The Phillies will be in
Washington tonight for the first of three against the Nationals. The
Phillies come in at 65-65, in second place in the NL East. They are one
game out in the Wild Card chase but trail the Reds by two games in the win
column. Philadelphia's lead over the third-place Florida Marlins is down to
a single game as the Marlins have won eight in a row. The Nats are 55-75
and among the worst teams in the National League.
Washington has lost eight out of their last ten.
The Phillies have scored the second-most runs in the NL, the Nats the eleventh-most. Washington has allowed the most runs in the league, the Phillies have allowed the second most.
The teams last met August 18-20 in Philadelphia, with the Phillies taking two of three. The series featured a game two in which Ramon Ortiz was ejected after hitting Utley and Rowand in the same inning and Utley led a one-man charge from the bench that was rethunk before making it onto the playing field.
The Phillies aren't out of it if they don't win the series with the Nationals, but it sure means that they're going to have to beat a lot of teams better than the Nats in September to have a chance for the playoffs. The showing against the Mets was worrisome. After winning the first game the pen fell apart in the second and the defense was awful in the third. Yes, they got a strange call on Wright's single that was changed, but it was one single in a six-run inning. It wasn't even an out that was turned into a hit -- it was a foul ball that was turned into a hit. The starting pitching for the Phillies and the bench are both improved, but the pen is overworked and the bats went sleepy in New York. In three games started by Brian Bannister, Oliver Perez and John Maine the Phillies scored 12 runs on 17 hits. Hopefully it's Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio to the rescue.
Not a whole lot has changed with the Nationals since the Phillies last faced them on August 20. They come off of a series in Atlanta where they lost two of three to the Braves. They've had two days off in their last five, so their pen should be well-rested, which may come in handy given who they're starting. Nick Johnson collided with Jeff Francoeur on Saturday and is day-to-day. Alex Escobar is likely out for the season after injuring his shoulder on Friday, which means that Ryan Church is likely to see a lot of time in center for the Nats. Church has hit 246/353/493 with seven home runs in 142 at-bats for the Nats this season. Damian Jackson, who had a wretched game after replacing Ryan Zimmerman against the Phillies on August 20, was released. 29-year-old infielder Henry Mateo is up and has gone 3-for-13 on the year after hitting .254 with 33 stolen bases in 433 at-bats at Triple-A in the PCL.
Brett Myers (9-6, 4.23) faces righty Tony Armas (8-9, 5.05) tonight. Armas was absolutely pounded in his last start. Last Wednesday against the Marlins he went just 1 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs on ten hits. In his previous start he faced and beat the Phillies, allowing three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He's allowed 129 hits in just 117 2/3 innings while walking 43. His numbers are the best of the three unimpressive hurlers the Nats will throw against the Phillies. Myers finally had a good start his last time out, going eight innings against a meek Cubs lineup and holding them to a run on four hits. He struck out nine and the only run he allowed came on an eighth inning home run to Matt Murton. Myers has issued more than twice as many walks to left-handed batters than to right-handed batters -- he's walked 33 lefties and just 16 righties on the year.
Cole Hamels (6-7, 4.79) faces righty Ramon Ortiz (9-11, 5.38) tomorrow night. Over his last three starts Ortiz has gone 11 1/3 innings and allowed 13 earned runs on 20 hits. His last start came Friday in Atlanta and he went five innings, allowing four runs on six hits and three walks. On August 19 he started against the Phillies and was shelled for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings before being ejected in the second after plunking Utley and Rowand. Ryan Howard hit a three-run home run off of Ortiz that day. Hamels also started that game for the Phillies and held the Nats to two runs over six innings while striking out seven. He did allow two home runs, one to Soriano and one to Escobar. Cole has had just one start since then and got bombed by the Cubs in Chicago, giving up five runs on nine hits over just two innings. The Phillies need him to come back strong tomorrow.
Randy Wolf (3-0, 5.58) faces righty Pedro Astacio (3-4, 6.10) on Thursday night. On August 15 Astacio threw a complete-game two-hit shutout to beat the Braves. Since then he's had two starts, allowing 12 earned runs on 14 hits and nine walks over 4 2/3 innings (really!). He struck out one, and if you listen closely at night you can hear Jeff Francoeur out there crying himself to sleep. He started against the Phillies on August 20 and gave up six hits and four walks in two innings. Lieberthal hit a home run off of him that day. Righties are hitting .338 against Astacio on the year, but he has managed to hold lefties to a .265 mark. Wolf is 3-0 in his last three starts but has thrown to a 5.82 ERA. He's been hurt by the long ball, giving up five in those three starts. After six starts lefties still don't have a hit against him and righties are hitting .330. He faced the Nats on August 20 and they hit him hard. Wolf got the win as the Phillies put up ten runs in the first four innings, but he let the Nats hang around by allowing six runs on nine hits and three walks over five innings. Washington's backup catcher and 30-year-old rookie Brandon Harper went deep on Wolf twice that day. Wolf has still not shown he's able to go deep into games since returning from Tommy John surgery -- in six starts he's gone more than 5 1/3 innings just once.
The Phillies have 32 games left. They are done with the Pirates for the year, but nine of the last 32 come against the Nationals (six) or the Cubs (three). It's enough with the foul ball by Wright, enough with the day off they missed on Sunday's rainout. If they're going to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt they need to find a way to flip their switch back on against the Nationals just as efficiently as the Mets found a way to turn the them off at Shea.