These two NL East Division rivals currently control the two National League Wildcard playoff positions in the league standings. However, for nearly two months they have been travelling in opposite directions.
On May 29, the Phillies were 33-22 and held a 3.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings. That same day, the Nats were 24-32 and 9.5 games behind the Phillies.
But since May 24, Washington has forged a 28-11 mark. That is the best record in all of Major League Baseball since that date.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have slumped to a 14-21 record since their May 20 high-water at 11 games over the .500 mark. That is the same record in that time frame as the last place Miami Marlins have fashioned. Only the 13-22 record of the New York Mets over that period has been worse in the division.
All of that – the Phillies hot start, the Nationals recent hot stretch – is now in the rear view mirror. The ultimate story of the 2019 season for these two division rivals is going to be written over the next two and a half months. If the Phillies want to begin to turn their season back around, it has to begin this weekend.
For more than three weeks, the Phillies have faced nothing but NL East Division rivals on the schedule. The club has gone just 9-13 in those games. That stretch ends with this three-game weekend tilt with the Nationals.
The Phillies are going to come out of the stretch with a losing record. But winning this series would still mark a big step forward. It would also move them past the Nationals in the standings heading into a very tough four-game series to open next week with the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both teams have a middle-of-the-road offensive attack. The Nationals rank 14th in all of baseball with their average of 4.94 runs scored per game. The Phillies are right behind, their 4.91 runs per game ranking 15th among the 30 MLB ball clubs.
There is a big difference on the mound. Washington’s pitching staff ranks 5th in the National League with a .247 batting average against, and their .720 OPS against is 3rd in the league. Their pitchers collectively rank 4th in MLB in strikeouts.
The Phillies struggling staff is 14th in both AVG (.265) and OPS against (.799), and they have surrendered 153 home runs, far and away the highest total in the league and third-most in all of baseball. They are also just 22nd in strikeouts.
For the Phillies to actually win this series their pitching staff is going to have to begin stepping up. If the pitchers who are here and healthy right now cannot demonstrate improvement across the board, then the Nationals will keep up their winning ways and begin to pull away in the standings.
TOP LINEUP THREATS
Anthony Rendon: (29) 3B – .304/.386/.611 with 20 home runs, 44 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs, 65 runs
Trea Turner: (26) SS – .288/.343/.491 with 7 home runs, 26 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 36 runs, 17 steals (missed 39 games)
Victor Robles: (22) CF – .246/.320/443 with 13 home runs, 39 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs, 47 runs, 12 steals
Howie Kendrick: (35) UT – .327/.378/.563 with 12 home runs, 25 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs, 39 runs
Adam Eaton: (30) RF – .281/.368/.383 with 6 home runs, 18 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 50 runs
Juan Soto: The 20-year-old left fielder was the runner-up to Ronald Acuna Jr.for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Soto has caught fire and helped lead the Nationals charge back to contending status.
Since May 17 when he was hitting just .228, Soto has slashed .354/.452/.628 with nine home runs, 23 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and 36 runs scored over 164 at-bats across 46 games.
The Nationals manager (see below) was quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr as this series prepares to open:
“I think his overall game has gotten better. Everybody talks about his hitting, but I think his outfield play has gotten better. His baserunning’s gotten better. In that aspect, he’s become that polished player. Still young, still learning. Works incredibly in all aspects of the game. But I think we still haven’t seen what he potentially can do as he gets older.”
SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS
FRIDAY – Stephen Strasburg (30): 10-4, 3.64 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 3.18 FIP, 92 hits over 116.1 IP across 18 starts with a 138/29 K:BB ratio. That Nationals come out of the break by throwing their three best starting pitchers against the Phillies. Strasburg has largely been dominating in what has been one of the big right-hander’s most complete seasons.
SATURDAY – Patrick Corbin (29): 7-5, 3.34 ERA, 1.112 WHIP, 3.34 FIP, 93 hits over 113.1 IP across 18 starts with a 129/33 K:BB ratio. Signed as a free agent this past off-season, Corbin has been everything the Nationals could have hoped. He provides the club a lone southpaw rotation presence, and a very good one.
SUNDAY – Anibal Sanchez (35): 5-6, 3.66 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, 4.53 FIP, 78 hits over 83.2 IP across 16 starts with a 75/33 K:BB ratio. This was supposed to be a turn for ace Max Scherzer. But ongoing back stiffness is causing the Nationals to skip him and go with 14-year veteran righty Sanchez.
54-year-old Dave Martinez had 16 years of playing experience in Major League Baseball with nine different organizations between 1986-2001. Four of those seasons from 1988-91 were with the Montreal Expos, the franchise from whom the Nationals are descended.
After retiring as an active player, Martinez became a spring training instructor for the Tampa Bay Rays, for whom he had played during the 1998-2000 seasons. In 2007, Martinez was hired as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach in Tampa, and was in that role as the club won their lone AL pennant and reached the 2008 World Series against the Phillies.
Martinez interviewed for a number of managerial positions over the next few years. When Maddon left following the 2014 campaign, Martinez was passed over for the Rays job and joined Maddon once again as the Chicago Cubs bench coach. In that role he helped the Cubs defeat the Nationals in a 2017 National League Division Series.
On October 30, 2017, Martinez was hired to take over as the Nationals manager. He has a contract running through next year, with a club option for the 2021 season. The Nationals overall record during his first year and a half at the helm is 129-122. His club finished 82-80 last year, good enough for second place in the NL East, but not good enough for a playoff spot.
SERIES WEATHER REPORT
Unless you are allergic to sunshine and warm temperatures, weather will play little role in this weekend series down in South Philadelphia. Each day is expected to include high temps right around 90 degrees, lows around 70 degrees, and very few clouds in the sky. A modest breeze each day should keep humidity levels at reasonable summertime levels.
Source: The Weather Channel
The Nationals have won seven of the 11 meetings between the two division rivals. Bryce Harper has two home runs and eight RBIs in those first 11 games against his former ball club.
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