Nationals Claim Series Over Phillies, Major Future Challenges Emerge

The Philadelphia Phillies “Our Park” series went just as fast as it came in. It was a weekend circled on the calendar for the Washington Nationals since the end of last season, and the days leading up to it were filled with excitement, angst, and anticipation.

The Nats, in a midst of a season where their franchise is starting to finally emerge, had to not only face the prospects of defeating the defending N.L. East Champion, but also shutting up their obnoxious herd of a fan base. It was a tall task, one that had even the strongest Washington fans worried. It would be the first true test, not only of the legitimacy of the Nationals surge to first place this season, but also of the legitimacy of D.C. as a baseball town.

Both the fans and the team answered the call. The club won two of the three games in rather convincing fashion, maintaining their lead in the National League East and improving to 18-10 on the year. The fans came out in droves, and more importantly, they stood up for their team and their city in the face of Phillies fans attempting to hold on to the past glory of an aging and expensive team.

Most reports indicate that on Friday the crowd was comprised of roughly 70/30 Nationals fans and on Saturday and Sunday the split was closer to 60/40. In past years, the park had been comprised of almost entirely Phillies fans, and they would let you know it. This year the fightin’s fans were easily drowned out whenever they started to make a ruckus. Whether it was “Nattitude,” or the confidence that comes from winning, Washington really did take back the park over the weekend. Call it a success for the marketing team, or a success for baseball ops, either way it was a major success for the city and the fans. 

Unfortunately, a couple of issues arose during the series that will challenge the Nationals moving forward. Jayson Werth, who this year had begun to pull is own weight in the Nats lineup, broke his wrist making a play on a fly ball. It is believed he’ll be out as much as six weeks. This of course is the last thing a team with an anemic offense needs, especially when they were already missing their everyday three, four, and five hitters.

Adam LaRoche also did not play at all during the series, suffering a mysterious oblique strain. We’ve seen all to well what these injuries can turn into, and just how hard they are to treat. The Nats training staff believe he’ll be able to come back soon, but they said the same thing about Michael Morse this spring, and Ryan Zimmerman last year.

Some Overall Thought on the Series:

- Bryce Harper was the center of attention for Washington this weekend, and that’s because the Phillies allowed him to be. Phillies hurler Howie Kendrick even said after losing Game 1 that the game plan was to not allow Harper to beat them, but it seemed like even though they didn’t give him many pitches to hit, they kept letting him make noise in the field and on the base paths. He was jut 2-10 overall on the weekend, but he earned four walks, was intentionally hit by a pitch by Cole Hamels, and even stole home. For a 19-year-old rookie who has never even hit a home run, he was clearly in the collective heads of Philadelphia. While that’s a lot for a kid to handle, it also takes a load off the rest of his teammates. 

- Jordan Zimmermann earned the loss last night and it was his second consecutive loss of the season. The right-hander, who had been lauded by the ESPN broadcast crew as one of the best control pitchers in the game, allowed four walks, and gave up three earned runs on seven hits. Jay-Z just simply could not find the plate last night, he threw just 49 of 91 pitches for strikes, and was completely overmatched by Hamels on the other side of the mound.

- While Stephen Strasburg an Zimmermann both had arguably their worst starts of the season in this series, Gio Gonzalez continued to shine. He allowed just one earned run on four hits (although the run should have been unearned, due to another dropped ball by catcher Wilson Ramos) in seven innings of work. He struck out seven batters, and walked just one. At the plate, he also roped a double and scored a run.

- With LaRoche hung up with his abdominal injury, veteran Chat Tracy stepped in and made a major impact on the series. The 32-year-old was 6 for 12 on the weekend with four runs, two home runs, and three RBI. Even his outs for the most part were screaming line drives to right or center field. It’s probably just a hot streak, but even if he comes down to earth Tracy is a solid replacement for LaRoche if the slugging first baseman has to miss multiple weeks with his injury. The last time Tracy played 100 games or more he hit .281/.343/.451 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI.