Friday night, the Phillies kick off a three-game home series with the Washington Nationals. The 13-13 Phils have fluctuated very little in either a positive or negative direction, but a series win against their division foes from D.C. would be a nice early-season feather in the team’s cap. Neither team has been able to establish the type of early-season consistency they probably were hoping for, but both are still very much in the mix in what is fast-becoming a cluttered NL East. The two teams are among four within 3.5 games of the first-place Braves and, though both have done some good things this season, a series win this weekend could be a momentum boost for either squad.
The fans at Citizen’s Bank Park should be treated to a weekend of excellent pitching, as the two teams will be sending some of their top arms to the mound. Friday’s opener will pit both team’s opening day starters against one another, as Cliff Lee will try to get the better of Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. The powerful righty and former 1st overall draft pick still has not demonstrated the sort of consistency the organization eventually expects from him, but he has dazzled in his last two starts and could be in the midst of a streak of effective starts. In his career, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA in six starts against the Phillies. Philadelphia will need the right approach at the plate against a pitcher who could have better stuff than any starter on the docket this season. When he’s on his game, Strasburg has multiple plus pitches that can leave batters looking quite pedestrian. As for Lee, he will look to get back untracked after a mild hiccup against the Diamondbacks. The Phillies were able to come away with a late inning win, but Lee was erratic compared to his two prior starts. Even so, he is 1-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 25 K in his last three starts. Lee is 6-4 all-time against Washington with a 2.87 ERA. He has allowed 11 home runs in 11 starts, and this year’s Nationals lineup is in the top-ten in the league in terms of run producing this season, plating 126 so far.
Saturday’s contest will pit each team’s surprise contributor to the rotation against one another. For the Phillies, A.J. Burnett will hope to keep his post-hernia hot streak in tact as he has yet to lose since the injury was diagnosed. For Washington, young righty Tanner Roark takes the mound, still without a blemish in the loss column this season. Roark is 2-0 with a tidy 2.76 ERA and 26 strikeouts. He is coming off of his first career complete-game shutout, a game he carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning. Roark has yet to start a game against Philadelphia in his career, though he did secure a win in relief during the 2013 season. Burnett is 8-3 all-time against the Nationals with a 3.08 ERA. Washington is batting .236 against right-handed pitching compared to a staggering .335 against lefties. With Bryce Harper out of the lineup recovering from a thumb injury, Adam LaRoche represents the lone-consistent power option from the left side of the plate. Given that two of the three Phillies starters this weekend are left-handed, Burnett will have to put together another sharp showing as he tries to win his fourth straight start.
The finale will see a pair of prized southpaws face off, as Cole Hamels takes on Gio Gonzalez Sunday afternoon. Hamels has turned in a strong showing and a clunker in his two outings since coming back from offseason injury rehab. He does have a substantial, dramatic history against Washington so one would have to imagine the Phillies starter will be fired up for his second start at Citizen’s Bank Park in 2014. Gonzalez continues to prove his worth to the Washington franchise since coming over in a trade with the Oakland Athletics before the 2012 season. Gonzalez is 3-1 on the year with a 3.25 ERA and 38 strikeouts. Gonzalez has given the Philadelphia lineup fits since his arrival in Washington. Over his career, Gio is 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 8 starts against the Phillies. Washington has won five of Gonzalez’s six starts this season, and the fiery lefty usually pitches well in high-stakes division games. He will round out a very challenging weekend for Philadelphia hitters and a true challenge for a lineup that has yet to establish any sort of consistency this season.
Washington poses a significant threat at the plate and will most certainly put the pressure on every level of Phillies pitching this weekend. Second-year man Anthony Rendon, who his filling in for an injured Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd base, is batting a team-high .316 and has also driven in 20 RBI, also good for first on the team. Even if he wasn’t having another strong year, one would have to expect Jayson Werth to continue to hurt his former team. Werth destroyed Philadelphia in 2013, batting .373 and hitting four home runs while driving in 14 RBI. He is having another strong season in D.C., sporting a .288 average with four homers and 17 RBI.
Even last season, when neither team made the postseason, the Phillies and Nationals have provided high drama and entertainment in their showdowns over the last few seasons. Some of the electricity might be missing with Harper on the shelf, but the Nats still boast a talented lineup and a world-class pitching arsenal. Philadelphia will have to ramp up the competitiveness, as they face a Washington team looking to reinforce their legitimacy as one of baseball’s best.