Manager: Ryne Sandberg, third year
Last 10 games: 1-2
Who to watch: C Carlos Ruiz (.375/.583/.375, 0 XBH, 0 RBIs); RF Jeff Francoeur (.222/.222/.556, 1 HR, 3 RBIs); LHP Cole Hamels (0-1, 7.20 ERA, 1.60 WHIP); RHP Jerome Williams (4-2, 2.83 ERA, 1.134 WHIP in 2014)
Season series vs. Nats (2014): 10-9, 70 runs scored, 84 runs allowed
April 10: RHP Jerome Williams vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN2
April 11: LHP Cole Hamels vs. RHP Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN2
April 12: RHP Sean O'Sullivan vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 1:30 p.m., MASN2
The Phillies are coming off back-to-back 73-win seasons and their first last-place finish since 2000, and expectations aren't much higher for the club this season. So this weekend could be an opportunity for the Nationals to turn things around after a rough first series.
Philadelphia has seemingly begun a much-needed rebuilding process after failing to put together a record better than 81-81 since 2011, the last year in a spectacular run of five straight National League East titles and playoff appearances.
The Phillies made no major moves to help over the winter, with the most significant deals being subtractions. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers and outfielder Marlon Byrd was shipped to the Reds. Thus, Philadelphia's lineup is somewhat diminished from the one that ranked 23rd in the majors in runs scored, 24th in average and 27th in OPS last season.
Four of the Phillies' nine starting position players are at least 31 and none are younger than 25-year-old infielders Freddy Galvis and Cody Asche. The success of the lineup will likely hinge on three aging stars - second baseman Chase Utley (36), first baseman Ryan Howard (35) and catcher Carlos Ruiz (36).
Ruiz is the only one of the three who hit well during a season-opening series loss to the Red Sox, as the Phillies were outscored 16-6. Ruiz is batting .375/.583/.375 with four walks through three games. The only other starter with an OPS over .664 is outfielder Jeff Francoeur (.222/.222/.556 with one homer and three RBIs).
Howard (.250 OPS) and Utley (.174 OPS) are both off to slow starts. Utley does have two RBIs, however, and is the only player aside from Francoeur to drive in a run this season. The lineup should get a boost when outfielder Domonic Brown returns from Achilles tendinitis.
The rotation could be an even greater area of concern. The Phillies finished 20th in the majors with a 3.79 ERA last season, and this year will likely be without former ace Cliff Lee as he rehabs his left elbow one last time.
Cole Hamels is the lone healthy holdover from the starting staff's heyday, but the team is investigating trades for its star southpaw. Hamels pitched to a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season and hasn't had an ERA above 3.60 since 2009. He struggled in his first start this season, however, allowing four runs on four solo homers in five innings.
Hamels will have some underrated help in the rotation with veteran right-handers Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams. Both have had up-and-down careers, but Harang, 36, is coming off a terrific year with the Braves (12-12, 3.57 ERA in 33 starts). Williams, 33, has a 4.40 career ERA in nine major league seasons. He pitched to a 4.77 ERA with three teams a year ago, but finished strong with the Phillies, going 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts after being claimed off waivers.
Right-handers David Buchanan and Sean O'Sullivan complete the season-opening rotation, but there are other options in the minors if they don't work out. Buchanan, 26, went 6-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts as a rookie in 2014. He allowed six runs in three innings his first start this year. O'Sullivan, 27, has a 5.91 career ERA in five big league seasons.
This weekend, Williams opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez in the series opener, Hamels takes on righty Doug Fister on Saturday and O'Sullivan faces righty Max Scherzer on Saturday.
The Phillies bullpen was solid in the Boston series, allowing four earned runs in 12 2/3 innings (2.84 ERA). Jake Diekman was the only reliever to allow an earned run. Closer Jonathan Papelbon converted his only save opportunity while relievers Justin De Fratus, Luis Garcia and Dustin McGowan have combined for seven scoreless frames.
Although the Phillies haven't been a contender for several years, they have managed to hang with the Nationals in recent seasons. In 2014, Philadelphia won 10 of 19 meetings between the NL East rivals despite being outscored 84-70 in the season series. In 2013, the Nats went 11-8 against the Phillies, but the clubs ended in a 9-9 split in 2012.
So the Nats have an opportunity for a positive weekend, but must be wary considering the prior trouble with their nearest divisional neighbor.