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Hello, down there: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

The defending champs find themselves in the basement of the National League East

MLB: Game Two-Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins
The Nationals outfield has had issues in 2020
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies will host the defending champion Nationals at Citizens Bank Park for a four-game set. But don’t be too intimidated by that whole “defending champion” thing. The 2020 Nationals are currently sitting in last place, and don’t seem poised to win too many postseason series this year.

Washington Nationals

Record: 12-19 (Fifth place in National League East)

The last time they met

The Phillies won one game due to offense, and then won the second game due to pitching. The third game wasn’t played due to a player protest, but I have full confidence that the Phillies would have won that one too.

Since then?

The Nationals might have hoped that a series against a team with an even worse record would cure what ailed them. They were wrong. The Nats travelled to Boston and lost two out of three games to the woeful Red Sox.

Soto can’t do it all

The Nationals have Juan Soto in their outfield, which means it can’t be all that bad. But the two non-Soto spots are usually manned by Victor Robles and Adam Eaton, and those two have been worth a combined -0.2 fWAR over the past two weeks. And if you recall, the two allowed a run to score against the Phillies when they collided in the outfield.

But apparently, Eaton has a good excuse for his poor play this season: The lack of fans in the seats.

I was going to make a joke about the Nats’ 2020 attendance not actually being off all that much from a normal season, but for some reason Nats fans tend to get really defensive about the team’s attendance figures. So I’ll hold off on that one.

No hiding this time, Anibal

Last week, Anibal Sanchez got to avoid facing the Phillies’ increasingly dangerous lineup. Unless there’s another unexpected postponement (although in 2020, can any postponement really be considered unexpected?), he won’t escape them this time around.

Sanchez has had a solid career, and was surprisingly good in the 2019 playoffs, but if he signed a deal with the devil to get that ring, he’s paying the price this season. He’s given up five runs in three of his six starts this year, and is ERA is a decidedly not-nice 6.90.

Visiting Citizens Bank Park doesn’t seem like the thing to snap him out the slump. His career ERA at the stadium is 5.13 and he was 0-2 in three starts there last season.

Scared of Harper

Nats fans claim they don’t miss Bryce Harper, but their pitching staff sure doesn’t seem to like facing him.

Can you blame them? When he was finally allowed to swing the bat in a key spot, he drove in what would prove to be the game-winning run.

Welcome back, Max

Max Scherzer will get a start for the Nats in this series. That used to mean an automatic victory for the Nats, but not as much in 2020. And he won’t necessarily be happy to see Citizens Bank Park again. The last time he started a game there, he gave up two home runs. (Anyone want to guess who the two Phillies who hit those home runs were? Hint: Neither is currently on the team’s active roster.)

Prediction

Now that slow starters Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen have heated up, the Phillies’ offense has been among the best in baseball. And the Nats’ pitching staff doesn’t appear to be up to the task of slowing them down. The Phillies will take three of four, and the Nationals’ dreams of a repeat championship will dwindle even further.