After taking two of three from the Padres and winning their second straight series, the Phils (68-78) go on the road to take on the possibly too little, too late rocking Washington Nationals (77-69). The Phils have won five of their last six after dropping two of three to the Nats last week in South Philly. The Nats have won six straight, eight of their last ten, and 12 of their last 16 to close within 5.5 games of the Cincinnati Reds for the last wild card in the NL. The Nats have been riding the ultra-hot bat of former Phil Jason Werth in their push to the playoffs.
Werth’s slash line of .324/.398/.542 has him sitting atop the NL in the all-important OPS, sporting a .940 clip. Though Werth has missed 32 games this year he still has 23 HR’s and 71 RBI’s. In 50 games since the All-Star break Werth is hitting .359 and his OPS is an out-of-sight 1.082. For the first time since joining the Nats in 2011 Werth is playing up to his contract. Should the Nats overtake the Reds and make the playoffs Werth will garner much consideration for NL MVP, as he’s been the driving force behind the clubs 2nd half surge.
After taking two of three from the Phils last week the Nats are 9-7 against their NL East foe. They’ll be sending their top three pitchers up against the Phils this weekend as the Reds travel to Milwaukee for a 3-game set. Tonight the Nats send their big righty Stephen Strassburg 7-9, 2.96 ERA up against the Phils struggling starter Kyle Kendrick. Strasburg is 1-0 with two ND’s his last three times out. One of those games against the Marlins Strasburg only went two hitless innings due to a lengthy rain delay. In his next start Strasburg went six innings against the Phils and only surrendered two hits, 1 run and 0 ER in a 3-2 Phils win. Strasburg didn’t figure in the decision. His last outing is the worst of the three, though it’s the game Strasburg is credited with winning. He went six innings allowing four ER in a 6-4 win over the hapless Marlins.
Kyle Kendrick is pitching for his job these days, whether it is in Philly or elsewhere next year. There’s been much talk about how the team should handle Kendrick, but to date Ruben Amaro Jr. has been tight lipped about his plans. Kendrick is 0-2 with a ND in his last three starts. In each he has gone 6 innings and has allowed a total of nine ER, 17 hits, 15 SO’s and eight walks. Kendrick hasn’t pitched like a man fighting for his job as he’s been very mediocre of late. He entered his 27th start against the Mets with a 4.51 ERA and will take that identical ERA into tonight’s game, his 29th start of the season.
In the middle game of the series Saturday night the Nats will send former Phillie farmhand LHP Gio Gonzalez to the hill. In seven lifetime starts against the Phils Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA. In last week’s game against the Phils Gonzalez only lasted 5.2 innings, giving up five runs but only one earned. He was the winning pitcher in a game where Nats roughed up Phils rookie Ethan Martin. Gonzalez is 3-0 in his last three starts including a complete game one-hitter against the Mets on September 9th. His ERA in those games is a scant 0.41 as he racked up 22 SO’s, eight BB’s and nine hits in 21.2 innings.
Instead of squaring off against an inexperienced rookie, this time Gonzalez will square off against the Phils Cole Hamels. Hamels has been one of the NL’s best and most consistent 2nd half pitchers this year. Hamels is tied for 3rd in the NL with 14 WG’s (winnable games, 7+ IP, 2 ER or less). In 11 of Hamels last 13 games he’s thrown a WG, lowering his ERA from 4.58 on June 26th to it’s current 3.45. In Hamels last eight starts since August 1st he has an ERA of 1.95. In those games Hamels has pitched 60 innings and allowed only 13 ER, 45 hits, 54 SO’s and only six BB’s and five HR’s. His WHIP over that period is an awesome 0.85. In his last three starts he’s 2-0 with a ND and an even more amazing WHIP of .727. Hamels is 14-6 lifetime with a 2.52 ERA against the Nats. This year he’s 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA. This game will feature two hot dueling lefties. The Nats have everything to play for but Sandberg is 15-11 since taking the reigns from Charlie Manuel. Hamels and Lee’s standout pitching have certainly contributed to Sandberg’s positive record with an otherwise depleted team.
Sunday’s finale looks like a pitching mismatch that strongly favors the Nats. Jordan Zimmermann 17-8, 3.36 ERA will oppose Tyler Cloyd 2-4, 4.56 ERA. The 27 year old righty Zimmerman is putting together a career year with 14 WG’s, trailing only Kershaw, Wainwright and Lee. Zimmerman has won two of his last three including a 3-2 victory over the Phils last week in which Roy Halladay had his best start since returning from the DL. It wasn’t enough as Zimmerman lasted seven innings allowing just seven hits, one BB and two ER’s on his way to the victory. His last three games Zimmerman has been OK but has pitched below his season average in ERA, 3.66 and WHIP, 1.22. Zimmerman is just 5.1 innings shy of his career high and the innings may be taking their toll. We’ll see Sunday.
Tyler Cloyd will be making his 4th start since returning to the rotation on August 20th. He’s pitched poorly in his three starts going 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA and 1.666 WHIP. The Phils can only hope that Cloyd can spin his occasional good game to give them a chance to win. The Phils will count on the Phils bats getting to Zimmerman early to stay in the game. Lifetime Zimmerman is 3-5, 4.13 ERA against the Phils including last week’s win. On paper it appears to be a huge mismatch, but every Phillies lineup that takes the field under Sandberg appears to be a big mismatch against the Phils, yet somehow Sandberg has got them winning.
Contributions from the power hitting but strikeout prone Darin Ruf, solid defense and mostly good AB’s from rookie 3B Cody Asche, a steady and reliable Chase Utley and a resurgent Carlos Ruiz have the Phils walking far more than they ever did under Manuel, and coming up with big come from behind wins in games that look to be lost. Sandberg has the Phils buying into his brand of baseball and would like nothing more than to play spoiler down the stretch. He has a chance this weekend to knock the Nats out for good with a big series.