The Phillies are set to face the Washington Nationals for the first time this season tomorrow as they travel to the Beltway for a three-game set. Monday was the first off-day for the Phillies since April 22nd. Over the 17-day stretch of games, the Phillies went 9-8 including a four-game sweep over the Brewers.
The Nationals, meanwhile, just dropped two-of-three in the Bronx. Prior to that series, the Nationals were swept by the Braves. The Nationals’ only win over that stretch was an 11-4 victory over the Yankees Friday night, highlighted by a six-run 8th inning.
A Look at the Division
The deepest division in baseball appears to be in deep trouble so far this season. Only one team has a positive run differential (the Marlins of all teams) while everyone else is allowing more runs than they are scoring. The Phillies, despite recent struggles, are first in the division having gone 6-4 in the past ten games. Meanwhile, the Nats are only 3.5 games behind despite being last place in the division.
Each team in the NL East has been through some type of struggle early. As we enter the dog days of the season, however, I expect this division will heat up fast. Whoever wins the division at that point will likely be whoever can sustain that hot streak the longest. Perhaps this meeting on the Beltway could spark the Phillies onward?
Game 1: Anderson vs. Fedde
Chase Anderson will be on the bump for the Phillies as they kick off the series Monday night. Anderson has been as mediocre a fifth starter as any for the Phillies, pitching for a 5.54 ERA in six starts and lasting an average of 4.1 innings per start. His most recent start for the Phillies occurred last Wednesday against the Brewers, where went 4.1 innings allowing three runs.
Anderson will go up against RHP Erick Fedde for the Nats. Feddecini owns a 5.27 ERA on the season having allowed five runs in five innings last week against the Braves. The 28-year old owns a 5.27 ERA against the Phillies on his career including three games he pitched last season in which he allowed 13 runs in 18 innings pitched.
Game 2: Wheeler vs. Lester
Fresh off a complete-game shutout last Thursday against the Brewers, Wheels is set to return to the mound on Tuesday. The ace starting pitcher owns a 2.83 ERA on the season having struck out 49 batters in 47.2 innings. Wheels struggled against the Nationals over his years in New York but have excelled against them since coming to Philadelphia. In two starts last year, Wheeler allowed two runs in 12.1 innings while striking out 13.
Jon Lester will oppose Wheeler on the mound on Tuesday. Lester is just about as good of a “Phillie killer” as you can find. In his 11 career starts against the Fightins’, Lester owns a 1.92 ERA and a 1.066 WHIP while striking out 70 batters in 70.1 innings. Lester is only two starts-deep into the season after having started the season on the COVID-19-related Injured List.
If there is going to be a no-hitter this week in Major League Baseball, it’s going to be this match-up.
Game 3: Eflin vs. Corbin
Zach Eflin gets the getaway day start for the Phillies on Thursday. Eflin has pitched to a strong 3.38 ERA on the year, striking out 42 batters in 45.1 innings. Worthy of note, however, is that Eflin’s worst starts of the season have come on a full five days of rest.
Eflin will face off against Patrick Corbin for the Nationals. Corbin has had a terrible year for the Nationals, pitching a 7.36 ERA in six starts for them. He leads the National League with 24 earned runs allowed this season and is a far cry from his top-five Cy Young placement in 2018. Corbin owns a lifetime 3.19 ERA against the Phillies over 11 starts. He has also been 2-1 against the Phillies since joining the Nats in 2018.
Three Keys for the Phillies
1. Wake Up the Offense
A resurgence from Andrew McCutchen and the ever-reliable J.T. Realmuto have been the Phillies’ only true offensive threats as of late. Since returning from the IL, Jean Segura has also added some five to the lineup, going 8-for-13 in three games back, earning a promotion to the two-hole.
The rest of the offense, especially Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins, have struggled recently. Bohm is hitting for a .222 average and a .574 OPS in the last 15 days as he enters the fabled sophomore slump. Meanwhile, Hoskins has fizzled off since his hot start to the season, batting .204 with 17 strikeouts in his last 49 AB’s. Finding a way to ignite these cold bats will be critical to winning in Nationals Park.
2. Well-Rested Bullpen
THe Phillies’ bullpen has logged the second-most innings in the major leagues (126.1) over the last 15 days. Over that stretch, they have been 15th in the majors in runs allowed (55) and are also middle of the pack in opposing BA, WHIP, and SO/9. The bullpen is finally at the point where, while it will cost the Phillies a few games, the Phillies can safely go to it without expecting too many blow-ups. Having a day of rest on Monday should be beneficial as well as everyone will be available Tuesday night.
3. Keep Turner and Soto at Bay
The two biggest threats in the Nationals’ lineup are shortstop Trea Turner and right fielder Juan Soto. Turner is an all-around threat with the ability to hit, steal bases, and hit for power on occasion. Batting .308 on the season with an .866 OPS, Turner is a strong leadoff threat for the Nationals.
Soto, meanwhile, is not hitting to his potential yet, hitting only three home runs on the season with a 125 OPS+. The Childish Bambino is a perennial 30+ home run threat who has a history against Philadelphia. In 41 career games, Soto has hit 14 home runs while batting for a 1.084 OPS.
If the Phillies are to win this series in D.C., they will need to keep Turner off-balance while keeping Soto’s hits in the ballpark.
Photo Credit: Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire