July has brought unrelenting heat to the District, and the Washington Nationals (46-42) are hoping to bring the heat north, as they ride a season-high four-game winning streak into their face-off with the Philadelphia Phillies (43-46).
The Nationals just completed their first sweep since April 11 over the San Diego Padres, and have gone 5-2 to open the month.
Their impressive record recently has allowed them to gain ground on the first-place Atlanta Braves, and the Nationals now sit just four games behind them. The Phillies are 7.5 games back, but could make a push for second place in the NL East with a good showing in this four-game series.
The Nationals can credit their improvement in the standings to the long-awaited improvement of their offense. Though their .241/.301/.387 slash line still sits near the bottom in comparison to other MLB teams, in July Nats hitters have been stars.
In seven games, they have posted a .303 batting average (fourth in MLB), a .376 on-base percentage (first), and a .424 slugging percentage (11th). Their 10 stolen bases are tied for most, and their six home runs are tied for sixth.
The Nats will take their hot-hitting offense to Philadelphia, where they will face three left-handed pitchers. Though they have struggled against lefties this season, just yesterday they roughed up left-hander Robbie Erlin for nine runs on six hits with two home runs. Rookie Erlin certainly stands in contrast to veterans John Lannan, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, but the Nationals’ success against Erlin shows that their MLB-last place .626 OPS against left-handed pitchers doesn’t doom them against southpaws.
The Newest National
The Nationals have plenty of advantages in this series, and they just acquired one more.
After trading minor league pitcher Ivan Pineyro to the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals will bring veteran outfielder Scott Hairston with them to face Philadelphia, an opponent he has dominated in his 10-year career.
In 99 at-bats this season, Hairston has a .172/.232/.434 slash line, however, in 80 at-bats since 2004 against current Phillies, he has a slash line of .288/.310/.675.
In their last meeting, the Nationals-Phillies series opener featured a match-up between Dan Haren and John Lannan, and in this opener the two pitchers will get a rematch.
During the Nationals’ 5-4 loss in June, Haren threw six innings, and allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks, while Lannan pitched five innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk.
Like Lannan was last time, Haren will be fresh off the disabled list, as he was activated Monday with Tyler Moore optioned back to Triple-A to make room on the active roster. After his last start in Philly, Haren made only one more start, in which he lasted just three and one-thirds innings, before being put in the DL with right shoulder inflammation.
Haren received a cortisone shot in his shoulder, and has reported feeling better about his pitching after his time on the DL. However, Nationals fans will still be wary of whether the miracle drug that helped their team on multiple occasions last year will make a difference in the performance of a pitcher whose 6.15 ERA has continued to disappoint them, and whose 19 home runs are tied for second in the Major Leagues.
In The Zone
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) .346 AVG, .400 OBP, .462 SLG, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB (last seven games)
Delmon Young (RF) .409 AVG, .435 OBP, .455 SLG, 1 2B (last six games)
Domonic Brown (LF) .375 AVG, .385 OBP, .750 SLG, 2 HR (last six games)
Michael Young (3B) .250 AVG, .273 OBP, .400 SLG, 3 SO (last six games)
Jimmy Rollins (SS) .269 AVG, .269 OBP, .308 SLG, 4 SO (last six games)
7/8, Dan Haren (4-9, 6.15 ERA, .306 BAA, 67 SO) vs. John Lannan (1-3, 5.15 ERA, .313 BAA, 21 SO)
7/9, Taylor Jordan (0-1, 2.70 ERA, .262 BAA, 4 SO) vs. Cole Hamels (3-11, 4.38 ERA, .254 BAA, 107 SO)
7/10, Gio Gonzalez (6-3, 3.14 ERA, .205 BAA, 109 SO) vs. Cliff Lee (10-2, 2.73 ERA, .222 BAA, 119 SO)
7/11, Jordan Zimmermann (12-3, 2.57 ERA, .217 BAA, 89 SO) vs. Kyle Kendrick (7-6, 3.90 ERA, .266 BAA, 72 SO)