The Phillies: Undoubtedly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from their second day off in five days, this team will still be feeling the butterflies from their recent almost-sweep of the Brewers. All of the young starts have the only bad starts they're allowed to have this year out of their systems, making this series all the more critical - a sweep would put them a mere 2.5 games out of first place.
The Nationals: Since leaving Philadelphia red-faced and sputtering, the Nationals have gone 5-2, splitting a series with the Marlins and sweeping the Twins courtesy of a walk-off Chris Heisey home run in the bottom of the 16th inning. Their charmed existence that inevitably ends with gut wrenching disappointment is right on track!
Bryce Harper (.323/.405/.855): Washington Redskins supporter Bryce Harper is impossible not to mention!
Wilson Ramos (.316/.328/.491): The 28-year-old catcher has, in the last week, been a part of an inning in which he, Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmermann all hit home runs, and clubbed a two-run double that gave the Nats' comeback against the Twins the momentum it needed to only last almost an entire other baseball game. The key to his effectiveness? Laser eye surgery.
Daniel Murphy (.397/.465/.635): Murphy hasn't needed lasers in his face to be the batting average leader in the sport; he just needs his vaguely described approach at the plate and every single baseball cliche that has ever been uttered.
Maikel Franco (.296/.333/.535): We don't talk about Franco enough, frankly, and if somebody could please just mention that he hit three home runs and put on a dazzling defensive display all weekend in Milwaukee, that would be so nice.
Cameron Rupp (.286/.302/.476): In the last two weeks, Rupp's been hitting .308, with three doubles, a home run, and a stolen freaking base. Finally, I can convince the other guys at the storage unit that the "E-RUPP-TION" banners I made four years ago aren't a "pathetic waste of time."
Odubel Herrera (.286/.432/.429): We're well aware of the Phillies lead-off hitter's newly discovered plate discipline, but if he's going to start popping dingers and taking whatever bases he wants, LOOK OUT FREE WORLD.
Vince Velasquez vs. Max Scherzer
What's the old saying? "Out with the old, in with the new?" No, that's not the one I mean. It 's "The Nationals suck, go Vince Velasquez, you passionate stallion."
Scherzer seems more comfortable posting vacation videos than pitching effectively in every start.
Jeremy Hellickson vs. Gio Gonzalez
Its getting hard not to sour on Hellickson after two very bad starts; not because there are two of them, but because they happened to come against the Mets and Nationals. In both cases, Hellickson couldn't last long, only 3.0 and 4.1 IP, and got shelled for a total of 9 ER. He's only got three walks in four starts, however, which is great. And presumably he'll be able to take advantage of Gonzalez being too distracted showering Daniel Murphy with boring praise to pitch effectively.
Gonzalez has already lost to the Phillies, though that was more of his offense's fault than the fault of his one earned run allowed over seven innings of work. Since then, he's also defeated the Twins - not something supper difficult, but his third well-pitched game in a row. He's said he's been learning from his coaches, as well as Jonathan Papelbon, so, you know. Hopefully that continues.
Aaron Nola vs. Tanner Roark
Nola was stifling in his last start, quieting the already-quiet Brewers with seven innings of one-run ball. Pete Mackanin has decided to leave the gatae open regarding his young starter and let him go deeper into games, something that Nola really enjoyed as he systematically ruined the Brewers, as well as re-harnessing the command of his fastball.
Tanner Roark struck out 15 twins in his last start and everybody went crazy. But as the old saying goes, "15 strikeouts isn't 16, Tanner Roark, so maybe you could learn something from Vince Velasquez."