The Phils (62-75) return home tonight to host the Washington Nationals (69-67) after a 3-4 road trip against the Mets and Cubs. With 25 games to go the Phils are tied with the Blue Jays for the 9th worst record in all of baseball. This could be important if the Phils decide there’s a Class A free agent they want to sign as the top 10 picks are protected, meaning the signing team would not forfeit their first round draft choice if they sign a Class A free agent. I doubt this is on Ryne Sandberg’s mind as he goes out with a depleted team every night and tries his best to manage the Phils to victory. However I doubt the significance is lost on Ruben Amaro Jr., as he’s tasked with rebuilding the Phillies this winter.
Tonight’s game features two of the best starting pitchers in the NL. Cole Hamels 6-13, 3.58 ERA faces Stephen Strasburg 6-9, 2.96 ERA. In Hamels last 11 starts he’s pitched 9 WG (winnable games = 7+ innings pitched, 2 or less ER). In those 11 games Hamels has gone 4-2 and dropped his ERA a full run, from 4.58 on June 26th to 3.58 entering tonight’s game. In the second half he’s found his form and change up, which he had got away from early in the season. His 2nd half shows that he is once again among the NL’s best. The 24 year-old righty Stephen Strassburg is another top pitcher whose record does not reflect how well he’s pitched this season. Strasburg is 7th in ERA and 5th in WHIP this season, but much like Hamels has been the victim of terrible run support. He hasn’t needed much help against the Phils this year however. In Strasburg’s two starts he’s 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA, throwing 17 innings while allowing just 10 hits, 1 walk and 1 ER and striking out 19.
In Tuesday night’s game the Phils will send power pitcher Ethan Martin 2-3, 6.39 ERA against Gio Gonzalez 8-6, 3.36 ERA. Martin has arrived as advertised. He throws hard, struggles with his command, strikes out more than a batter an inning and has only pitched past the 5th inning in one of six starts. He’s very tough the first time through a lineup but loses several mph on his fastball relatively early in the game. His future may be bright as a set up man or even closer one day, but the Phils are giving him a shot at starting since that’s how he’s been used his entire pro career. Although he’s pitched well this year, this is not the same Gio Gonzalez that racked up 21 wins and was 2nd runner up for the Cy Young last year. His numbers are good, but down across the board. Much like Strasburg, Gonzalez thrives when pitching against the Phillies. The lefty is 4-1, 2.31 ERA against the Phils in six lifetime starts. This year he’s 1-0. 1.93 ERA in two starts.
Wednesday’s finale features the Nats 2013 ace, right hander Jordan Zimmerman 15-8, 3.33 ERA against the one-time ace of the Phillies, Roy Halladay 3-4, 7.94 ERA. Zimmerman has been a model of consistency for the Nats. With the exception of July he’s won 3 or more games each month of the season. He also leads the team is SO/BB ratio. Of the three scheduled starters in this series Zimmerman is the only one who’s had his share of difficulties with the Phils over the years. Lifetime he’s only 2-5 against the Phils with a 4.37 ERA. This year he’s manged to go 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. Halladay is making his third start since coming back from shoulder surgery in May. He’s 1-1 so far, but has not looked sharp. Aside from the velocity being down Halladay doesn’t have that late movement on his pitches that he’s known for. His 60.2% strike ratio is another indicator that he’s far from all the way back. Doc’s next five starts will be vital in the Phils evaluation of his chance for a complete, or near complete comeback. He’s also auditioning for other MLB teams who wouldn’t mind having a healthy Halladay in their rotation.
It’s this writer’s opinion that Halladay got away with a lot of mistake pitches against the Dbacks and also needed some stellar defensive plays to get the win. Against the Cubs he was flat out bad. He allowed seven hits, including two HR’s in five innings against a team hitting .239 on the season. I didn’t expect Doc to come back throwing darts 3 1/2 months after shoulder surgery, and if he was under contract for next year we probably wouldn’t see him at all this year. If it’s true that velocity is the last thing to come back, as Doc’s surgeons have told him, I would expect that late movement to be the 2nd to last thing to come back. We probably won’t see how well Halladay is able to pitch again until after he signs his next contract. That should be very interesting.
The Nats are 6.5 games behind the Reds for the final wild card spot with 26 games to play. In their last 10 games they’re 7-3 and it looks as if they may have finally woke up. For a team this talented it looks like they were sleep walking through the first 120 or so games. They head into Citizens Bank Park at a good time. The Phils continue their struggle to score, as yesterday’s loss was their 71st game of scoring three runs or less. If you think that’s improved since Sandberg has taken the reigns you’d be wrong. Nine times in 17 games the Phils have scored 3 or less for Ryno. Granted, he’s playing every stiff with a sub .200 BA that Amaro has picked off the waiver wire or traded for, but it’s still his job to get these guys to play. With Washington sending their top three pitchers to the mound against the struggling Phils, this could be a good series for the Nats.