Although the big story of the day is “what on earth are the Philadelphia Phillies doing to their team?,” amidst all the chatter, the Phillies (45-57) still have to play the Washington Nationals (61-40) tonight for the first time since May.
The Phillies are 16.5 games behind the first place Nationals and have essentially given up their efforts at trying to catch them. Acknowledging the huge hole they are in, the Phillies management has thrown up the symbolic white flag for the season and began unloading their players before the trade deadline today.
Rebounding slightly after a terrible June, the Phillies have gone 9-13 in July and were piecing together a four-game winning streak before they were swept by fellow NL Easterners, the Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the Nationals have won eight of their last nine, and have the best record in baseball.
The team the Nationals play this week will certainly be much different than the team they played in May, for better or for worse, and they will try to tack on some more wins to their 4-2 record against them on the year.
The Rivalry That Could Have Been
When these two teams last met, there was still hope for the Phillies. By the end of their last series against each other, the Phillies were still just 4.5 games behind the Nationals, which set them up for a very attainable comeback. Now their hope has all but been extinguished completely, as they are so far behind that a comeback at this point would set MLB records.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said that the rivalry between these two teams has “lost some of its luster,” but I would argue that it has lost more than some of it. With the Phillies continuing to make last place in the division their home and the Nationals establishing their first place seniority, the tension just isn’t as high when odds of winning each matchup are so steeply tilted in favor of the Nationals.
Trade Deadline Doozies
The Phillies were busy in the last few hours leading up to the 4 p.m. trade deadline, dumping two of the biggest names associated with the team: Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. The “Fire Sale Phillies,” so called by Nationals beat writer Mark Zuckerman, traded essentially their entire outfield to the Los Angeles Dodgers (Victorino) and the San Francisco Giants (Pence) in exchange for an outfielder, a pitcher and two minor leaguers.
The Phillies’ dismantling of their team signifies their symbolic surrender of this season to the National League East team who can earn the title of division champion that the Phillies have held for the last five years. The Nationals would be more than happy to step up and fill that role.
The Nationals have also made some significant changes in their roster today, although not due to trade deadline antics. Infielder Chad Tracy was activated from the DL and Jayson Werth came to the park to take batting practice. It has been over two months since those two huge contributors have been on the active roster, and it seems fitting that Werth could make his comeback during this series, after breaking his wrist the last time his former team visited Nats Park.
Hard To Beat
The Nationals have had their fair share of run-ins with Cole Hamels this year, and possibly the most notable, although definitely the least dramatic, is their record against him.
So far this season, the Nats haven’t been able to beat him. He has pitched the Phillies to their only two victories against the Nationals this season, and both times he threw exceptionally well, only giving up five hits and one run in a total of 16 innings pitched.
However, the second highest paid pitcher in major league history will head to Washington coming off a less than exceptional last start. It was his shortest of the year, in which he lasted just five innings and gave up three earned runs on four hits with one home run. Hamels struggled to find the strike zone, and recorded two career firsts: throwing more balls than strikes (56-53) for the first time when throwing over 100 pitches, and walking a career-high six batters.
Hamels will look to make amends for his rough last start this week against the Nats, who are collectively batting just .164 against him this year.
Carlos Ruiz (C) .276 AVG, .371 OBP, .379 SLG, 3 SO (last 10 games)
Kyle Kendrick (RP) 0.00 ERA, 8 H, 12 SO, 14.2 IP (last seven games)
Ty Wigginton (1B) .122 AVG, .213 OBP, .195 SLG, 12 SO (last 17 games)
Antonio Bastardo (RP) 10.57 ERA, 3 HR, 0 SV, 1 SVO, 7.2 IP (last 10 games)
Stephen Strasburg (11-4, 2.76 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (1-6, 3.95 ERA)
Edwin Jackson (6-6, 3.52 ERA) vs. Vance Worley (5-6, 3.88 ERA)
Ross Detwiler (5-4, 3.24 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (11-5, 3.31 ERA)