Manager: Ryne Sandberg, second year
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: 2B Chase Utley (.294/.352/.452, 24 doubles, 8 HR, 46 RBIs, 50 R); RF Marlon Byrd (.261/.313/.481, 19 doubles, 18 HR, 52 RBIs); LHP Cole Hamels (3-5, 2.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP); RHP A.J. Burnett (5-8, 3.92 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 2-4, 17 runs scored, 26 runs allowed
Looking only at overall statistics wouldn’t provide an accurate representation of the Phillies’ danger factor heading into this weekend.
The Nationals head to Citizens Bank Park to, yes, take on the last-place club in the National League East and, yes, go head-to-head with a team that hasn’t been all that good in any department this season.
But the Phillies are coming off an eyebrow-raiser that should have their confidence up as the Nats arrive in town. Philadelphia just swept a four-game series from the Brewers in Milwaukee, embarrassing the NL’s best club by a combined score of 25-11.
Maybe it’s simply that the Brewers are cold right now, still holding the NL’s top record despite nine losses in 10 games. Or it could just be the start of a hot streak for the Phillies, who had lost nine of 10 themselves before winning four in a row at Miller Park.
Either way, such a performance should have the Nats on high alert as they look to grab sole possession of first place in the division before the All-Star break.
The Phillies own one of the league’s worst pitching staffs, ranking 12th in the NL with a 3.84 team ERA and a 3.97 rotation ERA while sitting ninth with a 3.58 bullpen ERA.
But they send their top two healthy starters to the mound against the Nats. The two teams line up for must-watch pitching matchups on both Friday and Saturday, as right-hander A.J. Burnett takes on Nats All-Star Jordan Zimmermann tonight and ace left-hander Cole Hamels faces Stephen Strasburg tomorrow.
Burnett has been as consistent as can be of late, stringing together six straight quality starts and lasting at least seven innings in five of those contests. He has a 3.05 ERA during that time.
Hamels might be 3-5, but he leads the rotation with a 2.87 ERA. Since a so-so start to the season, he’s allowed more than three runs just once in 12 starts - when he surrendered four in seven frames on May 27. He has pitched to a 2.04 ERA over his last dozen outings with 10 quality starts.
Right-hander Kyle Kendrick will be hoping to bounce back from allowing seven runs in 5 2/3 innings when he faces Tanner Roark on Sunday.
The Phillies have been offensively challenged as well, standing 11th in the NL with 355 runs and 75 homers while ranking 13th with a .236 average.
However, they scored nine runs twice in their last three games after failing to tally more than five in any of their previous 13 contests.
Second baseman Chase Utley has led the Philadelphia offense this year with an .804 OPS and 24 doubles. He also has eight homers and 46 RBIs. Utley got especially hot against the Brewers, going 7-for-14 with two homers and six RBIs over the last four games.
The overall numbers might not be impressive, but the Phillies have a couple of quality starters taking the mound this weekend and are playing some of their best ball with the hope of setting the Nats back before the break.