make it a lot more difficult on themselves with a slow start.

The Starters

THURSDAY, 7:05: RHP Doug Fister (0-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.75)

FRIDAY, 7:05: RHP Max Scherzer (0-1, 0.66) vs. RHP Sean O’Sullivan (0-0, 3.00)

SATURDAY, 1:05: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 8.64) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (1-1, 0.73)

SUNDAY, 1:35: RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 5.06) vs. RHP David Buchanan (0-1, 18.00)

Perhaps the top advantage the Phillies have entering the four-game set at Nationals Park is that their ace is on the mound in game one. Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels allowed just one run on two hits against the Nats on April 11, also the last time Philadelphia tasted victory. After that, right-handers Sean O’Sullivan, Aaron Harang and David Buchanan provide their own challenges against the Nats’ right-handed-heavy lineup.

All four of the Nationals starters in the series could lay claim to the individual matchup advantage, though the Phillies are more left-handed dominant at the plate and pose threats of their own. However, Fister and Scherzer allowed just one combined run last Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, while Zimmermann and Strasburg had to face the much more dynamic Boston Red Sox attack.

The Offenses

The Phillies still have many of the dangerous names Nats fans will remember, but they’ve scored the fewest runs in baseball to this point, with 22 tallies through nine games (2.44 per game). Second baseman Chase Utley homered twice off Matt Harvey two days ago, proving he’s still got the bat speed to compete with the National League’s best arms.

After a slow start in which they scored just 17 runs in their first seven games, the Nationals have matched that total in the last 14 innings. Right fielder Jayson Werth has contributed to the resurgence, as he reached safely to help spark the Nats’ six-run innings on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Washington also took a step forward with Michael A. Taylor in the No. 9 spot in the order, as the young center fielder collected two singles, a double, a triple and four runs batted in over the past two games.

The Best of the Rest

The Nationals will feature a new-look bullpen from the one they featured in Philadelphia last weekend. Absent are Craig Stammen (forearm stiffness) and Xavier Cedeño (designated for assignment) and in their place are the right-handed rookie Martin as well as left-hander Felipe Rivero, who was called up prior to Thursday’s game and could make his Major League debut during the series. Martin, 30, was incredible in his Major League debut Wednesday, striking out the final five Red Sox he faced in succession.

1 Comment

Hooray for the hitting instructor. He apparently has calmed his charges down and got them to patiently wait for good pitches. That has been apparent in the last two games. Grind it out at bats have worked for the best teams in the league, producing hits, runs and taking the pressure off the pitchers from having to try and preserve miniscule leads. The old baseball saw that “pitching and defense” wins games is an oxymoron. Pitching, defense and hitting in balance with each other produces wins. Mike Rizzo, instead of looking for more pitching should be looking for or putting the emphasis on training .300 hitters. Then we can reasonably talk about reaching the World Series.

Harold G. Pavel

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