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Just Joshing: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

The Nationals and their array of Joshes from Pittsburgh come to town

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
Josh Bell has made frequent despondent trips back to the dugout this season
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The last time we saw the Phillies, they were unleashing a month’s worth of frustration upon the Cincinnati Reds’ pitching staff. If that effort wore them out, they should be nice and rested now after two consecutive days off. (One due to rain, the other scheduled.) Seems like a perfect time to come home and face a Washington Nationals team that has struggled even worse than the Phillies in 2021.

Washington Nationals

Record: 23-29 (Fourth place in National League East)

The last time they met

The Phillies traveled to DC in May and took two out of the three games. After an exciting rally in the 10th inning in the middle game, they inexplicably made Patrick Corbin look like the 2019 version of himself in the finale and failed to complete the sweep.

Since then

The Nationals have endured a five-game losing streak, and are 9-10 since last meeting the Phillies. However, they come into the series on a slight upswing having taken the last two games of their series against the Braves. This shows that games against the National League East can make any team look good.

The Washington Pirates

I’ll give the Nationals credit for originality. When trying to improve their roster, most teams find players who had previously been on good teams. But in recent seasons, the Nats have gone after added former members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are generally not considered to be a good team. Last year, they brought in Josh Harrison, and this offseason, they brought in Josh Bell (Apparently Joshes who used to play for the Pirates is the new market inequality?) and Jordy Mercer.

Mercer wasn’t viewed as anything more than a utility infielder, but the Nats had some optimism for the other two. But so far, that optimism has been largely unrewarded.

After leaving the Pirates, Harrison made a stop in Detroit (another team not known for recent success) and was with the Phillies in Spring Training before winding up with the the Nats for the 2020 season. He’s been generally okay as a utility guy, and got off to a strong start in 2021. But since the beginning of May, he’s slumped, and his OPS is just .592 over the past two weeks.

The Nats traded for first baseman Bell in December, and he’s largely shown why a 28-year-old former All-Star first baseman was so easily obtained. (Aside from the obvious reason that the Pirates are generally allergic to paying players once they begin to get expensive.) He hasn’t given the Nationals lineup the expected boost. Sure, he hits a home run every now and then, but not at the rate that you’d generally want from a first baseman.

Quick look at the Nats’ scheduled starters

I’ll admit it: Before the season began, I thought Max Scherzer was in decline. And honestly, he probably is, but when you were previously “best pitcher on the planet” status, even a decline can leave you in “very good pitcher” territory. The matchup against Zack Wheeler on Friday night should be a good one.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, the rest of their rotation is not in the “very good pitcher” category. Joe Ross gets the start on Saturday, and he’s on pace to have his fourth consecutive season with an ERA over 5.00. (He might be working on five straight if not for opting out of the 2020 season.)

The Nats have yet to announce a starter for Sunday, so they may go with a bullpen game. The Nationals bullpen is rated around the middle of the league in most statistical categories, so I’m not sure if that’s good or bad news for the Phillies.

Punchable face analysis

MLB: Washington Nationals-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

Normally, I explain why a member of the opposing team could use a good punch in the face, but it kind of looks like Kyle Schwarber has already taken a few. Also, I feel that by Kyle’s age, you should recognize the patchiness of your beard and adjust accordingly.


Last series’ answer: The only Phillies to hit a home run in the 1976 NLCS was Greg “The Bull” Luzinski. EbbyCalvinLaLoosh with the correct answer.

This series’ question: Who has the career record for most home runs hit at Citizens Bank Park while as a member of the Washington Nationals?

What to expect

  • Vince Velasquez will rebound from his last putrid start and turns in a six-inning effort that is good enough to keep him in the rotation. (The ballet continues.)
  • Odubel Herrera has had an odd level of success in his career against Scherzer and will get two hits on Friday night.
  • J.T. Realmuto hits his first home run since his return from the injured list.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

If the Nationals can’t get back into contention, would they look to trade Scherzer? He’s 36 and will be a free agent at season’s end. It’s always tough trading a franchise icon, but the Nats would have to at least consider it.

Unfortunately, if he does go on the trade market, I can’t see the Phillies getting involved even if they do consider themselves buyers come July.