As the Phillies prepare for the start of a series in D.C against the division rival Nationals this weekend, the two teams find themselves in nearly identical situations, for nearly identical reasons. Their won-loss records are both within one game of .500, and they both trail the division-leading Atlanta Braves by 4.5-5 games. The series this weekend, although certainly not a crucial one in the grand scheme of things, can nonetheless be very telling for either club as the season hits the 50-game plateau.
Consider the similarities. The Nationals, who were expected by the majority of pundits to lock up the NL East, have been suffering from poor starting pitching performances and key injuries. They do have a bonified young star in Bryce Harper, who far and away leads the team in offensive performance, with 12 homers and 23 RBI to go along with a .288 batting average. Veteran All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman also has 23 RBI, but only 3 homers and more tellingly 5 doubles, as he has missed time this season due to injury. First baseman Adam LaRoche has had a decent season RBI wise, but is batting .218 on the year. Jayson Werth, the multi-million dollar outfielder and former Phillie, has also missed time with injury, while hitting .260 with 4 homers and 10RBI.
Pitching-wise, Jordan Zimmerman has led the team with 7 wins this season, and ace Stephen Strasburg has had a poor season (despite being shut down for last year’s playoffs to conserve his arm), with a 2-5 record. Gio Gonzalez is also just 3-2 with an ERA approaching 4.00. Just as the Phillies have had embarrassing and inept offensive performances against far weaker teams, the Nationals recently lost 3 of 4 to the Padres, being outscored 27-10.
The Phillies have mirrored the Nationals offensively. Howard and Utley have missed time again with injuries, despite leading the team in RBI. No player has 10 or more homers, and they have been in an offensive swoon basically the entire season, despite their recent successful run in their past few series. The Nationals, unlike the Phillies, started the season strong and have more recently hit the skids. Either team can catapult themselves back into a more competitive position with regard to the division-leading Braves with a successful series this weekend. And despite the popular opinion to the contrary, the 2 teams are more alike in their make-up than most people think. They both have injury-prone stars (Utley, Howard, Zimmerman, Werth), struggling number one pitchers in Cole and Strasburg, and managers in Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel whose fate may lie in the balance of whether they have a succesful season. Granted, the Phillies do not have a player in the class of Bryce Harper, and are slightly younger overall, but despite such a dominating player on their squad, the Nats are far from a run-producing powerhouse.
The Phillies can make a real statement, despite the recent DL announcement regarding Chase Utley, by making a strong showing against the Nats and Red Sox over the next week. Not only can they boost their own confidence by taking these series, but they can further demoralize a Nationals team that was the pre-season World Series favorite. It’s been nice that the Phils have been able to “hang around” in the division all season despite their bullpen and offensive issues, but it’s never to early to start making some noise.Tags: Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, rivalry, Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals