Series #29 Preview: Nats at Phillies

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The Washington Nationals (46-42) have one four games in a row and just completed a sweep of the San Diego Padres. The Nats have not swept a team since the Great Depression (alright it was actually the White Sox in April, but it has seem like since the Great Depression) and the offense is starting to roll. Everyone was thinking that Bryce Harper was going to be the spark to ignite the offense, but it appears that it might be Wilson Ramos because since his return on America’s birthday the Nats have not lost. Here is hoping that he can feign off injury for the rest of the season.

For their second to last series before the All-Star Game, the Nats will take on the Phillies (43-46), who are trying to stay competitive with the Braves and Nationals in the NL East. The Phillies did the Nats a favor and took two out of three from the Braves over the weekend and now the Nats are only four games back with seven games to play before the break. Hopefully, the Marlins and Reds can batter the Braves and the Nationals can pick up even more ground in the standings.

The season series is currently tied between the two teams at three games apiece. The Phillies are 5-5 in their last ten games with their last game being a win against the Braves. The Nats are 7-3 in the same span and their bats are starting to heat up with their last loss coming on July 3.

On the injury front, Ross Detwiler was placed on the disabled list with back tightness and will miss his next start. Dan Haren will be taking his place in the rotation and Taylor Jordan will continue to stay with the big club until Detwiler comes back. Danny Espinosa is still trying to get back in the groove in AAA Syracuse, but since his strikeout rate is worse down there than it was in Washington, it is unlikely that he will unseat Anthony Rendon anytime soon. 

Game 1: Monday, July 8, Citizens Bank Park 7:05pm, Dan Haren (4-6, 6.15 ERA) vs. John Lannan (1-3, 5.15 ERA)

Do you remember what happened last season after Ryan Zimmerman got a cortisone shot? Well, he was one of the best players on the team from July onward, so hopefully the same result happens to Dan Haren. Haren is making his first start since being placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Haren took several days off to rest and received a cortisone shot and has reportedly been pitching much better in bullpen sessions since then. He went down with an injury last season with the Angels and came back lights out. So, I could bring up how awful Haren has been in his last starts, but since he is full of the miracle drug cortisone, I am going to start fresh and believe he is the $13 million man that the Nationals thought they signed and hope he brings it to John Lannan and the Phillies.

Haren has started six games against the Phillies where he has amassed a 0-3 record and 5.82 ERA. He has faced the Phillies twice this season and things have not gone well. Haren has given up seven runs off of 11 hits over the course of 12 innings. Haren did not get a decision in either appearance against the Phillies, but in the end the Nationals last both games. Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown and Erik Kratz all have homers off of Haren, but thankfully both Howard and Kratz are on the DL, so all he has to do is keep the ball away from Brown. However, since pitchers have been trying to keep the ball away from Brown all season and he has been straight-up raking it is easier said than done.

I still find it difficult to say anything bad about John Lannan. I feel like we were brothers in arms during the darks years of Nationals baseball and we still have night terrors based on our experiences. Since returning from the disabled list after missing two months with a strained quadriceps he has been inconsistent. In four starts since his return to the rotation he has gone 1-2. In his last outing he allowed four runs, 11 hits and three walks against the Pirates. He throws four pitches: fastball (88-90 mph), curveball (72-74 mph), slider (80-82 mph) and changeup (83-85 mph). Lannan likes to throw his slider on 0-2 counts and tends to not throw his changeup to left handed batters. He keeps the ball low in the zone and no matter what the situation he tends to be very methodical in his delivery, rarely getting rattled.

In his only start against the Nationals during his career on June 17, he allowed two runs on six hits over five innings. Lannan did not get the decision, but the Phillies ended up winning the game 5-4. Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche are the only two Nationals players who have more than three plate appearances against Lannan and have fared very differently against him. In 31 appearances Werth is hitting .333 against him and has an OPS of 1.271, which is diabolical to say the least. LaRoche has flat lined against Lannan going 0-12 with five strikeouts. 

