Series Spotlight: Phillies at Nationals (May 4-6)

harper1This series with the Phillies has been marked with a bullet on the calendar of Nationals fans since February. The Nationals wanted to pack Nationals Park with their own fans, and not Phillies fans, during this series. We’ll see how good they did this weekend, as the first place Nationals host the fourth place Phillies in Washington’s first real divisional test this year.

Washington’s rotation has been dynamic this year, leading baseball with a 2.03 ERA this year. That’s largely powered by a .247 BABIP and a miniscule 3.9% HR/FB. but Washington’s 2.41 FIP is still best in the league. The second best rotation in baseball belongs to the Phillies, who have a 2.97 ERA and 2.94 FIP. The Phillies and Nationals rotations also have identical 3.12 xFIPs, showing just how close the two really are.

The Nationals have the clear advantage when it comes to the bullpen, with a 3.21 team bullpen ERA, with the Phillies pen holding an ERA a run higher at 4.22. When you look at FIP, Washington’s advantage remains clear, with a 2.90 mark compared to Philadelphia’s 4.00 FIP. Despite not having closer Drew Storen all year, and even with Brad Lidge missing time and being ineffective when healthy, the Nationals still possess a clear advantage at the end of games in comparison to the Phillies.

When it comes to offense, neither team excels. The Phillies have a .661 team OPS, while the Nationals are just at .629. One clear advantage the Nationals hold over the Phillies on offense comes in the form of plate discipline. As a team, Washington has walked in 9.3% of plate appearances, a top ten mark in baseball. The Phillies on the other hand, have walked in a major league low 5.5% of plate appearances. 

The pitching matchups in this series clearly favor the Nationals. Tonight’s game one features Stephen Strasburg, with his 34 strikeouts, six walks, and 1.13 ERA in 32 innings, against Kyle Kendrick, who’s made just two starts this season and spent the rest of the year in relief. For the season, Kendrick has thrown 13 2/3 innings, striking out ten and walking five, and has a 6.59 ERA. To be fair in both regards, seven of the ten earned runs Kendrick has allowed this year came in one appearance against the Diamondbacks, while seven of his strikeouts came in one appearance as well, against the Cubs.

Game two on Saturday will feature prized Nationals offseason acquisition Gio Gonzalez against young Phillies starter Vance Worley. Gonzalez has struck out 34 and walked 12 in 29 2/3 innings, and has allowed just 16 hits on the season. Worley the other hand, has struck out 32 and walked 11 in 32 innings. Both pitchers have ERAs under 2.00, and this will more than likely be a low scoring affair.

Game three on Sunday night will be the matchup of the series, with Nationals stud Jordan Zimmermann against long-time Phillies rotation stalwart Cole Hamels. Zimmermann has been a victim of hard luck this year, with a 1-2 record despite 22 strikeouts and only three walks in 33 1/3 innings. He’s five for five in quality starts this season as well. Hamels on the other hand, has had a season typical of himself. He’s thrown 32 1/3 innings over five starts, struck out 36, and only walked five. Hamels has a 2.78 ERA, and is 4/5 in quality starts, only missing one in his first start of the season. The two starters in this game have combined to strike out 58 and walk eight in 65 2/3 innings. Yeah, that’s pretty solid all-around.

Washington’s offense has received a jolt of positivity since Bryce Harper was called up last weekend. Harper has a 1.014 OPS in five games, and has four doubles over that time period. Yeah, he’s holding his own pretty well on offense. The much-maligned Adam LaRoche, who was injured for most of last season and awful when he wasn’t hurt, has a .903 OPS in 24 games, with a team-leading four homers and 17 RBI. Jayson Werth has also enjoyed a nice bounceback year, though he’s not at the level he was at prior to joining the Nationals. Werth has an .802 OPS this year, but has only homered twice. He does lead the team with three stolen bases, but that’s not really something to brag about. The rest of Washington’s offense is struggling, led by stsarters like Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and the injured Ryan Zimmerman, who could return this weekend.

Philadelphia’s offense has largely been a disaster, with a few exceptions. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is having his best season thusfar, OPSing .938 and leading the team with 17 RBI despite only 73 at bats. Ty Wigginton, whose getting a majority of the playing time at first base with Ryan Howard out, is performing about as expected with an .812 OPS. The rest of the team…uh, yeah. Hunter Pence has a .706 OPS. Shane Victorino leads the team with five homers and eight stolen bases, but only has a .691 OPS. Jimmy Rollins, who the team gave a three year extension to this offseason, has just a .550 OPS and only has three extra base hits. It uh, really hasn’t been a good run for the team this year. Wigginton leads the team with eight walks. In comparison, there are five Nationals players with at least eight walks.

As for picking a series winner…man, it’s tough. Both teams have great pitching and largely inept offenses. The Phillies are a much (much!) more veteran team than the Nationals, and I think they have a lower potential to rebound. I can honestly see this series going in either direction. Game one seems like a lock for the Nationals to win, while the other two could go in either direction. I’m going to say that the Nationals win games one and three, while the Phillies win the second game. I’ll also say that over the series, the teams combine to score less than 25 runs.

One thing is for sure, though: the Nationals aren’t going into this series as the sizable underdog. In fact, they might be the favorite. I just hope that for their sake, the promotion they ran earlier this spring leads to a lot of Nationals fans in the stadium, and they succeed in taking back the park. Because if the Nationals can’t pack the park for this series, against this team, with the way they’ve been playing…I don’t think they’ll ever be able to.

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About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.