Phillies-Nationals (Game 71): Must-Know Stuff
Phillies (33-37) vs. Washington Nationals (34-34)
First pitch at 7:05 p.m.
After yesterday’s 5-2 loss to the Rockies to limp to the finish of a 3-7 road trip, Charlie Manuel said his team will need 50 wins by the All-Star Break to have a realistic shot at contention.
In other words, they need to go 17-9 over the next month.
Crushing hope for that is easy. The Phillies don’t do any of the things teams need to do to sustain success, even for a short period. They don’t get on base. They don’t tax starting pitchers. They don’t take advantage of relievers. And their rotation’s back-end is finally starting to come back to earth.
But that’s the task at hand if summer baseball is to be relevant in Philadelphia. And it starts tonight.
Luck of the Draw
The Phillies won’t see Washington’s top two starters, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Early National League MVP-favorite Bryce Harper is still on the shelf with a knee.
The Nationals enter the winners of five of eight – six of those games were against the same Twins and Rockies that badgered the Phillies – and that’s only been enough to break even.
Not as tall an order as it normally is.
Many have blamed pressure for Cole Hamels’ inconsistencies this season. At least one form of it.
You could say John Lannan (0-1, 6.14 ERA) is dealing with a few kinds of pressure tonight.
He, too, has to pitch for an offense that’s scored two runs or fewer in 24 of 70 games. But he’s also making his first start off the DL, somewhere he’d never been before in his career. His first start since being crushed for six earned in 1 2/3 innings on Apr. 17 in Cincy, the day before he hit the shelf.
Oh yeah, there’s some history with tonight’s opponent.
By now you know the story.
Through 2011, Lannan was twice Washington’s Opening Day starter and had pitched to a decent 4.00 ERA for five seasons. But with 2012 Nationals ascent to eventual 98-win status came a crowded rotation – too crowded, apparently, for Lannan.
Despite owing him $5 million – a steep sum for any payroll, let alone one that cracked $100 million for the first time in franchise history that season – Washington seemed content with stowing him away in the minors. Lannan wasn’t so enthused. Thus, the genesis of a certain 300-word email.
Lannan, too, is a benefactor of the timing here. Washington has scored the second-fewest runs in the National League this month to only the Mets, conveniently the Phillies’ other opponent this home stand. They’ll be without Bryce Harper, who’s been DL’d with that knee since May 26. Washington’s scheduled starter tonight (as you’ll see momentarily) is perfectly hittable.
Question is, can the Phillies No. 5 execute despite pressure(s) – how their $144 million man hasn’t?
The Other Guy
To be kind, this probably isn’t the Nationals idea of one year and $13 million-worthy production.
Of 52 qualifying NL starters, Dan Haren (4-8, 5.70) has served the most homers (17), allowed the highest opponent OPS (.868) with the third-worst ERA and fourth-worst batting average (.301).
Not much has gone right for him. He can’t last in games, or keep his team in games. No bueno.
Strangely, Haren’s 5.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks second-best in the league, higher than Cliff Lee, Matt Harvey and his teammate Zimmermann. But – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – if the Phillies take pitches, they’ll get ones to hit. Far.
That pitch will probably be a cutter, one Haren’s thrown more than any starter in baseball (39.2 percent). That’s good news for Ryan Howard, who’s hitting .360 in 147 at-bats against cutters this season, according to Baseball Prospectus Pitch F/X hitter profiles. Piece is hitting .306/.400/.449 overall in 49 at-bats this month.
Who knew: five Phillies regulars -- Howard, Michael Young, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins -- have on-base percentages over .350 this month.
Kevin Frandsen is hitting .381/.480/.476 in 21 at-bats this month. He's a minus second baseman. Is his bat more valuable than Freddy Galvis' glove?
The only bright spots in Washington’s lineup lately are Nos. 2 and 6 hitters Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond. The spacing is good for the Phillies; there are potentially three outs between them.
Still, Rendon is crushing the ball, hitting .444 with a 1.168 OPS in 36 at-bats this month. Six of his 16 hits have been doubles. Desmond’s been as good, batting .396/.453/.625 in 48 June ABs.
They’re both righties, but Rendon struggles with the platoon advantage. His .267 average against lefties, like Lannan, is 124 points lower than it is against righties.
Desmond, meanwhile, is 10 for 12 with two homers and five RBIs this month against southpaws.