It was easy for Nationals fans to write off last season as a fluke. Yes, the 2019 World Series champs missed the playoffs in 2020, but its not like that was a normal season. Considering they got off to a poor start in 2019, they talked themselves into thinking that given a full season, the Nationals would have played their way back into contention.
They thought 2021 would see the team rebound back into contention. They held fast to the belief that the continued presence of players like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Juan Soto would keep the team in the playoff hunt.
Thus far, that hasn’t worked out so well. Perhaps this team is going to turn things around and go on a 2019-style late-season surge. But from where I’m sitting, the Nationals look like a franchise whose best days are behind them.
Record: 13-17 (Fourth place in National League East)
The last time they met
You probably remember this tweet from the Nationals.
You probably also remember that the Nats went on to lose their next six games against the Phillies.
Less memorable was the final series between the teams, when the Nats got a measure of revenge by winning three out of four. At least the Phillies finished the series strongly with a 12-3 win.
A new divisional opponent?
The schedule makers didn’t seem to realize that there were other teams in the National League East besides the Braves and Mets, since it feels like 75% of the Phillies’ games this season have been against those two. The Phillies will finally get a look at a different team in the East as they take on the Nationals for the first time.
The Nats aren’t coming in hot, having lost five of their last six games, with the final two coming in walkoff fashion against the Yankees.
Giancarlo Stanton game-winning single as the Yankees walk it off for the second day in a row! pic.twitter.com/TeE1SKyrCm— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) May 9, 2021
Juan and done?
The Nats were expecting Juan Soto to carry their offense this season. So far, he hasn’t carried them very far. He missed two weeks with a shoulder injury, and it has clearly hampered him for most of the year, since he has an OPS of just .803 (That’s not necessarily bad, but considering he led the NL with a 1.185 mark in 2020, it’s certainly disappointing). None of his teammates have done much to pick up the slack, and the Nats rank a dismal 14th in runs scored in the National League.
Not adding much
The Nationals thought they bolstered their offense with the offseason acquisitions of Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, but both men are showing why they were so obtainable. Bell is batting just .141 and his 2019 All-Star season is looking more and more like a fluke. Kyle Schwarber’s average of .193 is actually better than the .188 mark he turned in for 2020, so there’s a strong possibility he’s just not a good player anymore.
Has the Mayor announced when they'll help Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber re-learn to hit?— Dennis King (@DKingBH) May 10, 2021
Happy Harper homecoming?
Nationals fans never seem all that happy to see Bryce Harper come to town, but they might be getting him at the right time. Since a pitch hit him in the face and wrist last month, Harper has missed several games, and struggled at the plate when he has been able to play.
Perhaps a trip to DC to face his adoring fans is just what he needs to get back on track. It helps that Tuesday’s starter for the Nats is a guy he has had some success against in his career. (4-11 with two home runs.)
Quick look at the Nationals’ scheduled starters for the series
Erick Fedde gets the ball on Tuesday, and if 2021 is anything like last season, that’s good news for the Phillies. In his three 2020 starts against the Phillies, Fedde was 0-3 with a 6.50 ERA. As mentioned above, Harper has done well against him, as seen in this clip:
Bryce Harper doesn’t care about lower back discomfort. Instead, he’s smashing his 12th home run of the year off Erick Fedde.— Tyler Milliken (@tylermilliken_) September 23, 2020
Details on the solo shot:
Exit Velo - 107 MPH
Distance - 425 FT#Phillies lead the #Nationals 1-0.#RingTheBell| #MLBpic.twitter.com/EbC2d5tDNo
Some questioned why the Nats signed Jon Lester this offseason, since the 37 year old looked to be on his last legs in 2020. He’s made two starts thus far this season, and the first one was encouraging (Five shutout innings), while the second one was not (Three runs in five innings). The Phillies haven’t faced him in a couple of years, but the last time they did, they knocked him around for seven runs in four innings.
Patrick Corbin will start the series finale. You may recall the Phillies tried to sign him a couple of years ago, but the Nats topped their offer by giving him a sixth year. Considering he helped them win the World Series, the Nats assuredly do not regret that move. However, considering how poorly he’s pitched this season and last, they probably wish they weren’t obligated to pay him handsomely for the next three seasons.
Just remember, if the Phillies give six years to Patrick Corbin in 2019, they probably don’t sign Zack Wheeler.— Smarty Jones Esq. (@TheSmartyJones) May 6, 2021
Of course, in this timeline, the Nats don’t win the World Series...But the Astros do...
All in all, I think we’re better off now
Talk to the Hand
The Phillies had every opportunity to get Brad Hand on their team this offseason, but chose to seek relief help elsewhere. Hand got off to a very strong start, but he was culpable in both of the Nats’ recent walkoff losses, blowing a save in one, and then allowing the winning run in a tie game.
It goes to show that while there are certainly times when I wish Hector Neris was not the Phillies closer, just about every reliever goes through some rough patches in a season. Unless you’ve got Mariano Rivera, pretty much every team’s fans is going to have a love/hate relationship with their closer.
Last series’ answer: On two separate occasions (9/27/2013 and 4/16/2014), Cliff Lee struck out 13 Atlanta Braves in a single game. Bilzo2 was first with the correct answer.
This series’ question: Who was the last Phillie to ever hit a home run against the Montreal Expos?
What to expect
- Andrew McCutchen will stay hot and hit one deep at some point.
- Rhys Hoskins will regain his good eye at the plate and walk at least once in each game.
- In one of the games, the Phillies will once again do that thing where they get off to an early lead and then stop scoring, allowing the Nats to take the lead against their bullpen.
Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series
The Phillies’ “dead team walking” vibe on Sunday night was understandable since that was the final day of a 17 games in 17 days stretch, and they had just lost a heartbreaker the night before. They need to come out strong this series and show that the recent five-game winning streak wasn’t a fluke.