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Old friends, bad team: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

A five-game series against the Nationals should be a great opportunity to rack up some wins - emphasis on should be.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants
There hasn’t been much power from the bat of Maikel Franco this year
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t easy, but the Phillies did indeed win the series against the Marlins. You could argue that it could have been a sweep for the Phillies, but it was also very close to being a sweep for the Marlins. Let’s just take the two wins and be happy.

The Phillies will now head down I-95 to face the Nationals for the first time this season. In theory, this is a good thing. The Nationals are not having a good season. In fact, they have the worst record in the National League. Five games against them should be a great opportunity to rack up some wins.

But as the Phillies have shown us over the past few years, just because a series looks like it should be easy, doesn’t mean that’s how it will actually play out.

Washington Nationals

Record: 23-42 (Fifth place in National League East, 18.5 games back)

The last time they met

The Phillies didn’t always take advantage of their easy schedule down the stretch of the 2021 season, but when they visited a bad Washington team at the end of August, they won all three games. In the finale, they fought back from a 6-0 deficit to secure the sweep.

What’s the deal with the Nationals?

The Nationals apparently sold their souls for a World Series in 2019, as they’ve been horrid ever since. They finished in fifth place in both 2020 and 2021 and appear to be well on their way to another in 2022.

The offense is 12th in the NL in runs scored, thanks in part to ranking dead last in home runs. Keep in mind that these low ranks come with Juan Soto, who has been in the conversation for “best player in the league” for the past couple of seasons. But even Soto hasn’t been all that great in 2022, with a .233 batting average and .833 OPS. (Don’t get me wrong: An OPS over .800 is good for most players, but when you’re coming off consecutive seasons of 1.185 and .999, it’s a bit of a disappointment.)

The Nationals likely wish they had a Soto caliber player to lift their pitching staff as well. They have the highest ERA in the league, and the rotation is filled with names that will strike absolutely no fear into the hearts of opposing hitters. (Remember when Patrick Corbin was good?)

As for the dream that Stephen Strasburg might return to save them...

Who’s cold?

Former Phillie Cesar Hernandez is the Nats’ starting second baseman. I think my opinion on Cesar may have swung more than any other Phillie I’ve ever watched, as I couldn’t decide if he was good or bad. I’ve settled on thinking that he was a slightly above average player who was ultimately replaceable.

Since leaving the Phillies, Cesar has had a strange few years. He won a Gold Glove in 2020, and then inexplicably hit 21 home runs in 2021. But in 2022, there are very few people who would say “Should of kept.” His OPS is .646, and is batting just .189 over the past two weeks.

And another familiar face!

For some reason, the Nats thought reuniting half of the 2017 Phillies’ starting infield was a good idea. Not only do they have Hernandez at second, but manning the hot corner is one time future star Maikel Franco.

Franco has an OPS of .669, and where he once could be counted on for 20+ home runs in a season, he’s hit just five this year. One thing he has been proficient at is hitting into double plays. He has a league leading 13 of those. (Maybe he and J.T. Realmuto can compare notes?)

Speaking of Realmuto

Realmuto has struggled greatly on offense this season, and even his usual strong defense has been lacking lately. It feels like the extremely heavy workload has taken its toll on him.

After Garrett Stubbs’ heroics on Wednesday, it would make a lot of sense to give Stubbs another start on Thursday. With a doubleheader on Friday, both catchers will presumably get a start, and I would split the rest of the weekend between them. I don’t know if a few days off will cure whatever ails Realmuto, but if he can’t perform well, there’s no point to overworking him.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: Marlon Anderson had two career home runs against the Marlins. SteveH2331 was correct.

This series’ question: In Nationals Park’s inaugural season of 2009, a Phillies player hit six home runs at the stadium. Who was he?

Double trouble

The Phillies have been notoriously bad in doubleheaders over the past few seasons. If they can’t sweep Friday’s games going against a bad Nationals team with an awful rotation (none of the even remotely good starters are scheduled to pitch on Friday), then they might never sweep a doubleheader again.

I should mention that the Phillies’ starters for the two games are likely to be Ranger Suarez and Bailey Falter. So regardless of who the Nationals send out there, the Phillies’ advantage in the starting pitching matchups won’t be that great.

Closing thought

The Phillies have consistently beaten the Nationals over the past two seasons (20-9). With the Phillies on a hot streak, and the Nationals coming in cold (they’ve lost five in a row), I see no reason why that shouldn’t continue this weekend.