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Welcome to Suckville: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

It’s hard to find much good to say about the Phillies right now

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets
It’s June, Kyle. Time to wake up
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

No Beastie Boys lyric in the title? Nope, I’m not going to waste my team trying to find an appropriate lyric when the team is playing like crap.

After a godawful series in New York, the Phillies head to Washington to take on the Nationals. The past few years, a series against the Nats portended good things for the Phillies. But with the way the team is playing now, I can’t even take a series win against the Nats for granted.

Washington Nationals

Record: 24-32, Fifth place in National League East (Nine games back)

The manager

Dave Martinez won a World Series with the Nats in 2019, and that’s starting to look like the “Vince Velasquez strikes out 16 against the Padres” of managerial campaigns. In 2018, a seemingly strong roster missed the playoffs under Martinez, and the team has had a losing record since the start of 2020.

To be fair, the front office decided that letting a bunch of All-Star players leave town was a viable strategy for team building, and stuck Martinez with Patrick Corbin as the “ace” of his pitching staff. Then again, fairness isn’t my goal here.

The last time they met

At the end of the 2022 season, the Phillies needed wins and the Nationals were happy to oblige. The Phillies won three out of four, despite the Nats almost screwing them by refusing to recognize the weather report and schedule a traditional doubleheader.

What’s the deal with the Nationals?

Having jettisoned most of their recognizable name talent, the Nationals are young and were not expected to be very good this season. The fact that being six games under .500 is seen as overachievement should tell you what people thought about this team.

The Nats actually lead the National League in team batting average, even though they only have one player batting as high as .300 (Joey Meneses). Hitting for average is about all they do well offensively, as they rank 14th in walks and 13th in slugging percentage. (Does this mean the Phillies won’t allow multiple home runs this weekend? Of course not!)

The Nationals’ starters for the series will be Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, and Trevor Williams who all have ERAs under 4, which is something only Zack Wheeler can claim on the Phillies. On the other hand, the Nats’ bullpen is not good, so if the Phillies can actually knock a starter out of the game relatively early, they’ll have a chance for success.

Count the jerseys

I figure a few Phillies fans will make their way down 95 to catch a game this weekend, so if you’re in attendance, here’s a fun game: Count the number of Nationals fans wearing jerseys of a player currently on the active roster. They’ll assuredly be outnumbered by jerseys of players who are now playing for other teams.

Harping on it

Based on how the Phillies played in the Mets series, it probably didn’t matter much, but it still irks me that they sat Bryce Harper for the first game. I know they wanted to give Harper two consecutive days of rest but doing it for the first game of a series against a division rival doesn’t exactly convey a sense of urgency.

Maybe take a pitch or two?

The Phillies’ hitters have apparently come to the conclusion that the solution to their offensive woes is to swing the bat more. (That does not seem to be the correct conclusion.) In the Mets series, they struck out 33 times as opposed to three walks. While the opposing pitchers have a lot to do with that, you don’t get that kind of disparity if you’re having good patient at bats.

The Phillies seem to take pitches only to get into hitters’ counts where they should theoretically get good pitches to hit. Which is fine if you’re actually doing something with those good pitches. The Phillies are not doing something with those pitches. It feels like multiple times a game, the announcers mention that someone fouled off a pitch in the middle of the zone.

I don’t know if this is the fault of the manager, the hitting coach, the front office for assembling too many free swingers, or just the players for being obstinate. But it feels like somebody needs to remind these guys that when you’re slumping, working a walk isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Who’s the fifth starter?

The Phillies have yet to announce a starter for Saturday night's game. It won’t be Bailey Falter since he started for Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. But who will it be instead? Maybe Dylan Covey will get another chance after his unfortunate showing on Sunday night. Maybe Matt Strahm will start a bullpen game. Maybe they’ll hope Cristopher Sanchez can build off of his recent success in the minors.

Maybe they should just put Kody Clemens in to start the game since it feels inevitable that he’ll end up on the mound at some point.

The Nationals as an MCU villain

The Winter Soldier

The handsome Bucky Barnes served the forces of Hydra before remembering who he truly was and coming around to the side of good.

The handsome Trea Turner played for the Nationals (we’ll say that his time in the Dodgers was like Bucky’s time in Wakanda) before eventually coming around to the side of good. This comparison would work better if Bucky inexplicably became incompetent after joining Steve Rogers’ team. (What’s that? This comparison doesn’t really work at all? Shut up!)

Imagine this scene, but instead of killing the aliens, Bucky trips and shoots Rocket by mistake.

Closing thought

It’s no longer early, and the Phillies still look like a bad team. Yes, injuries have caused some glaring holes at the bottom of the roster. But the team theoretically has enough star power at the top to overcome those holes. If Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, J.T Realmuto, and Aaron Nola were playing like expected, we’d be worrying a lot less about who the fifth starter was.

Some fans didn’t panic during the May struggles because they expected the Phillies would “turn it on” in June like they did last year. Even though the Nats are somewhat better than people predicted, if the Phillies can’t find a way to win this series, then any “turning on” they do will likely come too late for it to matter.

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