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Nola vs. Scherzer II: Phillies vs. Nationals Series Preview

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The Phils and Nats will face off again, and so will their aces

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals - Game Five
Can the Phillies frustrate Max Scherzer again?
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The bad news: The Phillies have stumbled recently, having lost or tied each of their last six series. The good news: Their competition in the National League East hasn’t been able to take advantage, and the Phillies are still right in the mix for the division crown.

Take the Nationals (please?): Despite winning two out of three from the Phillies last week, they’re still in third place, 5.5 games behind the second place Phils, and 8.5 games out of first. Every week that goes by is one less week that they have to make up ground. By simply winning two of the three games this week, the Phillies can make the Nats’ hope even slimmer. But as mentioned, winning series isn’t something the Phillies have been proficient at lately.

The Last Time They Met

The three games played at Nationals Park last week could be described as: Rain delay then bullpen breakdown, utter gut punch, Nola!

And Since Then?

The Nats showed that the Phillies aren’t the only team that can inexplicably struggle against the Mets. They lost two of the three games this past weekend, although they might have gotten some frustration out on Sunday when they shellacked the Mets 15-0.

Who’s Hot on the Nationals?

Adam Eaton has suffered through a second straight injury-marred season, but he’s started to make up for it over the last two weeks. He has an OPS of .965 with two home runs over that span.

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs
Adam Eaton is healthy and productive...for now
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

During that time, Bryce Harper has played the way you’d expect a would-be franchise player to play, driving in 13 runs. (Although he notably failed in a key spot last Wednesday.)

And Who’s Not?

Rookie Juan Soto took the baseball world by storm earlier this year, but he’s definitely cooled down as the season has progressed. He still walks a lot, but his batting average and slugging percentage have both dropped sharply. Due to injuries to other relievers, Justin Miller and Koda Glover have been called upon more frequently, and their performance hasn’t exactly lifted the team.

Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants
Koda Glover brings hope to Nationals’ opponents when he enters a game
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Pitching Matchups

Monday: Zach Eflin vs. Stephen Strasburg

These two squared off last week, and neither man delivered his best performance. Eflin was staked to an early 4-1 lead, but couldn’t hold it, and had to be pulled in the fourth inning. Strasburg was making his first start off the disabled list, and it showed. He gave up five runs in four innings, including a home run to longtime nemesis Maikel Franco.

Tuesday: Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer

Last week’s matchup between these two was advertised as a battle of Cy Young contenders, and the resulting clash did not disappoint. Scherzer was good, allowing only two runs on an Odubel Herrera home run. Unfortunately for him, Nola was even better, pitching eight shutout innings. This game might come down to which team can get into the other’s bullpen first.

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta vs. Gio Gonzalez

The Phillies are very familiar with former farmhand Gonzalez. This will be his 26th career start against them, and most of the previous 25 have gone in Gio’s favor, although the Phillies did best him in July. As for Arrieta, he’s been inconsistent this season, and this would be a very good time for him to give them a strong start. It would also help if the Phillies played strong defense behind him, something they haven’t done consistently.

Boo This Man

It feels like Ryan Zimmerman has been around forever, and in a way he has, since he debuted in the Nationals’ inaugural season of 2005. Since then, I’m not sure that he’s ever been properly rated as a player. In the early days of his career, the Nats used to promote him as if he was a superstar, mostly because he was one of the bright spots on a usually awful team. If you ever listened to a Nats broadcast, they’d act like every routine play he made was an all-time highlight.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman: Okay, I guess
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Despite the insistence of Nationals employees, Zimmerman never really made the leap to superstar. He’s been a fine enough player, making a few All-Star teams, and earning a couple of Silver Slugger awards, but he’s never really been considered one of the top players in the National League. The only way he’ll ever get into the Hall of Fame is with a ticket.

I’m just thankful that I didn’t have to listen the Nats’ announcers after his game-winning home run last week. Then again, I’m thankful I rarely ever have to listen to the Nats’ announcers, because they are awful. Phillies fans may complain about Ben Davis or the three Kevin’s (honestly, I get them mixed up), but those guys are like Harry Kalas when compared to F.P. Santangelo.

Trivia

Ryan Zimmerman’s first career hit came against the Phillies. What pitcher gave it up?

Home Sweet Home

Thankfully, these games are being played at Citizens Bank Park, where - games against the Mets aside - the Phillies have been much better. Maybe the Phillies were just too distracted by all the Natitude at Nationals Park last week?

It will be interesting to see the attendance figures for this week’s game, Tuesday in particular. For many families, school is back in session, and that usually negatively affects attendance. But if the Phillies can’t attract a big crowd for Tuesday’s Nola vs. Scherzer matchup, they’re probably not going to draw a big crowd all season.

Prediction

Since these games are at home, I feel more comfortable picking the Phillies to win the series. The series will get off to a bad start as Strasburg pitches the Nats to victory in the opener. The second game will be decided by the bullpens after the aces have departed, but the Phillies’ relievers will prove better. In the finale, we’ll get the good Jake Arrieta, and he’ll pitch them to a much-needed series win.