Game 2: Tuesday, July 9, Citizens Bank Park 7:05pm, Taylor Jordan (0-1, 2.70 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (3-11, 4.38 ERA)

Taylor Jordan is still looking for his first Major League win, but he has shown improvement from his first start, which was a little shaky. Jordan was all set up for the win on the Fourth of July, but Drew Storen came in and made an almost guaranteed victory a close contest, which led to Jordan not receiving his well-earned victory. Taylor pitched 5 2/3 innings and only surrendered two earned runs off of six hits, which is pretty respectable for a guy that was not even on the Nationals radar until he started blowing up this season between A and AA.

Prior to being called up Jordan had a cumulative ERA of 1.000 between his time at Potomac and Harrisburg. Minor league batters could not find a way to hit this kid. When batters put a bat on the ball it was normally a grounder to the infield. Jordan’s success has come from being able to pepper the strike zone. More and more, he is being compared with Jered Weaver because of his good velocity, his above average off-speed pitches and his impeccable command this year.

Jordan throws three pitches: fastball (92-94 mph), slider (82-84 mph) and changeup (81-83 mph). His fastball is his most dominant pitch. It has a heavy sink to it and he keeps is low in the strike zone. His best secondary pitch is his changeup, which he has spent years developing. It has a good fade and acts like a splitter much of the time. All of his pitches draw weak contract and a lot of swing through.

Since this will be Jordan’s third career start, he has never faced a member of the Phillies lineup.

Cole Hamels has not been very good this season, as anyone can tell by his record, but he showed signs of life in his last start against the Pirates. Hamels pitched seven innings where he only gave up one run, while striking out eight. The Phils were worried about his, so they gave him some extra rest prior to the start and it appears to have paid off for him because 76 of his 103 pitches were for strikes.

Hamels throws four pitches: fastball (89-93 mph), curveball (75-77 mph), cutter (88-90 mph) and changeup (81-83). His changeup is one of the best in the game. He uses it as his strikeout pitch and batters will regularly chase it when it is well outside the strike zone. He developed it in high school when he could not throw his curveball for several months due to arm issues.

He has a 13-6 record against the Nationals over the course of his career where he was a 2.64 ERA. Hamels averages 9.5 strikeouts over nine innings against the Nats. Last season he was particularly devastating when playing against the Nationals because his ERA was a bewildering 1.94. In his only start against the Nats this season, Hamels came away with a loss after he allowed five runs off of six hits over the course of 6 1/3 IP. The only two players who have done well against him are Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche. Harper has a .444 OBP in 18 plate appearances and LaRoche has an OPS of 1.152 in 30 plate appearances, where he has also went yard four times.

Game 3: Wednesday, July 10, Citizens Bank Park 7:05pm, Gio Gonzalez (6-3, 3.14 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (10-2, 2.73 ERA)

Gio is finally getting some run support to accompany his stellar pitching and the Nats have won the last three times he has taken the mound. In his last start against the Padres he allowed three runs off of eight hits, while striking out five and only giving up one walk.

In one start against the Phils this season Gio did not pick up the decision, but the Nats ended up winning the game 6-2 back in June. Gonzalez went seven strong innings and only gave up two earned runs, while striking out 11 batters. Gonzalez has started against the Phillies five times in his career, where he has a 3-1 record and 2.53 ERA over 32 IP, He has averaged 11.3 SO/9 and only given up two home runs to them. Jimmy Rollins has done well against Gio in the past amassing a .333 BA in 12 plate appearances. However, John Mayberry has only two hits off him in 12 plate appearances, which has amounted to him only getting on base a quarter of the time.

Since Cliff Lee last faced off against the Nationals three weeks ago he has not recorded a loss. In fact, he has not been credited with a loss since May 1 and has only pitched less than seven full innings once, so yeah, he is still really, really good. He is so good that the Phillies might want to think about trading him if they do not think they cannot compete with their aging roster in the NL East. The Braves and Nationals are both young teams and they appear to have their rosters pretty well cemented in place for the next couple years, so the Phillies could make some serious headway by trading Lee to a contender for several minor league players that could help bolster their ball club in the years to come. 

