The Washington Nationals (24-17) are heading up I-95 towards Citizens Bank Park to kick off a nine-game road trip with a series against the Philadelphia Phillies (21-21), which could be considered the first face-off since the two teams became rivals, at least in the eyes of the media.
The Nationals' last series against the Phillies at the beginning of the month was memorable to say the least, with the Nationals' "Our Park" campaign, the Hamels-Harper-Rizzo showdown, and Jayson Werth's broken wrist and admonishment of Phillies phans. After all of the antics surrounding their last meeting, some added satisfaction will come with winning this series, if not for the players then definitely for the fans.
What Went Down In Their Last Meeting
Last time, the Nats took two of three from the Phils, and scored just one more run (14) than their opponent (13). Although Washington outhit Philly 37 to 24, the Nationals left an atrocious 30 men on base, compared to the Phillies' 19. If the Nats can somehow figure out how to be more effective in situational hitting roles, they have the potential to beat the Phillies (or any team, really) with ease.
The Nationals had the opportunity to go for the sweep all the way up until the top of the ninth inning in game three. Ryan Perry (10.80 ERA) gave up a gut wrenching six runs on five hits in 0.2 innings, extending Philadelphia's lead from two to eight runs, making a close game basically un-winnable for the Nationals. They rallied in the bottom of the ninth to finish at a slightly less embarrassing 3-9, but could not come back from that defecit. Perry has been used just twice since that outing, pitching a total of four innings with two hits, one earned run and two strike outs.
Hamels vs. Harper vs. Rizzo
Cole Hamels was dominant in his last outing against the Nats, striking out eight batters through eight innings pitched, and only allowing one run - which happened to be Bryce Harper's stolen home base that screamed "bite me" after Hammels beaned him in the bottom of the first. Hamels will face Edwin Jackson on Wednesday, and hopefully everyone can play nice this time so we can avoid any fines or chicken references from Mike Rizzo.
Can The Nats Take The Second series?
The Nationals have made significant changes in their lineup since the last series, with both Wilson Ramos and Werth (who sadly won't have the opportunity to be booed and heckled by the kindest of phans at CBP) on the DL. For the most part the Nationals have been keeping pace without those two starters, but hopefully their replacements can provide the same pop they did last time against the Phillies. Ramos hit a game winning single in the 11th in the series opener, and Werth went 2-4 with a home run in game two.
Washington is in second place in the NL East, sitting 1.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in first, while the Phillies have continued to man their post in last place. The Nats have gone 6-7 since their last meeting with the Phillies, who are 7-6 in the same time frame. With the standings and their records about the same as they were before their last meeting, each team's chance of winning is lining up to be about the same.
Granted, with baseball any team has the chance to win on any given day - that's one thing that makes this sport so great. But with the way the relationship between these teams are developing, and their respective strengths and struggles, I think it will come down to the team who fights the hardest. Without a doubt, all the pieces are in place for this to be an interesting series.
Is The Doctor Ill?
The Nationals will face Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay for the first time this season. In his last three starts he has recorded 21 strikeouts, while giving up 19 hits and seven earned runs.
Carlos Ruiz (C) .355 AVG, .595 SLG, 7 HR, 29 RBI
Hunter Pence (RF) .268 AVG, .506 SLG, 10 HR, 28 RBI (homered twice off Zimmermann in their last meeting)
Antonio Bastardo (LHP) 1.46 ERA, 12.1 IP, 5 H, 14 SO
Jonathan Papelbon (CL) 2.20 ERA, 19 SO, 12-12 in SVO
Jimmy Rollins (SS) .229 AVG, .283 SLG, 1 HR, 30 SO
John Mayberry (LF) .248 AVG, .333 SLG, 1 HR, 30 SO
Gio Gonzalez (5-1, 2.22 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (0-3, 5.96 ERA)
Jordan Zimmermann (2-4, 2.58 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (4-3, 3.22 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.31 ERA) vs. Cole Hammels (6-1, 2.48 ERA)
The Phillies have been playing very well the past few weeks. The Nats will have to battle to win this series. But it's an absolute must win, especially with a showdown against hte Braves coming later this week.