Manager: Ryne Sandberg, second year
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 2B Chase Utley (.319/.378/.517, 30 XBH, 27 RBIs); RF Marlon Byrd (.274/.330/.476, 8 HR, 17 doubles, 32 RBIs); 1B Ryan Howard (.226/.300/.428, 11 HR, 40 RBIs); RHP A.J. Burnett (3-4, 3.79 ERA)
Season series vs. Nats: 2-1, 11 runs scored, 7 runs allowed
The Phillies arrive in Washington far from at their best, so the Nationals might be hitting them at just the right time.
Philadelphia has lost three in a row, four of five and nine of 13 with pitching being the main problem. The Phils have surrendered at least four runs 10 times in the last 14 games.
On top of that, the Nats won’t have to face the Phillies’ pair of aces, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Lee is out with a strained left elbow and Hamels isn’t scheduled to pitch in the series after holding opponents to 10 runs in 35 innings (2.57 ERA) over his last five starts.
Instead, the Phillies send rookie David Buchanan (1-1, 3.86 ERA), veteran A.J. Burnett (3-4, 3.79 ERA) and Kyle Kendrick (1-5, 4.21 ERA) to the mound in the series.
The premier pitching matchup comes Wednesday in the middle contest when Burnett takes on Nats right-hander Stephen Strasburg. The series-opening duel between Buchanan and Jordan Zimmermann could also shape up to be one to watch.
But Phillies pitchers have struggled, as they ranks 13th in the National League with a 4.09 ERA, 11th with a 3.99 starters’ ERA and 14th with a 4.30 bullpen ERA.
The offense has been a little better, ranking 10th in the NL with a .242 average, 11th with 216 runs and tying for 12th with 45 homers.
Second baseman Chase Utley is having an All-Star season, batting .319 with an .895 OPS, four homers, 23 doubles and 27 RBIs. Right fielder Marlon Byrd has also continued to hit well with eight homers and 32 RBIs. First baseman Ryan Howard is leading the Phillies with 11 homers and 40 RBIs, but is batting just .226.
Philadelphia makes up for some of its deficiencies with strong defense, ranking fifth in the NL in fielding percentage, having committed the NL’s fifth-fewest errors.
Although the Phillies sit in the NL East basement, they enter the series just three games behind the Nationals. So this will mark an important series for Washington to gain some separation from a scuffling foe.