Lee throws five pitches: fastball (90-92 mph), curveball (74-76 mph), slider (80-82 mph), changeup (83-85) and cutter (86-88 mph). He truly mixes up his pitches and is not afraid to throw any to any batter in any count. He throws his first pitch for a strike 72 percent of the time, so veteran like Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth who like to take the first pitch might want to take Davey Johnson’s advice and get more aggressive at the plate early in their at bats.  

Cliff Lee has one start against the Nationals this season, where he went eight innings and only gave up two runs. The two runs were homers, so even though the Nats lost, at least they beat him up a little bit. He has a 6-3 record against the Nationals over the course of his career where he was a 2.48 ERA. Lee averages 9.1 strikeouts over nine innings against the. The only two players who have done well against him are Kurt Suzuki and Denard Span. Suzuki, who has received a much needed rest since Wilson Ramos has returned to the lineup, has a .350 BA against Lee in 22 plate appearances. Denard Span has a .292 BA and .346 OBP.

Game 4: Thursday, July 11, Citizens Bank Park 7:05pm, Jordan Zimmermann (12-3, 2.57 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (7-6, 3.90 ERA)

Jordan Zimmermann tried to pick up his career-best thirteenth win of the season in his last outing, but came up a bit short against the Padres. He did not look like his usual self. He is not known for wasting pitches. The guy heads to the mounds puts batters down and quickly walks back to the dugout in less time than it takes most people to get a beer from the concession stand. It usually takes him seven or eight innings to get to a pitch count that is in the triple digits, but in his last outing he threw 101 pitches over the course of 5 1/3 innings, where he gave up three runs off of five hits, while striking out four.

Personally, I would consider that outing an anomaly as opposed to a preview of what he will do for the rest of the season. He was just named an All-Star and s tied for the most wins in the National League at 12. He is fourth in innings pitched at 126 and the Nats are 15-3 when he starts. People is DC know what he has been doing all season and over the past couple years and after the All-Star Game the rest of the country will too.

Zimmermann has already squared off against the Phillies once this season in a game that the people of Philadelphia would probably like to forget. Zimmermann went seven innings and only gave up two earned runs off of six hits that the Nats ended up winning 8-2. Jordan had trouble with the Phils in the past. He has a record of 2-4 in seven starts and a 4.62 ERA, which we all know is very high for him. His WHIP is also much higher than we expect out of him and it is sitting at 1.513. Chase Utley has pretty much owned Zimmermann in the past. Utley has a 1.500 OPS and has walked four times against him, so watch for Jordan to be looking for a little payback to close out the series.

Kyle Kendrick was shellacked against the Braves in his last outing. Shellacked is probably putting it too lightly. Kendrick was taken out behind the wood shed and left for dead in his last start. He allowed a career-worst 15 hits over five innings (even Dan Haren does not do that). He has given up 10 runs on 22 hits in his last two starts, so ot could be an offensive bloodbath for the Nats in this game.

He throws three pitches: fastball (89-91 mph), split-finger (78-80 mph) and cutter (86-88 mph). He is very vulnerable to left-handed batters, who over his career have put up a .287/3.56/.479 slash line. His whiff rate of only 12 percent is much lower than the MLB average of approximately 18 percent.

Kendrick has taken the hill for the Phillies twice this season against the Nationals and has yet to record a win. In his last outing he took a no decision after going 7 2/3 and only giving up one run. However, the Phillies bullpen blew the game for him and the Nationals won 6-2. He has started 19 games against the Nats in his career and come away with a 4-6 record and a 4.63 ERA. Harper, Tracy, Ramos and Desmond are all sporting an OPS over 1.000 against Kendrick. Harper has been particularly devastating when stepping in against Kendrick. In 17 plate appearances Harper has three doubles, a home run and three RBIs. His OPS is sitting at 1.517, which pretty much means that God himself would not bet on Harper putting up a goose egg in the hits column during this game.

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