For what feels like the first time since the 2019 postseason, the Washington Nationals have caught fire. They have been doing so without some of their main pitchers. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Daniel Hudson, have all spent time on the IL recently but nonetheless they have gotten the job done. The starting pitching has been phenomenal. Guys like Paolo Espino, Jefry Rodriguez, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Patrick Corbin, and Jon Lester have all logged impressive outings during the Nationals’ 11 game homestand. Since a win in Tampa on June 9, the Nationals have won 9 of 12 games, including a streak of five straight. The Nationals beat up on the New York Mets during that stretch with a sweep of the Pirates earlier in the week, and the Nats split with the Giants. Two of those teams are leading their division and have playoff aspirations, and something must be said for that.
The Phillies have had a very up and down season to this point. Injuries and ineffectiveness have taken away from a very talented group. When holistically looking at the team assembled, the Phillies should be in prime contention with the elites of the NL. Bryce Harper, for all of the acrimony Nats fans have for him, has had a good year so far. Rhys Hoskins has done the same barring a recent 0-33 stretch that he has snapped. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have pitched like aces for the Phillies. Their roster is littered with stars and yet they have toiled with lesser teams. The Nationals have honestly had a poor start to the year between inconsistency and ineffectiveness, yet enter the series just a game behind them in the division.
The Phils are returning from a West Coast swing that saw them go 2-4 against the Giants and Dodgers, losing both series. The team has not been scoring runs at an elite level, similar to the Nationals. This, as many Nats fans know, puts such a tremendous amount of pressure on a team’s pitchers that winning seems improbable, if not impossible some nights. Since the Nats’ most recent trip to Philly in early June, the Phillies have lost Jean Segura, Chase Anderson, Matt Joyce, and Andrew Knapp to the IL. Segura is the biggest loss in terms of production. However, the other three players are all contributors that the Phillies need in order to give some of their regulars time off. The Phillies are in a similar personnel spot that the Nationals find themselves. They are relying on lesser players to carry them. The difference between the teams has been the results.
Nationals on a Roll:
The entire Nationals faithful has long awaited the day that this team reaches their full potential. Kyle Schwarber has turned into Barry Bonds, swatting home run after home run. He hit eight home runs over the course of the previous homestand. Trea Turner has seemingly found his swing and raised his batting average above .300 once again. Juan Soto is finding his groove. Yan Gomes is playing like an All Star both in the field and at the plate. The Nationals have been playing like a complete team. For the first time all season, the team has both their pitching and hitting cores performing at the same time. Everyone knew that if the Nationals got hot, they are not an easy team to beat. That is due to the pure talent on this roster. Seemingly, manager Dave Martinez has found a way to utilize everyone’s abilities.
Compounding on this is the impending return of Max Scherzer. He is most likely being activated for the start tonight. Scherzer has dominated the Phillies, including an outing that saw him go 7.2 innings with nine strikeouts, only yielding a single run earlier this month. Scherzer is dominating this season, even taking into account his short stint on the IL. He carves up the Phillies whenever he faces them. To be fair, Scherzer carves up just about every team, but the Phillies always seem to get the worst of it.
The second probable starter for the Nationals has to be one of the biggest revelations this season. Erick Fedde was not even an original member of the rotation. When the Nationals broke camp in early April, he was in the bullpen after not winning the fifth spot in the rotation. He was thrust into action after Stephen Strasburg got injured. After a few shaky outings early, he has been nothing short of incredible. Fedde is a sinker-ball pitcher, and relies on downward movement to force hitters to beat the ball into the ground. His sinker gets up to 96 MPH. That makes the pitch hard to hit on its own, but it also creates a lot of soft contact. The concern with Fedde is getting the sinker down, but he has done a great job recently. In fact, he is working on an active streak of over 20 innings without an earned run allowed.
This two game set between two bitter rivals is really going to come down to which squad wants it more. That might sound cliché, and maybe it is, but it is true. The Phillies have figured out that they aren’t winning any games based on the amount of talent they have on their roster. The Nationals have figured out that no one is going to feel bad for them if they fail, and they will have to find a way to win games and climb back into this division race which is wide open.
The Phillies and Nationals enter this series four games and five games back of the division leading Mets, respectively. The Nats especially should be trying to get any wins that they can, as they face a daunting schedule prior to the All Star Break. The Nats face the Marlins, Mets, Rays, Dodgers, Padres, and Giants before the break. None of the upcoming games will be easy, but as they have said, “It’s go time”.
Tuesday night, 7:05 PM: Max Scherzer* (5-4, 2.21 ERA) @ Zack Wheeler (5-3, 2.15 ERA)
Wednesday afternoon, 1:05 PM: Erick Fedde (4-4, 3.33 ERA) @ Vince Velasquez (2-2, 4.44 ERA)
*Scherzer had not been officially activated at time of publication but all indications imply that he will be activated in time for his start Tuesday night. If he is not activated, Paolo Espino most likely gets another spot start*