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2017 Series Preview

Series Preview: Washington Nationals (19-9) at Philadelphia Phillies (12-15), May 5-7

Home sweet home. Before the seven game road trip, the Phils were winners of six straight and two games above .500. They brought out the brooms against Atlanta and swept a rain-shortened two-game series with Miami. The next seven on the road was going to be the real test, against the battle-tested Dodgers and defending champion Cubs. Many considered three or more wins to be a success, but two wins was probably more realistic. And a one-win trip would have surprised no one. Turns out it was a one-win trip, but the ways the Phils lost some of those games has to be concerning.

What to expect

Though the Phils are returning home, schedule-makers didn’t make it any easier. This will be the third series against the Nats in the season’s first five weeks and by the end of Mother’s Day (which is next Sunday), the Phils will have played 12 games against the Nats already.

The Phils will get their first look at the Adam Eaton-less Nationals. The newly acquired centerfielder who was slashing .297/.393/.462, tore his ACL back on April 28 and will miss the rest of the year. The Nats haven’t missed a beat, however, as shortstop Trea Turner has returned from a short DL stint, and has been reinserted at the top of the Nationals’ lineup. Ryan Zimmerman is having a career year to this point, hitting .427 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI. No, that’s not a typo. Then you still have Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy (hitting a modest .333 for his standards), Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon — who is still fresh off his recent 6-for-6, three home run, 10 RBI day last Sunday. Good luck, Phillies pitching.

Two bright spots came out of the seven-game road trip: Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco. Altherr’s presence was felt mostly in Chicago. The outfielder contributed five RBI and four extra-base hits in the four game series. Franco has been crushing the ball as of late and even his outs have been loud. He hit two home runs and plated another five on the trip.

Probable starters:

Friday, 7:05 p.m., Stephen Strasburg (2-1, 3.09 ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (0-1, 3.60)

Strasburg has tossed exactly seven innings in every start this season, including two against the Phils. However, Strasburg’s two highest pitch totals have come against the pesky Phils, throwing 105 and 111 pitches, respectively. Pivetta fought in and out of trouble in his debut in Los Angeles last Sunday for a respectable line. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

Saturday, 7:05 p.m., A.J. Cole (season debut) vs. Vince Velasquez (2-2, 5.47 ERA)

According to the Washington Post, the plan for the Nationals was to start Jacob Turner against the Phils, but his four scoreless innings of relief yesterday scratched that notion. Instead, Cole will get the nod from Dusty Baker. In eight starts last year, Cole was 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA. He started one game against the Phils and tossed five innings, allowing four earned runs. Hopefully, the Velasquez who started the first two games for the Phils is ancient history. His last three starts have been promising, and the “He needs to be our closer” talk has died down. Velasquez has done a much better job of locating his fastball. When he’s been missing inside, it hasn’t been over the plate.

Sunday, 2:35 p.m., Tanner Roark (3-1, 4.04 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.18 ERA)

This could be the prime spot for the Phils to jump Roark. He’s a career 3-4 with a 5.45 ERA in seven appearances at Citizens Bank Park. Hellickson’s ERA sure spiked, didn’t it? The Cubs shellacked the eight-year vet for six runs in four innings. He surrendered three home run balls. Hellickson has a 1.50 ERA in two starts vs. the Nats this season. Will pitching to contact catch up to Hellickson? He has struck out just 13 batters in six starts. The math on that is just over two per start. But you can’t argue with those results, though.

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