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Definitely not missing Bryce: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

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The Nationals have improved lately, and they don’t miss their former right fielder at all.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins
Victor Robles has had a tough time of it lately
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The good news is that every game, no matter how lopsided it is, only counts for one game in the standings. So yesterday’s shellacking at the hands of the Braves only counts for one loss. The bad news is that it was the second loss of the series for the Phillies, and they lost ground in the National League East race.

But its best to put that series behind us as the Phillies continue their tour of NL East cities and move on to Washington for a four-game set. After a rough start, the Nationals have played better of late, so the Phillies need to make sure they don’t start to climb the standings.

Washington Nationals

Record: 33-38, Fourth place in National League East

The last time they met

The Phillies hosted the Nationals in early May, and would have swept the three-game series if not for a late-inning meltdown by the Phillies’ bullpen in the middle game.

Not half bad

After burying themselves in the standings thanks to a 24-33 record through May, the Nats have been much better in June with a 9-5 record.

Is their bullpen also no longer putrid?

It’s still not good, but it’s not cover-your-eyes-bad anymore either. The addition of Tanner Rainey, and improvement from the likes of Wander Suero and Matt Grace have made it so that Nats fans aren’t cringing whenever the bullpen gate swings open.

How about Trevor Rosenthal?

Rosenthal made headlines early in the season for not retiring a single batter in his first four appearances. He eventually went to the injured list, and has been somewhat improved since rejoining the team (it would have been tough not to be). But after walking two and giving up a run in his lone inning of work on Saturday, Nationals fans are still justifiably nervous whenever he makes an appearance.

What about those starters?

The Nationals were preseason favorites to win the division, largely because their rotation was headed by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. The Phillies will get to face all three of those guys this week, but that might not be nearly imposing as it sounds.

The Phillies faced Scherzer once before this year, and he took the loss. He wasn’t awful, but the Phillies wore him down, and got him out of the game after five innings. Corbin has been awful lately, giving up a combined 20 runs in his last three starts. As for Strasburg, the Phillies roughed him up the last time they saw him, tagging him for six runs in four innings.

The other starter for the series will be Erick Fedde. The young right-hander began the season in the bullpen before a move to the rotation. Perhaps he should have remained a reliever, as all of his numbers have been worse as a starter.

Healthy Howie?

You may have trouble believing this, but Howie Kendrick is actually healthy. The oft-injured former Phillie has managed to stay on the field for most of the season so far, and has produced with the bat. His 12 home runs are second on the team, and puts him on pace for a career high. (Or at least until his inevitable stint on the IL.)

You might be wondering what’s next: Ryan Zimmerman has also found a way to stay healthy? Don’t worry, some things never change, and Zimmerman is currently on the IL with plantar fasciitis.

Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres
Howie Kendrick is healthy...for now
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Speaking of health issues

Roman Quinn almost remained healthy enough to make it back to the team. Naturally, he was subsequently hit with a pitch and felt discomfort. Which probably means he’s due for at least another month on the injured list.

School’s out

The Nationals love to talk about their young outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles, but it seems that the youngsters’ bats are taking a little summer vacation. In the month of June, Soto has an OPS of .666 and Robles is at .536. I wonder if these guys miss having a certain veteran presence in the lineup?

Miss me yet?

Nats fans have been really quick to point out that Bryce Harper isn’t putting up superstar numbers this season. They seem to ignore the fact that Harper’s numbers are far better than what the Nats have gotten from their right fielders this season. Nats fans will counter with how much less Adam Eaton is being paid to play right field for them this season, as if the point of baseball was to have the most cost effective team. (Perhaps Harper just needs to play against the Nats more often since his OPS against them is 1.115)

But don’t worry, Nats fans. That money the team saved has been well spent.

Nick vs. the Nats

If you recall, the Nationals traded Nick Pivetta to the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon. That trade definitely didn’t work out for the Nats, but the jury is still out on the Phillies’ end of the deal. Pivetta has been better since his return from the minors, but he now has to face his former team, something that hasn’t gone well for him in the past. His career ERA against the Nationals is 10.94, and they already shelled him once this season.

My working theory is that when he was in their system, the Nats placed some sort of hypnotic suggestion in Pivetta’s head, causing him to pitch ineffectively whenever he faced them. That said, I’d still take him in a trade for Papelbon ten out of ten times.

Prediction

Harper seemed to enjoy his earlier return to DC, so I think he’ll have a strong series. Unfortunately, with the Phillies’ pitching as beat up and ineffective as its been lately, it’s hard to predict for any better than a split of the four games.