The rivalry established between the Washington Nationals (24-23) and the Philadelphia Phillies (23-24) last year is set to heat back up as the Phillies come to Washington for the first time this season. Though with the two teams trudging through the first two months of the season, the rivalry will probably not be as fierce as in 2012 when there were marketing campaigns and stray pitches and stolen bases fueling the fire.
The Nationals are returning home from a disappointing road trip that caused them to slip four and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves, after being just one game behind them before their trip. The Phillies have been playing under .500 since April 14, but are just one game behind the Nats, so the outcome of this series has the potential to change the shape of the NL East, for as much as it matters this early on in the season.
The Phillies are 11-9 in May and have won four of their last six games against the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds, and they have continued to deal with injuries to the sixth-oldest roster in baseball.
The Nats went 9-9 against the Phillies last season, winning four of six series against them, and will look to carry on their record of success against them this weekend.
The Nationals pitching continues to be what keeps the team afloat during the offense’s struggles, and Jordan Zimmermann, who will pitch the series opener, has been leading the charge. Zimmermann has the third-lowest ERA in the National League and is tied for the second-most wins. He will be given the task of setting the series off on the right note as he faces Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick has made a strong start to his season. The righty has a career 4.19 ERA through seven seasons with the Phillies, but has opened 2012 with a 2.82 ERA and has been the Phillies’ most effective starter behind Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.
Lefty Cole Hamels, who has a tense history with the Nationals, will close out the series on Sunday. Despite strong outings by Hamels, the Phillies have lost the last four games he has pitched in. He has not pitched with a lead since April 7, and holds a 2.87 run support average, ranking 101st of 107 qualifying pitchers, according to MLB.com.
Hamels frustration at his team’s inability to win despite his best efforts led him to refuse to speak to the media after his last start. The Nationals will get a crack at facing Hamels – who pitched for a 1.93 ERA with 31 strikeouts in four meetings with the Nats in 2012 – and will see if his frustration spills out of the clubhouse and onto the field.
The Nationals will be doing a little shuffling of their own starting rotation to accommodate Ross Detwiler’s schedule for returning from injury. They will skip the fifth man’s spot in the rotation and allow Stephen Strasburg to face the division rival Phillies on Sunday. Detwiler is slated to return on Tuesday, during the home portion of the Baltimore Orioles series.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
The Nats have an edge over the Phillies in the pitching department, but even with as much as the Phillies have struggled to inspire their offense, they still beat the Nationals in most offensive categories.
The Phillies are hitting .248 in May, which ranks 19th in the majors, while the Nationals are in last place with a .214 average. Overall they are averaging 3.55 runs per game, which is fourth lowest to the Nationals’ second-lowest 3.38 runs per game.
However, the Phillies’ -31 run differential is worse than the Nats’ -26, even though the Nationals only scored a total of nine runs in the final five games of their road trip.
Injures have speckled both rosters all season, and the most recent blow for the Phillies landed on second baseman Chase Utley, who was a leader of the Phillies’ offense but is now on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
Despite each team’s struggles, one will win this series. Perhaps the Nats’ return to their home ball park against a division rival will be what they need to amp up their competitiveness and walk away with a victory.