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Take notes, Nationals fans: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

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Phillies fans will show the visitors how to properly appreciate Bryce Harper

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
Nationals fans never truly appreciated Bryce Harper
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Bryce Harper made his highly-publicized return to Nationals Park, and the home fans did not greet him warmly. While he received cheers from the sizable number of Phillies fans in attendance, just about everyone who supported the home team unleashed a steady torrent of boos at their former star.

If only Nationals fans had shown that much passion when Harper actually played for their team. Instead, they generally treated Harper coolly, and considered him a disappointment even though he won an MVP award, and might have won a second if not for an injury in 2017. Not to mention that the team’s rise to contender status corresponded with his arrival.

While Harper’s attempts to endear himself to the Philadelphia fans have bordered on pandering, it’s also clear that he’s extremely happy to be playing for a fan base that is capable of matching his energy. Nationals fans should watch how the Philadelphia fans treat Harper this weekend. (Hopefully they can tell the difference between booing a player and a few people offering scattered sarcastic boos.)

Maybe if the Nationals ever have another star of his caliber on their roster, their fans will figure out how to appropriately embrace him.

Washington Nationals

Record: 4-4, fourth place in National League East

The last time they met

The Phillies traveled to Nationals Park for a two-game set. After demoralizing the Nats in the first game, they missed a prime opportunity for a sweep thanks to David Robertson’s inability to throw a quality strike.

Since then?

The Nationals took two out of three from the Mets. Good for them.

An appreciation of the poor start by Brian Dozier

The Nationals signed free agent second baseman Brian Dozier this past offseason, in an attempt to shore up the second base position. It’s early, but the Nats might regret their decision. He hasn’t been Chris Davis bad, but Dozier’s slash line of .080/.115/.080 is rather ugly. Coming off a season in which he batted an underwhelming .215, it is possible that the 32-year-old former All-Star is on the decline.

Nationals fans don’t seem to be especially enamored of their new player:

The Nats may not have to put up with Dozier’s struggles anymore, as Howie Kendrick was recently activated from the injured list. Then again, this being Kendrick, it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way back on the IL with another injury.

As for Harper’s replacement

Adam Eaton has received the majority of playing time in right field for the Nationals. Has he made the fans forget all about Bryce Harper?

Let’s take a quick comparison of their numbers:

Harper vs. Eaton

AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
.417 .563 .917 3 5
.286 .394 .286 0 0

I’m gonna go ahead and give the edge to Harper so far.

A look at the Nats’ scheduled starters

After losing last week, I assume the Nats made sure that Max Scherzer’s turn didn’t come up in this series to save him the embarrassment of losing again. Instead, they’ll send Stephen Strasburg, Aníbal Sánchez, and Jeremy Hellickson to take their lumps against the Phillies’ lineup.

Strasburg has pitched well early in the season. He’s had success in Citizens Bank Park throughout his career, but it’s worth noting that past Phillies lineups often contained the likes of Peter Bourjos and Freddy Galvis instead of Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura.

Sanchez faced the Phillies last week, and only lasted four innings before they grinded him out of the game. Unlike Strasburg, Sanchez hasn’t found CBP very hospitable, with a career ERA of 5.60 in the park.

As for Hellickson, this will be the first start of the season for the former Phillie. He did appear in one relief appearance last week. In case you needed a reminder as to how that went:

I wouldn’t blame Hellickson or the Nationals if they just decide to intentionally walk Harper every time he comes to the plate.

The Nationals’ bullpen...avert your eyes

The Nationals’ relief corps was not expected to be a strength this season. They had a solid closer in Sean Doolittle, and hoped that Kyle Barraclough might help with setup duties, but there were a lot of question marks.

At this point, “not a strength” would be a huge upgrade over the awfulness the Nats’ relievers have displayed. The relievers have a composite ERA of 10.80, and their fans are convinced that no lead is safe.

Normally it would be tough to pick out the worst player in such an awful group, but Trevor Rosenthal has managed to distinguish himself. He’s appeared in four games, faced nine batters, and somehow has avoided getting any of them out. This has led people to ask a very interesting question:

Let’s hope that it never happens, because it might result in the collapse of the universe.

Reason for pessimism for Phillies fans

Anthony Rendon is off to a blistering start. Normally, I might say, “That’s fine. The Phillies can just sign him in the offseason and further demoralize the Nats.” However, the Phillies don’t even seem to have a place for Rendon to play.

Poor Rendon, he might have no choice but to stay with the Nats.

Prediction

The series against the Twins showed that it is possible to slow the Phillies’ offense down a little. Since Strasburg has done well against the Phillies before, I’ll concede his start to the Nats. It seems doubtful that either Sanchez or Hellickson will be able to pitch too deeply into the game, and that means the Phillies will get a few shots against the Nats’ bullpen. Advantage: Phillies, as they take two out of three.